Following the disastrous performance and result against Brighton the previous matchday, Jose Mourinho knew his side needed a result against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday.
After a week of being ripped apart in the press, the manager organised changes ahead of his meeting with Mauricio Pochettino and by half time it looked as though they were paying off.
United created more chances in 35 minutes than they had in the entire game against Brighton, with their first opportunity coming just seconds into the game when new signing Fred struck wide of the post. He later saw a curling effort go just over the bar, with Paul Pogba then forcing a good save from Hugo Lloris.
Romelu Lukaku took the ball around the goalkeeper before missing the empty net by inches. He then had a free header from a corner but couldn’t direct it goalwards.
When the half-time whistle blew, United fans were content with the change in attacking intent but had to fear they would be made to pay for their players’ inaccuracy in front of goal.
Five minutes after the restart, Harry Kane put Spurs ahead with their first real chance of the game, before Lucas Moura doubled their lead seconds later. The away end, which had been fairly subdued until that point, came alive.
To the credit of United fans, they kept singing and encouraging their team forward, but they knew then this wasn’t going to be one of their (in)famous comebacks. Those days are gone.
Still the chances came, with Jesse Lingard missing from a few yards out before substitute Alexis Sanchez hit the side netting and forced a save with a free kick. Even Victor Lindelof was in on the action but couldn’t hit the target from a few yards out. And it was Spurs who scored again.
From 23 shots, United scored zero goals, and from nine Spurs scored three. It doesn’t matter how attacking Mourinho sets up his team to play it his forwards are missing empty nets and from a few yards out. He was badly let down by his players.
Mourinho applauded the Stretford End for some time after the final whistle, thanking them for getting behind the team despite the result.
“I don’t think it’s normal for a team to lose a game at home and for the supporters to react the way they did,” Mourinho said after the game. “They reacted in relation to what they saw, in relation to what they feel. The supporters are an amazing judge. The way they reacted, for me, tells you everything.”
After particularly dull performances during the Mourinho era, some fans have taken to social media to claim they would rather see their team play attacking football and lose than boring football and win. Those fans will have been happy last night. Or, more likely, those fans left before the final whistle or, even more likely, switched their telly off before the game ended.
However, for the supporters who are craving success at all costs, seeing improved football gave some comfort but does little to alleviate the fears that it’s all unraveling under Mourinho. He went to the press conference asking for more respect from the journalists, which was fair enough, but then started banging on about all the titles he’d won at Chelsea. What relevance does that have now?
We’ve all seen this pattern play out before and United fans always knew it was on the horizon. They had just hoped that Mourinho would be able to deliver a Premier League title before it did.
As it is, he’s won two trophies, qualified for for the Champions League in both seasons and finished second. While it’s better than what Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have achieved in a longer period at their respective clubs, it’s hardly the success United were craving and expecting when they appointed him.
Mourinho is justified to feel some frustrations with the club though, given he hasn’t been supported in the transfer market this summer. Manchester City finished 19 points ahead of United last season, yet their outgoings were the same in the most recent window. It’s unrealistic to expect Mourinho to close the gap without that backing. Liverpool have spent £315 million in the last two seasons, compared to the £220 million Mourinho has been given. United’s rivals trust the manager and see their long-term future with him in charge. The same cannot be said of United, the most valuable club in world football, who have not made a comparable investment.
It sends an awful message, to both the manager and players, for Ed Woodward to publicly show they are not fully behind Mourinho. Spending £60 million on a Premier League-proven defender like Toby Alderweireld is hardly a gamble, but the club questioned the value for money. Having a quality central defender wouldn’t make the difference between United winning the league or not, but it would improve them. The club may be looking at missing out on top four this season, after their shoddy defence has shipped six goals in two games, so you imagine Woodward is starting to regret his decision to veto Mourinho’s transfer requests. The loss of income from missing out on the Champions League is something Woodward will have to explain to the Glazer family.
It’s hard to imagine things getting better for United under Mourinho, not because two games define a season, rather because we’ve seen this cycle from the manager in the past and it didn’t end well.
Yet United are left with very few options when it comes to a replacement. Zinedine Zidane, who has won the last three Champions Leagues on the bounce, would be available, but why would he opt to inherit this mess? Reports claim he wants the job but he would surely not even consider taking over before next season. For the same reason, why would any established manager risk their reputation by coming to Manchester at this point of the season?
Kieran McKenna is a promising coach at the club, who guided the U-18s to League glory last season, with an average of three goals a game. Yet to make him interim manager for pretty much an entire season when he only stepped up to first team coach a few weeks ago would be mental. But United fans are scraping the barrel for ideas and aren’t coming up with an awful lot.
There is no obvious solution to the numerous problems the club have. Plenty want to see Woodward gone. A director of football to make decisions on transfers would make sense. But sacking Mourinho now doesn’t fix an awful lot.
With just three games played, United supporters are already anticipating a long season, where they’ll see their hated rivals City and Liverpool battle it out for the top prize while United struggle for fourth. It’s embarrassing and unacceptable, but also just what the club deserves for their series of poor decisions since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.