It’s Southampton vs Manchester United on Saturday night and Jose Mourinho and Mark Hughes face a head-to-head where a loss for either manager may mean the end of their respective reigns.
In football’s very own version of Dancing on ‘Thin’ Ice, Mourinho would be well advised to pack up all his belongings from the Lowry Hotel before he leaves for Southampton. Because if United put in another poor display, it’s highly likely Jose will be starting his Christmas break early with a permanent trip back to London.
So will Mourinho be sitting on Santa’s knee in Harrod’s on Monday morning asking for an ego massage or will he be back in his Manchester hotel room watching Jeremy Kyle with Nemanja Matic, plotting their next porridge football display at Old Trafford?
Personally, I think United will win. Yes, we’re dreadful but Southampton strike me as the sort of side who’d bring a breadstick to a sword fight and Jose does have this knack of being perilously close to the sack – before pulling out a result.
Of course some might say that even if United lose, the club is so badly run there’s more chance of them rewarding him with a new five-year contract and a romantic weekend break with Fellaini than sacking him.
But let’s look at the facts. A week ago Mourinho more or less promised top four by Christmas. A day after that they dropped another two points at home drawing to Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, a side with so many losses they’re the footballing equivalent of an all you can eat buffet.
A loss, or even a draw, with Southampton and United will be eight or nine points off fourth place with matches against Arsenal and Liverpool in the next two weeks. United’s owners may wish to bury their head in the sands and stick by Mourinho, but business is business, and like a scouser chanting “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the Stretford End, Jose will need to be eliminated if we lose on Saturday teatime.
Which brings us to Mark Hughes.
If Southampton vs United wasn’t box office enough with Jose’s future hanging by a thread, Sparky and his “I argue with myself in the mirror every day” face is also facing a Christmas trip to the job centre if he doesn’t get a result.
Mark Hughes has always been an odd one for United fans. Without doubt a class act in his playing days, he’s cultivated a somewhat divisive persona as a manager, clearly relishing every opportunity he gets to beat United – which isn’t that often.
To stoke things further, Mourinho and Hughes have a bit of history, with Hughes refusing to shake Mourinho’s hand a couple of years ago. So you get the feeling Hughes would absolutely love to be the man who finishes Jose’s United career off.
Which, in an odd way will probably make him more popular with some United fans.
Of course the danger with Mark Hughes is he’s so stubborn and competitive he might just pack his bags up on Saturday and lose, so he can give Jose the “Up Yours!” salute and beat him to the sack.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be a great watch. My advice is don’t forget to pack your toothbrush, Jose.