Manchester United couldn’t have made a much better start to the 2017-18 campaign than they have. A slip from Phil Jones against Stoke is what separates them from a win in every game they have played in all competitions.
When the fixtures were announced United supporters were relieved to see an easy start of the season which would hopefully see them cement a strong position in the table. As it is stands, rivals Manchester City have scored one more goal than them, leaving United in second place as they go in to the international break.
The first real test for them will be their next game, when they play Liverpool at Anfield, who are currently seven points behind them in the league.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 30, 2017
A fortnight later, they host Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, before travelling to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.
Yet if United get through those games with a decent number of points, then they can start to be taken more seriously as title contenders.
Having finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth in the seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, if United were to hold to second place until May, it would represent serious improvement for the club.
When you consider that City have outspent United in the last consecutive three seasons, you would expect them to finish above their local rivals. City have the better team but many United fans would argue they have the better manager, who has experience of overcoming a superior Pep Guardiola side.
Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid managed to topple Guardiola’s Barcelona against all odds in 2011-12. Regarded as arguably the greatest club side of all time going in to that season, Barcelona had won the league for three years on the bounce, as well as lifting the Champions League twice, before Mourinho inspired a record number of La Liga points, goals and total wins.
If Mourinho can’t beat City this season, United fans will be aware that the clock is ticking and their time is running out, given how transient his periods of success at each club are.
The three full seasons Mourinho spent in charge of Madrid was the longest stint he’s ever spent at a club in his 17-year long career.
He’s here for a good time, not a long time, and however smoothly things seem to be going at present, there’s the underlying fear that Mourinho is only ever a few months away from everything going up in smoke.
Players that would once run through brick walls for him turn on him in the end, with the most famous example being John Terry’s demand for Mourinho to be sacked at the beginning of the 2007-08 season at Chelsea.
Pepe at Real Madrid had once fully bought in to Mourinho’s siege mentality, before eventually jumping ship and joining Team Casillas following the manager’s falling out with the goalkeeper. Sergio Ramos reportedly told president Florentino Perez that either Mourinho left the club, or he would.
When Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea the second time, he had accused his players of “betraying” him while the club’s technical director, Michael Emenalo, revealed there was a “palpable discord” between the manager and the squad.
It’s not just the dressing room that seems to cause problems with his longevity either, but also his relationship with those at the top. For all the Glazers’ faults, which are numerous and problematic for the club, they have no desire to influence the manager as much as Roman Abramovich and Petez did.
There is the hope, even if born through desperation, that maybe things can be different for Mourinho at Manchester United.
This is the job he has been waiting for and he has the benefit of learning from past mistakes he’s made at other clubs. It’s unlikely he’ll attempt to gauge out the eye of an opposition manager on Old Trafford’s touchline or deal with a member of staff as appallingly as he did Eva Carneiro.
When addressing the press towards the end of last season, Mourinho revealed the strong relationships he had developed with the hierarchy at United.
“I think Manchester United learn I am not the monster that you say I am, I’m not such a bad guy, an arrogant guy, a difficult person to work with. ”
“So I think I am better than you think. People are quite happy to have me around and to work with me. The relation with the players is very good, and with my owners and my board the relation I don’t think is just professional, it’s also a relation of trust and a relation that goes further than the contract, the manager, the owner, the board, so I’m happy. My feeling is everyone is happy.”
When talking about this current United squad, Mourinho claims this is his all-time favourite, which speaks volumes when you consider the quality of players and big characters he has managed at Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Chelsea.
“During my long career, I have never worked with a group I like as much as I like them,” he said at the start of this season.
When looking at the time Mourinho spent at Inter, where he was universally loved, he thrived. In two seasons he won two league titles, two domestic trophies and the Champions League. To beat that Barcelona side in 2010, on the way to treble, with 10 men for over an hour, was remarkable.
Mourinho cried when saying goodbye to Inter, the club he later revealed had made him the happiest of all in his career, but when the bigger job of Real Madrid came calling, he had to make the move.
Who knows how long he might have stayed in Milan if the Spanish giants hadn’t shown an interest. Who knows how much success he might have gone on to enjoy.
Now at United, with Real Madrid out of his system, there isn’t a bigger job to prise him away. He has previously claimed that it was his destiny to manage United and that he hopes to be there for the next 15 years.
United fans will obviously be hoping that he leads them to the title this season regardless, but if not, they may have more shots at winning it with him than they might have expected.