Just a week after beating Manchester City at the Etihad, denying them the earliest title win in Premier League history, Manchester United lost to soon to be relegated West Brom at Old Trafford.
Having had so much pride in their players after managing to secure three points after going in 2-0 down at half-time, United supporters were left infuriated by the lack of effort shown in their 1-0 defeat against West Brom.
Jose Mourinho threw on attacking player, after attacking player in the second half and yet none of them were able to make any difference.
Alexis Sanchez put in a decent performance and Juan Mata looked productive in the first half – making made a rare 90-minute outing during a game where he arguably least deserved it – with his tired legs conceding possession time and again.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were given a good opportunity to show what they were capable of, coming on fairly early after having limited playing time over recent weeks, yet neither did anything to show they warranted a starting place in the team.
Having ridden the wave beating City the previous Saturday, with supporters believing that second place in the table was more or less nailed down, the doubts over their team arise again with five games left to play.
They are currently four points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and one point ahead of Liverpool, who have played a game more.
So, their position is good although looks less solid.
The only positive United fans could take from their result, if they were to scrape the barrel, is that they handed City a totally anti-climatic title win. They were geared up with thousands of pounds worth of fireworks to go off at the Etihad after a victory over United, a victory that would have gone down in the history books and replayed for all-time.
Instead, they had to settle for watching their league win on the back of a United defeat, with a handful of supporters showing up at the Etihad to celebrate, and a cringeworthy video recorded for one of their sponsors being released. “If you’re celebrating now clap your hands,” was one of the chants voiced, “if you’re feeling like a winner stomp your feet.”
As embarrassing as all of this may be, City are still the champions, and it may be United who are left with egg on their face.
They may still win the FA Cup and finish second, which would be a decent campaign, particularly given City’s dominance and how much they’ve outspent United over the past five seasons, yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday followed by any more performances like the one against West Brom could spell disaster.
Ahead of the victory over City, Mourinho made it clear that his aspiration for the season was to hold on to their league position.
“My motivation now is to finish second,” the United manager said. “We have been in that position such a long time we want to make sure we can stay there.”
United have beaten City, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal in the league this season, and at the weekend Mourinho again reiterated his desire to show his team were the best of the rest.
“We have beaten all the big teams around us, but the important thing now is to continue to pick up points in order to finish second,” he said. “If we finish second no one is going to be able to deny us the points total, and it will be difficult to say anyone apart from City was better than us.”
With the team still in transition, Mourinho has showed progression in both seasons he’s been at the club, as United try to repair the damage caused by the decisions following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and lack of investment leading up to their last title in 2013.
If United can win a trophy and finish second, then that will show United could be on their way back to the top. But the margins for success are fine.
Finishing in the top four would show an improvement on the campaign before, but in 2016-17 Mourinho sacrificed United’s league position for the sake of prioritising Europa League glory. Along with the League Cup, the manager had silverware to show for his first season in charge.
No silverware and merely a third or fourth placed finish does little to inspire anyone for the season ahead.
United have potentially seven games that will make or break their season. They need to show more of the fight and spirit from the second half performance at the Etihad and less of Sunday’s 90 minutes at Old Trafford.
It’s up to Mourinho to motivate the squad and it is up to the players to deliver.
The fans are right to demand more from both the manager and players, but the West Brom defeat has put serious doubts in to the supporters’ minds over whether they are up to the task.