Spurs’ special night piles the pressure on a defiant Mourinho.
‘Manchester United are one of the biggest clubs if not the biggest club in the world’, it’s a phrase that is so heavily used by pundits before they lay into the current United team you wonder if they cross reference key notes across broadcasters before each game. The statement is true there’s no denying that, however the deep stench of nostalgia attached to it speaks of the desperate yearning for an era that is long gone.
History is history but in the brutal world of modern top-flight football you’re essentially only as good as your last game and last night’s contest will only serve to intensify the feeling of negativity around Old Trafford. It might be time to stop referencing the wonderful football United used to play under a certain Scotsman and focus on how they can improve their current eleven.
As in the late summer of 2018, Tottenham’s second half performance blew Mourinho‘s team away with Lucas Moura’s excellent brace following Harry Kane’s looping header. The brittle confidence of some of the United players was evident under the Old Trafford lights however in truth if Romelu Lukaku was more clinical in the first half the game would have likely been wholly different.
However he wasn’t which meant that Spurs slow and sloppy start was not punished, allowing them to grow into the game and they perhaps should have had a penalty before the half time whistle blew. Still though, you suspect Mourinho’s half time team talk would have been a positive one, there seemed to more energy and verve about United as a whole. Indeed, with his recent record over his opposite number Mourinho no doubt walked back out to his dugout with the kind of brash confidence he is renowned for.
Eight minutes later though his team were two nil down and already in effect six points off the top of the table. A brilliant individual goal from Moura in the last six minutes then condemned Mourinho to the biggest home defeat of his managerial career, which taking into account the first forty minutes of the game was a little harsh on him and his team.
This result to many was particularly surprising, as prior to kick off United’s excellent home record versus Tottenham in recent times indicated that this was a perfect opportunity for Mourinho to answer his critics once more by bouncing back after the Brighton defeat. Alas, it served to do the opposite and instead TV cameramen feverishly cut to the Manchester United hierarchy sitting in the stands.
Clearly, the inactivity in the transfer market towards the end of the recent window has affected Mourinho and his relationship with the board. A face that screams of a man not happy with his lot is now a permanent fixture at every media appearance. He wanted a centre back, which looking at United’s defence now was wise, yet he didn’t get one. Ironically enough, one of his main summer targets was on the pitch giving a solid performance for the opposing side: however, would an Alberweireld or Maguire make that much of a difference to a team seemingly critically low on confidence at this stage of the season?
The developing soap opera is reminiscent of Mourinho’s demise at Chelsea in late 2015 where he was essentially back to the wall with pistols in each hand trying to fend off all sharpened critique flying towards him. Much like three years ago key players are beginning to become publicly unhappy and the team hasn’t been strengthened in areas where it needed to be. It’s only three games in but his theatrics with the crowd and players after the game last night, followed by a press conference walk out where he pointed to past glories and demanded ‘respect’ hint that Jose may not be far from last stand territory. Despite all of last night’s drama and subsequent reaction, United are very likely to pick up plenty of points in their fairly kind upcoming run of fixtures, they’re too good a team not to. Nevertheless, it’s evident that if they somehow do not then the third season curse may strike again.
As for Tottenham, who have traditionally been fairly slow starters in recent years, last night was no doubt a huge win and moment for them. Much was made of their own inactivity in the transfer market, which a brand-new stadium might have something to do with. However, Moura, who signed in January and is now being given proper minutes due to Son’s temporary absence, looks like he has given the established starters at the club a real boost. His energy and hungriness to be involved at the business end of the pitch was on all show for all to see, topped off by two quality finishes.
His boss was quick to contextualise the victory as a great one at the start of a very long and gruelling season. He might let himself get excited below that cool and controlled exterior in any other league in the world but with the ridiculous amount of quality competing for both the title and top four, Pochettino is probably right to not get too carried away. That being said, if Spurs can start improving their generally poor record versus the top six on top of their usual form versus the rest of the league then they really will be a force to be reckoned with.
Last night spoke a lot about history for both sides. Mourinho’s successes of the past, Manchester United’s golden era under Ferguson and Tottenham’s tendency to not turn up in the big games. History that needs to be left behind before new, unwanted pages of club scripture are created. Tottenham got on the road to forgetting past troubles and beginning to focus on current glories last night. United might want to think about doing the opposite.