It is a little under three years since Swansea City arrived at Old Trafford and embarrassed Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United side in the Dutchman’s first competitive fixture in charge . It wouldn’t be the last time the Dutchman was humiliated while at United, but it is a result that remains lodged in the memory, as if to underline the mediocrity that has engulfed the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. It is almost 12 months since the Iron Tulip’s tenure at United came to end, and there are plenty of reasons to believe progress is being made. Signs that it hasn’t come fast enough as well.
Fluid and efficient aren’t adjectives often used to describe Manchester United, at least not this season, but it would be a fine summary of Sunday afternoon’s win over Burnley. Mourinho’s men barely had a moment to digest Thursday night’s Europa League before making the relatively short journey north to Burnley. Save for injuries, it was a good week domestically and in Europe.
Manchester United’s victory over Burnley on Sunday brings José Mourinho’s side to within a point of Manchester City in the fight for Champions League places. After all, it may be just two from four, with only one of City, United, Liverpool or Arsenal likely to make it to Europe’s top table next season. Thursday’s clash may not come in the midst of a fight for the league title, but it is the most important derby for some time. Victory for Mourinho’s side at the Etihad will push the Reds into the top four for the first time in 2017; a City win might secure Pep Guardiola’s side Champions League football. But who has the advantage on Thursday? Rant investigates…
It was an encounter shaping up like so many other Manchester United matches this season; the home side dominated possession, missed chances and lost a sloppy goal. Until Marcus Rashford stepped forward that is. On Thursday the Reds once again managed to turn a fixture that should have been routine into an evening when fans held their collective breath. In the end, José Mourinho’s side secured passage into the Europa League semi-final at the expense of RSC Anderlecht, thanks largely to the heroics of a 19-year-old with the world at his feet. But as has been the case for United this season, there is little time to stop and reflect as the side returns to league action at Burnley.
It was archetypal José Mourinho. On Sunday, the Portuguese manager found the perfect tactical riposte to the champions elect at Old Trafford. His Manchester United side emerged victorious after nullifying Chelsea in impressive fashion. Not that Mourinho’s team was on the defensive in victory against Antonio Conte’s side on Sunday. Far from it. The Portuguese manager reimagined his natural and historical inclination towards destructive football in his finest performance as United manager to date.
The phrase Manchester United “left to rue missed chances” has found its way into far too many match reports this season, and Thursday’s Europa League draw with Anderlecht was yet another installment in a long line of wasteful performances. The good news for José Mourinho is that his side has an opportunity to quickly make amends; the bad news is that it involves the visit to Old Trafford of table-topping Chelsea.
José Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United last summer was met with excitement and skepticism in equal measure. Supporters raised questions not just about Mourinho’s style of play and its relevance, but the manager’s tendency to court controversy. Yet, Mourinho has demonstrated another quality – flexibility. It may be key as the season draws to a close.
If there was ever evidence that statistics can be deceiving then Manchester United’s unbeaten league run is the go-to example. The run now stretches to 19 games undefeated, but with little demonstrable progress to show for it. The Reds make the trip to Sunderland desperate to ensure that David Moyes is not the man to break the lossless streak.
Has Manchester United manager José Mourinho regressed into his bad cop routine just a little too early? The pattern is familiar, the one in which Dirty Harry challenges his punk players to try their luck. Just one more time. It begins with key players being ostracised in an increasingly public fashion, as if to distract from on-the-pitch failings, and ends with Mourinho leaving his post ignominiously, player power having won. Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Chelsea again. Bad cop gone bad. The red flags are many at Old Trafford as well. In the course of a week Mourinho launched into an astonishing and public attack on his creative players, before throwing youthful defender Luke Shaw under a lengthy bus. Yet, for all the concerns raised by Mourinho the man manager this week it is another pattern that is troubling the Portuguese coach most – the inability of his team to win games at Old Trafford. It will probably cost the club a place in next season’s Champions League.
As fresh problems presented themselves, a familiar result was the almost inevitable outcome. With little more than a handful of choices available, José Mourinho lined up his few available players against West Bromwich Albion and was rewarded with yet another home draw. Although Manchester United is in the midst of an unbeaten league run that stretches almost six months, Mourinho’s side remains fifth, seemingly as far away from the Champions League as ever. The past 20 league games without loss have included nine ending in a tie.