It has a been a tough couple of weeks at Manchester United. First, that limp draw with Liverpool at Anfield, then the narrow but unsatisfying victory over Benfica, and finally that traumatic defeat at Huddersfield Town last weekend. Victory over Swansea City in the League Cup ensured that the wheels didn’t come off United’s season, but the positivity associated with the new campaign has rapidly dissipated. It is not a good sign ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford on Saturday.
Swansea City away in the everybody’s least favourite tournament, on a cold, probably wet, Tuesday night in the pretty shitty city is nobody’s description of a must win game. Must win it is though after José Mourinho’s plans threatened to turn south over the past week. Manchester United’s dispiriting draw at Anfield, narrow win at Benfica, and gutless defeat to Huddersfield Town, have tongues wagging at Old Trafford. Mourinho will ring the changes for the League Cup tie at Swansea, but anything other than a comfortable victory will create added pressure ahead of Tottenham Hotspur’s visit to Old Trafford at the weekend.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m still a coach with ambitions, and desire to do new things,” José Mourinho said on TF1’s Telefoot show. “And I don’t believe… no, I’m sure I won’t end my career here.” “Here” being Manchester United. There may be a whole number of reasons the United manager spoke about his career path. Perhaps he was trying to divert attention from the drab scoreless draw against Liverpool; maybe he was giving Ed Woodward a little nudge during contract negotiations, or it could simply be that “Mourinho is gonna Mourinho”.
When Manchester United run out at the Estádio da Luz on Wednesday travelling supporters may well witness a very different approach from the one that dominated the weekend’s game with Liverpool. On Saturday, with the world watching one of England’s great fixtures, José Mourinho’s side sunk into its shell, hamstrung by a manager who has made a career-long reputation as the “enemy of football.” It was to United’s loss: two points dropped, momentum halted, an opposition there for the taking, given a pass.
It’s two years since Jurgen Klopp took the reigns, to much fanfare, at Anfield. The two-time Bundesliga title winner was suppose to turn a great club around; to provide the catalyst for the kind of renaissance that Sir Alex Ferguson once offered Manchester United. Two years in and Klopp is floundering, no nearer to restoring Liverpool to greatness than Ferguson was in his first two seasons at Old Trafford three decades ago. Meanwhile, José Mourinho has led a resurgent United side to three trophies and a place near the top of the Premier League. It surely couldn’t go wrong at Anfield this Saturday. Could it?
“It’s just a match. It’s three points. When you are in a big club, when you are a big player, when you are a big manager, every game is important. Every match is a cup final.” – José Mourinho.
It is an interesting theory, one fitting with Mourinho’s detached managerial demeanour. Yet, when it comes to Liverpool versus United, the Portuguese coach could not be further off base. Mourinho’s assessment may be empirically true – Saturday’s game is worth just three points – but it is as emotionally distant as possible, and an argument with which supporters cannot relate. After all, United’s clash with Liverpool is always more than just a match. It remains England’s greatest game.