On the morning of yesterday’s match, I had a heartening message from a Mourinhoan in Lisbon. “He is so incredibly desperate to beat them today. Apparently, he’s been urging all the players to have ‘no mercy’.”
For much of that first exhilarating half, it looked like the message had hit home, as an urgent and committed United matched Chelsea in almost every department. All one can sombrely surmise is that his half-time team talk can’t have been quite so inspirational.
There can be no quibbling, really. It was evident within minutes of the second-half restart that the game was being wrenched from United’s grasp by an already inherently better team who’d switched up a gear and left us behind. The goal felt inevitable, as did the relative lack of effective response.
Given the unexpectedly positive way United had set up for this one — the bus seemingly left back at the depot; two upfront — you might have felt slightly aggrieved. Mourinho had helped provide the televisual nation with the spectacle they’d been demanding from a United match for weeks, and here was the measly reward — getting your head metaphorically kicked in.
For much of the second half, we even had the very trio upfront many have been asking to see viz. Rashford, Martial, and Lukaku. But without Pogba behind them, it was never going to be enough.
United’s middle third, ahead of Matic, is empty. Moreover, individually, Hazard and Morata had lived up to their billings; Lukaku and Mkhitaryan, sadly, lived down to theirs.
We now look up at City, a dizzying eight points clear and — let’s be honest — playing like a team a division above most of the rest.
We are thus just where we should be, in my opinion — top four; not good enough to win the title; doing quite well in Europe.
That’s all, folks. Over a quarter of the way through the season and we are precisely living up/down to my August prediction.
That trundling also-ran status won’t satisfy Mourinho, of course, who has been agitating for the past two weeks in that passive-aggressive mumbly-grumbly fashion of which he is a master.
What does he want? It isn’t a move to PSG, and it isn’t primarily about his own wages either — although he certainly does expect to see some movement on that front. Yes, you can expect to see a story this week that PSG have made contact with agent Jorge Mendes to discuss José’s plans, and it will be true (*taps nose*). But the release of that story will be more about applying pressure to Ed Woodward than being a serious preliminary to a possible move.
My Man In Lisbon explains: “According to Jose, United need to step up and back him 100% in the transfer market and stop penny-pinching, as it’s his reputation and standing that’s on the line.”
Incidentally, I am also told that Roman Abramovich
had invited Jose to dinner
last night, attendance at which was to be dependent
on the result. (“He’s not
going to go if we’ve been well beaten.”)
Had United won, and Jose then been papped supping with his old boss you can imagine what the headlines would have been about Conte, after the week of stories speculating about his future.
You may recall that I helped start that particular hare
running here last week (*taps nose again*).
Well, it seems that hare has now been jugged following yesterday’s result, and the moment has gone. Jose is probably stuck with Conte and Guardiola for the rest of the season.
And so, sadly, are we Reds. Gah!
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