There’s been some fanciful talk that, with Manchester United’s 0-2 win away to Zorya — and its confirmation of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s belated arrival as a significant influence — Jose Mourinho might well have negotiated one of those famous ‘turning points’ so beloved of teams in, to put it at its most charitable, transition.
You would imagine though that for the long-suffering faithful, it will take more than a victory in a far-off deep freeze, against a team of which most of them would have been previously unaware, to even warm the cockles, let alone point to a brighter future.
Much more exacting tests lie in wait for United, beginning tomorrow in the Premier League when they play host to Spurs, another team showing tentative signs of getting itself back on track.
But far more than United qualifying for the Europa League round of 32 or, for that matter, Spurs departing the Champions League with a win at Wembley, this Old Trafford clash of two teams who would have been considered title contenders at the start of the season should tell us much about where they are at as the pivotal Christmas period gets into full swing — and how much they’re entitled to believe they can achieve in 2017.
In particular, the focus will be on Jose Mourinho to see if the cameras can pick up a rare smile to replace this season’s trademark scowl.
“You’ve got to remember that this manager until 12 months ago had never experienced anything but success,” former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher tells me when we speak at Sky Sports headquarters in London.
“He’d never really known failure in his work. He must be even questioning himself now, like ‘this has never happened before’.
“We probably all thought Chelsea was a blip and maybe we looked at the players as much as the manager — like, did some of them just throw the towel in? — because, no matter how bad the results were for Chelsea under him, it’s still hard to question a manager of that pedigree, a manager who has won so much.
“But then you see the start he’s had with Man United — and I know it’s still early days — but you do worry that Mourinho hasn’t got over the Chelsea situation.
“Did he go into the Man United job in that sort of dark mood, always trying to prove everyone wrong about what happened at Chelsea?
“Did he go in in the right frame of mind?
“Because to get sent off twice in the first 13 games as a manager... OK, he’s never been an angel, Jose, and a lot of us have forgiven him for that because he’s always been great copy and he’s a great character to have in the Premier League. But he just doesn’t seem to be the same man we saw a decade ago.”
It isn’t all about the gaffer, of course. The fact that United go into this game nine points behind fourth-placed Manchester City and 13 adrift of leaders Chelsea is a stark reminder that, as yet, Paul Pogba hasn’t parlayed his record-beating transfer into game-changing form — or at least not on anything like a consistent basis.
“It’s rare for a central midfield player to be the most expensive player,” Carragher observes.
“It’s normally a winger or a number ten or a centre forward. And when you pay that type of money you’re expecting to get someone who will be the best player on the pitch most weeks.
“And we haven’t seen enough of that yet. Yes, I think he’s got unbelievable qualities and I do think he will turn out to be top player for Manchester United — we’re seeing signs of that now — but the issue is more who you play him with and what type of system you set up with.
“I think Jose is still getting to grips with that but for people to ever say that Pogba was worth the price, it will mean getting Manchester United back up to the levels they were at under Alex Ferguson. Winning leagues, challenging for European cups — that’s what it has to be.”
Carragher’s comments are a reminder that even the self-styled Special One still finds himself cast in the role of support act to a man who was top of the bill — and there entirely on merit — for so long.
“When Alex Ferguson finished in football everyone said how great he was,” Carragher reflects.
“But the highest praise you could give him is that with every month now his abilities as a manager get bigger. You used to take it for granted that Manchester United would either win the league or come close to winning it every single season, and it’s only now when you stand back and look at what they did achieve under him — staying at the top for so many years, bringing through different teams and with so many other challenges like Chelsea and Man City coming with their money — that it puts Alex Ferguson in an even better light.
“And the managers who’ve come in, they’re not idiots. David Moyes was manager of the year three times at Everton; Van Gaal won the European cup; Jose Mourinho has got probably the best CV you can find anywhere in world football.
“I think it shows that hold that one man had on that club.”
And it reaffirms, too, that there’s a way to go for Jose, beginning with a game tomorrow which pits a Spurs side without a win in four away league games against a United team which has won only once in eight league games, drawing six.
It’s a meeting of sixth against fifth which, if it doesn’t tell us much about who will win the Premier League, should certainly tell us plenty about who won’t — and why.
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