Highway To Hell

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Good old Juan Mata. Whilst everyone was losing the plot after the Champions League exit, the nicest man in football™ also proved himself a master of understatement by summing up events as merely, “a complicated week.” That’s one way of putting it, though I can’t help thinking ‘calamitous’ might have been a more fitting adjective.

After Ben Yedder’s 2nd goal prompted the mass exodus from the ground, the mood walking away wasn’t one of resigned disappointment, it felt almost mutinous. I know plenty of people have never really warmed to Mourinho, but I was genuinely surprised at the level of invective being aired. This wasn’t just the usual handful of gobshites sounding off, it was more than that. It felt like a tipping point had been reached.

Jose, true to form, came out swinging. Whilst he was obviously correct in pointing out that our recent Champions League is poor and home exits are nothing new, it was pretty disingenuous of him to ignore the fact that he was brought here to try and change that. Yes, he may well have been in charge of Porto and Real Madrid when they knocked us out, but using that fact to justify failings on his current watch was somewhat spurious reasoning.

As regular readers know, I’ve always defended Mourinho and would have been happy to see him appointed as Fergie’s successor 5 years ago. We needed someone with the same self-belief, drive and winning mentality who would be completely unfazed by the size of the club and level of expectation. Clearly he has his character flaws, but then so did Ferguson. We revelled in his malevolent side and siege mentality for many years, reaping the rewards of his similarly gargantuan personality and monstrous ego.

The major difference between the two was hammered home after the Seville game, however. Whereas you always sensed Ferguson took defeats personally and everything we experienced (good or bad) could be used to impact on his players’ long-term development, there was no evidence of that from Jose’s reaction. He didn’t defend his tactics or his squad, or even seem that chastened by the result – he merely used the opportunity to defend his own reputation.

Needless to say, it wasn’t great timing by Mourinho to remind us of his previous successes over United in the competition. We’re acutely aware of his past pedigree as it’s one of the main reasons he was appointed manager in the first place. His press conference might have been better received if he’d at least sounded contrite rather than brushing criticism away and offering the somewhat lame excuse of, ‘well you’ve seen all this before, haven’t you lads?’

He wasn’t done yet. Jose was back in front of the press prior to the Brighton game, this time armed with a list of Rafa-style facts detailing each of our European exits in recent years. His tone was just as bullish as had been 3 days earlier, although this time he was at pains to stress that the Seville result needed to be viewed in context. His main point being that this United team are still a work in progress lacking experience at the very top level. A fair point I suppose, and at least this time he resisted the temptation to big up his own past achievements.

Manchester United v CSKA Moskva - UEFA Champions League

At least the defeat took the ongoing beef with Pogba off the back pages briefly, but that one is certain to rear its head again given his ongoing absence from the starting line up . The fact he was left out for the biggest game of the season speaks volumes, and that’s before you consider the minimal impact he had after he eventually came on as sub. Regardless of form, I don’t think any of us would picked Fellaini over Pogba versus Seville, especially as we were starting another 2 holding midfielders in Matic and McTominay. Relations between the pair don’t appear to have improved and as I said last month, it won’t come as much of a surprise if Pogba’s gone in the summer.

Ditto Luke Shaw, another player subject to Jose’s oft-schizophrenic approach to motivational techniques. Now we all know that Shaw needs a regular kick up his sizeable arse and it’s long been a cause for concern that his attitude and approach require constant tuning. Mourinho isn’t the first coach to experience this and I doubt he’ll be the last. However, it was only 6 weeks ago that Shaw was being praised for his consistency and a new contract was being mentioned. Was this just an attempt to alert potential suitors? If so, why the abrupt change of heart within a couple of months?

Another in the firing line is Alexis Sanchez, a player whose descent into utter mediocrity has been impressive even by recent United standards. I mean, at least Di Maria gave us 6 weeks of good form before downing tools and viewing apartments on the Champs-Élysées. It came as no surprise to see him dropped for the Brighton game as he’s been absolutely shocking since he signed. Fingers crossed we’ll start to see the best of Alexis after he’s had a break in the summer and a full pre-season behind him.

The FA Cup, as it has been on a couple of notable occasions in United’s history, could turn out to be Mourinho’s salvation in what has become a very testing 2nd term in charge. That however, remains a very remote possibility considering the state of our record against both Spurs and potential finalists Chelsea in recent years – we haven’t beaten either team away from Old Trafford since 2012.

All things considered, last week’s international break probably came at the right time to give several figures in the dressing room a few days break from each other. Just be thankful for Will Grigg and Wigan Athletic’s recent heroics, otherwise we might have been facing a genuine end of days scenario in the not too distant future. Watching City win the treble would be the most “complicated week” imaginable.

Copyright Red News – March 2018

www.rednews.co.uk

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