After Monday night’s FA Cup win over Chelsea, Ole Gunnar Solskjær has now won 11 of his 13 games in charge and you’d be hard pressed to find a Manchester United fan who isn’t happier with the Baby-Faced Assassin at the helm than with the Assassin-Faced Baby that was José Mourinho.
Mourinho’s team held Liverpool at Anfield for 70 minutes back in December, only for substitute Xherdan Shaqiri to breach their defence twice late on, inflicting what would prove to be the Portuguese manager’s final defeat as United boss.
But what if that result hadn’t been enough to end his reign? What if Mourinho was still in the dugout for the reverse fixture this weekend? We think it would go a little like this…
Mourinho shows up five minutes late for his press conference with a shaved head, and stares down the first reporter who begins to ask him a question about the new look.
He tells journalists his players have enjoyed their warm-weather break, enjoying the rest granted to them by their defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round, and they’re ready to go. January signing Gary Cahill is finally match-fit, and will be in contention for a start.
Sunday, one hour before kick-off
The line-ups are in and Cahill starts alongside Chris Smalling at the back, with Phil Jones also in the starting XI. Looks like we’re in for a Jones midfield masterclass. Alexis Sánchez also starts after coming off the bench to end his goalscoring drought against Fulham in the league.
A Phil Jones corner is headed clear and Liverpool break. Nemanja Matić slices through Mohamed Salah on the halfway line and picks up the first booking of the game.
Matić raises an arm in the defensive wall to block a Liverpool free-kick, and the referee penalises him but leaves his cards in his pocket. Mourinho screams at Paul Pogba for something presumably unrelated.
Matić shoves Naby Keita into the stands after the pair tussle for the ball on United’s left, and is shown his second booking. Mourinho responds by taking off Jesse Lingard for Scott McTominay and instructing his front two of Lukaku and Alexis to support the full-backs.
Liverpool have had 76 per cent possession so far.
Liverpool produce the first shot on target for either team. Andy Robertson beats Ashley Young down the Liverpool left and sends in a hard, low cross to the penalty spot where Sadio Mané is waiting. The Senegal forward hits the ball straight at David De Gea, who pushes it wide for a corner.
The corner comes in and Joel Matip meets it with a towering header, which De Gea keeps out with his feet. Jones scrambles the ball away. The TV cameras turn to Mourinho, who is now wearing a beret for some reason.
The fourth official adds on four minutes, mostly for the scuffle which followed that Matić red card.
GOAL! Salah cuts in from the right and drives a shot towards De Gea’s far corner. The keeper looks to have it covered but it takes a wicked deflection off Cahill and spins over the line. Mourinho kicks a bottle of water into the stands, almost decapitating a small child and knocking her popcorn out of her hands.
Liverpool make their first substitution of the game, replacing Roberto Firmino with Daniel Sturridge. United send Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to warm up.
United break from deep and Pogba sends a great ball into the right channel for Alexis to chase, only for the Chilean to pull up with a hamstring injury. Mourinho calls Rashford and Martial back to the bench.
Manchester United substitution. Leaving the field, Alexis Sánchez, to be replaced by Marouane Fellaini. Mourinho must be grateful he was able to talk the Belgian out of a move to China by offering him that new contract.
Liverpool have had 83 per cent possession. Manchester United have had one shot, in the fourth minute of the game.
Penalty to Liverpool! Sturridge goes down very easily under a challenge from Smalling, but the referee points to the spot. The Liverpool striker celebrates the award with his wriggly arms dance, and Mourinho has to be held back by Matić as he tries to enter the field of play. The Manchester United manager is sent to the stands.
Play finally restarts. Mohamed Salah sends the kick against the foot of the post and behind.
United make their final change, with Marcus Rashford replacing Lukaku. Liverpool bring on Xherdan Shaqiri for Salah, who is booked for taking too long to leave the field of play.
Shaqiri gives the ball away in midfield and Rashford bursts into the box. Virgil van Dijk dives in and looks to take more ball than man, but a corner is given.
Jones’ ball is met by the head of Fellaini – GOAL! But no… it’s been ruled out for climbing. The cameras cut to Mourinho and his head looks like it’s about to explode. He tosses the beret away in disgust, narrowly missing the girl whose popcorn he knocked to the ground in the first half.
Full-time. Manchester United 0-1 Liverpool
One hour after the final whistle
Mourinho shows up to his post-match presser, sits in silence for 30 seconds and then begins laughing maniacally like Sideshow Bob after he is elected mayor in The Simpsons.
No one knows why, and everyone’s too afraid to ask.
Two national papers run columns on Mourinho rediscovering his touch with those post-match mind games. The cycle continues.