Chelsea did the usual at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United. A relatively straightforward victory, 1-0 flattered Manchester United. Bakayoko and Morata wasted wonderful openings as Chelsea, led by Cesc and Kante, dominated the United midfield and, by extension, the game. In losing, United fell 8 points behind City – things aren’t looking great for Jose’s men. We care – does he?
“8 points in the Premier League is not 8 points in Portugal, or in Spain, or in Germany” – Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, 5 November 2017.
Having watched Guardiola’s Manchester City sweep Arsenal away earlier on Sunday, it’s hard not to think that. City, with their millions spent, and team clicking, will not run away with this league. They have won all but one of their league games so far (the one draw amazingly came against Everton at the Etihad). In fact, except for the Koeman-induced draw, they have won all their games this season. They have taken maximum points from fixtures against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. The victory over the latter was probably the most impressive, picking the Champions apart with panache, confidence and control at the Bridge. In many ways, that victory, for the “other Manchester team”, shows why this 8-point lead may be more than just that. It represents a gulf in personality and ambition between two managers.
There’s a well-known saying – “fortune favours the brave.” If you are brave enough, ambitious enough to try to take control of your destiny, provoking situations to bend outcomes your way, you will, more often than not, be successful. If only someone told Jose. You couldn’t read any football website worth its salt in the last week without coming across comment/news/analysis around Jose Mourinho’s away record against Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool. He hasn’t won away from home with Manchester United against those teams. His team has picked up 3 points from a possible 24 in those games.
After the game on Sunday, Mourinho observed that “the team that scored first was going to win”. His team has scored 1 goal away to the other members of the “Big 6” since he came to power at Old Trafford. When you play for 1 point, there’s an obvious problem – 1 point is closer to 0 points than it is to 3 points. In a game like football, often dictated by random events, your opposition trying harder than you to score means that, more often than not, the randomness will favour them.
A friend trotted out an ideal line-up for Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Young; Pogba, Matic; Martial, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. To which I responded – “it does not matter.” No matter the line-up, ambition will often dictate the outcome. Jose Mourinho’s two previous jobs were tainted by his lack of ambition at key moments. Who can forget Cristiano Ronaldo playing doggie in the middle, chasing after a ball Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders were only too happy to pass around him, before he threw up his hands in a massive huff. For once, I felt sympathy for the man – he wanted to play, to be on the front foot, but his manager didn’t want to.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, as Mourinho stood by the tunnel and greeted his old Chelsea players, it didn’t take the eagle-eyed to notice that he and Eden Hazard exchanged neither shake nor glance. It was like neither existed for the other. Eden Hazard was arguably the most critical factor to Chelsea winning the 14/15 Premier League title (under Mourinho). Hazard is also one of the reasons Mourinho was dismissed from his job at Chelsea (again). Creating an environment that allowed his best player to work his magic really was an excuse to do the least in pursuit of victory. Who can forget the spate of single-goal margin victories that carried Chelsea to the title in 2014/2015? Hazard got frustrated with a manager who sets out his team to defend, and takes credit for your own magic. He wants to do the least for the most. It might have worked before, but it hasn’t worked for a while. As the Citys and Spurs of the game continue to rise, it becomes increasingly unlikely to work. The problem, for Manchester United, is that this leopard is not about to change his spots.
“There are 18 teams more worried than us”, he said, attempting to dismiss the gap between 2nd and 1st. Standard deflection, really – and it’s not working. However, more worryingly, who or what is he interested in? Others looking worse than he is by reference to a gold standard? Where are the standards, Jose? His problem now is that Manchester City is setting the standard of quality. And for the first time in his career, he’s sharing a city with a “better” club. 2nd place will not be enough for Manchester United this season (or next). It’s also unlikely any new signings will help, regardless of what Jose and Duncan Castles would rather you believe. Indeed, while he initially talked about being at Manchester United for many years to come, his comments about Paris a few weeks ago should not be taken lightly. In Paris, Unai Emery is a sitting duck, playing puppet while Neymar and co. run the team. The Qataris will never say no to Box Office Jose, even if he now treats coaching as a 9-5. That link up is loading…
A final point must be made. Before he left the post-match press conference on Sunday, Mourinho said he had a special mention – for Marouane Fellaini. In short, he was injured for a few weeks, was only in the squad the day before, but came on, in difficult circumstances, and fought for the team and the club. Fellaini was not useless, no. He created some difficulties for Chelsea in the box, and had a decent opportunity saved by the relatively idle Thibaut Courtois. However, he was a liability in midfield and in possession. We all know he’s barely “Manchester United quality” (whatever that means these days). More tellingly, it’s standard divide and rule from Jose Mourinho, an expertly placed passive-aggressive subliminal intended to elicit some sort of desire in the unmentioned players to please him. At Real it was Arbeloa, at Chelsea it was Willian. The problem is that he never picks key players. Why? Because those are nearly always the ones that want to play. To express themselves, to go to the home ground of a big rival and play them off the park. Basically, they want to do what Mourinho does not want to do.
After the defeat at Huddersfield, Mourinho, in no uncertain terms, called out his players for playing with little attitude and desire. But they reflect him and his caution. He loves Marouane Fellaini because the best the player can give to Jose is loyalty and a steadfast dedication to carrying out his destroyer tactics. Mourinho allows him to justify his presence at Manchester United. That is Marouane Fellaini. Jose Mourinho should know that pinning his mast on players like Fellaini will get him nowhere, but one should ask this – does he really care anymore? And it’s the lack of care (a relatively new phenomena) coupled with the steadfast refusal to engage with his peers as peers (except in the media pressroom) that may make his presence at Old Trafford toxic sooner rather than later. He landed in England as The Special One. He left, was Perez’d and came back as The Happy One. He will leave England again, this time as The Disinterested One.