As the argument raged on whether or not José Mourinho had disrespected the Juventus faithful by cupping his palm to his ear at the end of the match after Manchester United stunned the Italian giants in the Champions League on Wednesday, one thing was clear, the Portuguese manager had earned the right to laugh last.
Rewind a few weeks back and the Red Devils were in trouble. Three losses in his first… league games opened the floodgates on a barrage of criticisms. United was going nowhere, and fast. The team was in disarray. The football was not pleasing to the eye and it brought no good results.
Off-field and training ground squabbles also affected the dynamics of the team. While the media speculated on the manager’s future, most United faithful lay the blame for the team’s performance squarely on the board’s and Ed Woodward’s shoulders for failing to sanction the recruitment of central defenders in the summer.
But that was because the former Chelsea gaffer had repeatedly warned that the failure to add defensive reinforcements will negatively affect his team. The poor results were foretold and so when they began to occur, United fans knew where to lay the blame.
Interestingly, when the team won, all the credit went to the manager. He made sure of that. And now that the team is witnessing an upturn in form, of course, you know who deserves the credit. It’s the Mourinho way.
But he deserves the credit, doesn’t he? When Man United visited Stamford Bridge, they were not expected to come away with any point. But Mourinho did his thing and his side surprised everyone. Chelsea that was expected to run over United ended up fighting for a draw. It took Ross Barkley’s 96th-minute strike to snatch a point for the home side.
From then on, United has not looked back in the league. Three consecutive wins restored hopes among the club faithful of silverware this season. And then, after losing to Juventus at Old Trafford in the Champions League, it seemed qualification for the next round was in danger. But a 2-1 victory in the reverse fixture in Turin silenced the critics.
Players like Anthony Martial, Ashley Young Luke Shaw and Juan Mata have rediscovered their best from. The Frenchman is scoring goals in every other game. The Englishmen have helped shore up the defence while the Spaniard is pulling the nut out of the fire with superbly taken spot kicks. Also, there is a good reason why Paul Pogba has been featured in almost every game despite his recent squabbles with the manager: he is performing. And so is Nemanja Matic.
Mourinho now has the Red Devils where he wants them to be and the club faithful are backing him all the way. Winning games no matter how difficult they are is becoming the norm. But how long will the current wave last? And will it be enough to make a push for the title?
Surely, if there is anyone that can get United back in the hunt for the title it is the former Porto, Inter Milan and Real Madrid boss. I mentioned the clubs because they serve as a reminder of what the Portuguese manager can do.
Unfortunately for him (and for Man United), Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri are on another planet at the moment. Mourinho will need to up his game to challenge any of them. That will have to begin with the team’s style of play. It is not a coincidence that the three sides that play the most attractive style of football in the league are the ones occupying the top spots.