Manchester United head into a crucial fixture against Arsenal with few now believing that the so-called Special One has the ability to stop the rot
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What Jose Mourinho has to do in order to turn around the situation at Manchester United is quite straightforward. He needs to win more matches than Arsenal, Tottenham and the other contenders for the Champions League places between now and the end of the season. They are currently eight points outside the top four, trailing not only the rest of the big six but also Bournemouth and Everton.
He needs to play better football which maximises the output of the multi-talented attacking players in his squad and pleases better the supporters whose patience is wearing thin.
He needs to foster better relationships with the players within the squad – most notably Paul Pogba. Mourinho is alleged to have described the France World Cup winner as a ‘virus’ after the dismal 2-2 draw against Southampton at the weekend.
And he needs to get on with it all quickly, starting with Wednesday night’s Old Trafford showdown with Arsenal.
Unai Emery’s team are no doubt in good spirits following a combative North London Derby victory over Tottenham. United, meanwhile, must be at rock bottom. They are haemorrhaging goals and points to clubs they should be putting to the sword.
Their draw against the Saints saw them fall two behind before a rally to rescue a result. It was the eighth time in 14 Premier League games that they had conceded the first goal.
And heading into the Arsenal game, Mourinho could well be without most of his recognised defenders with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming to town as the league’s top goalscorer.
The scale of Mourinho’s task is clear. Whether he’s got the knowhow or expertise to manage his way out of the hole he currently inhabits is another thing altogether. There is nothing to suggest that Mourinho can do it.
The performances have been nothing short of scandalous for a club of their resources and reputation, and Mourinho is looking towards Everton as a rival for sixth place rather than to Manchester City as a rival for the title.
And if you think it’s unfair to compare the two clubs remember that Mourinho and Pep Guardiola arrived in Manchester at the same time and United are one of the few teams in the world that can match the spending power of Abu Dhabi. Consider that Mourinho beat Pep Guardiola to both Fred and Alexis Sanchez. It’s just that Mourinho is throwing good money after bad and Guardiola isn’t.
He is growing ever wearier with the press as if they have no right to question or criticise the manager of Manchester United.
His nostalgia act – whereby he points to achievements dating back 10 or 15 years as evidence of his calibre – won’t hold much longer. While he signed a contract elongating his stay at United until 2020, it would take a foolish soul to bet on him seeing that contract out.
The only answers he is offering right now are in the newspapers and on TV, not out on the pitch. Where this United squad – assembled at considerable cost – are looking for guidance and inspiration they are getting only blame and scorn.
How must players like Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard feel when they read that they lack maturity? How does it reflect on the squad that Mourinho discloses to random TV stations that it would be a miracle if they could somehow haul themselves into the top four?
Once upon a time Mourinho was a motivator extraordinaire who could conjure performances from a loyal cadre of players. Those days are long gone. What is left is a husk of a manager, pointlessly pointing to trophies he won while half his squad were still children.
And, even if United do manage to upset the odds and take three points off Arsenal, chances are that it won’t be a swashbuckling display that serves to emphasise the United squad’s potential. It would probably be another backs-to-the-wall job totally dependent on the saves of David de Gea. That’s been the story of United’s season; their best results have been unlikely comebacks – like the game against Juventus – rather than dominant outings like United grew used to in the past few decades.
Seven years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson orchestrated one of the biggest wins in Premier League history against Arsenal at Old Trafford. United won that day 8-2. But go and look at the line-up. It included De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young, all still at the club and still playing a part under Mourinho.
And the rest of the team was hardly United at their domineering best. Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Danny Welbeck, Nani all started. Most of the team that day were the type of United player many fans never thought good enough to play regularly for the club.
But Ferguson had a special kind of alchemy, one that brought massive performances out of otherwise ordinary players on a consistent basis. He got those individuals playing above themselves. It is the exact opposite of Mourinho, who is attempting to sign world-class replacements for players on whom he has made no improvement.
Mourinho has got to prove that he’s the guy to deliver those comprehensive performances and to deliver United the results they need. Right now, that doesn’t look like happening. And then questions are going to be asked about the viability of his tenure.