Aidan O'Hara: Mourinho risks undermining himself with irrelevant moans
When Liverpool fell short of winning the Premier League three years ago, the natural response was to say they'd blown it. Needing seven points from their last three games to guarantee the title, they only managed four, were pipped by two points by Manchester City and the fact that they had picked up 44 points from the previous 48 available was irrelevant to the conversation.
The calamitous nature of the defeat to Chelsea cost them but as Steven Gerrard slip dominated the coverage, it also distracted from the team that, far more so than Liverpool in the final weeks of the season, blew a chance at a league title.
Chelsea finished four points behind City but as Jose Mourinho beat his chest with pride in front of the visiting fans at Anfield nobody seemed to ask the question why he was so delighted to be spoiling someone else's party when that victory ought to have seen Chelsea planning one of their own.
After beating Manchester City that February, Chelsea led Liverpool by six points but Mourinho argued his team weren't title contenders comparing them to a "little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump".
From that point, Chelsea drew with West Brom, lost at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace and also at home to Sunderland - all four of whom finished in the bottom half of the league. Had they picked up just two more points from the 11 they dropped in those games, they would also have gone into the game at Anfield needing three wins to guarantee a title - but nobody seemed to notice.
After the "little horse" comment, Mourinho added "perhaps we will be able to race next year" which proved prophetic as Chelsea sprinted away from the field. They then refused to jump any more fences the following season and unseating the rider who now (to flog the analogy like you might a dead horse) finds himself in a different stable.
It's impossible to prove whether Mourinho's comments had any bearing on Chelsea dropping unexplainable points but one of the fundamental truths of football is that if you give players an excuse that takes the blame off their shoulders, they will take it every time.
Most managers attempt to build a siege mentality to galvanise their players against a real or perceived injustice but problems arise within a dressing room when it's built on sand.
Last season, Mourinho became fixated on Sky Sports' coverage of Diego Costa's misdemeanours which, admittedly, were rather harshly labelled "Costa Crimes" in a montage. But instead of firing up his players, Mourinho's focus such a minor issue made him look small-time which, when added to his actions surrounding Eva Carneiro and blame deflection made him look more an eejit than a leader.
This year's obsession appears to be fixture congestion which brings to mind Chris Rock's great line of disliking people who demand credit for things they're supposed to do.
Great managers and great clubs are supposed to have fixture congestion at this time of the season. It means they're winning matches and requires a manager to use the squad at his disposal at an elite club and make brave decisions rather than rail against perceived injustices from elsewhere.
The latest to be in Mourinho's firing line are the Premier League who, it seems, have been added to a Trumpian list of "enemies" because they fixed yesterday's United game for midday rather than tonight.
"We will probably lose to Middlesbrough now," suggested Mourinho. "Fatigue has a price."
In the end, they roused themselves to beat a team that hadn't won in the league since eight days before Christmas and Middlesbrough were so bad at times, United should have been good enough to beat them even if they'd played another game yesterday morning.
Mourinho also attempted to pin the blame for Paul Pogba's injury on the accumulation of games but the manager should have been brave enough in recent weeks to rest a player who has started 104 games in the past two seasons for Juventus, United and France.
He could, for example, have left him out of the squad for the FA Cup game at Blackburn and Europa League second leg against St Etienne with United already 3-0 up from the first leg. That would have given Pogba 10 days free of games before the League Cup final and, perhaps, recharged his batteries coming into the most crucial part of the season.
With the League Cup already secure and a return to the Champions League a very strong possibility, Mourinho is doing a decent job but by consistently moaning about irrelevant issues, he risks undermining himself should things go awry in the coming months. By aiming low, he is insulating himself if things go wrong, but make himself look even better if they don't.
In August, he took his standard dig at his rivals when insisting they were afraid to say they could win the title.
"At Man United Football Club you cannot say differently, we have to fight for the title," he said with the grandiose addition of "Football Club" attempting to appeal to supporters.
By last week that argument was gone in an interview in which he claimed he found a "sad" club and also argued that he would never have sold Danny Welbeck, Angel Di Maria or Javier Hernandez, which was pretty rich from someone who let Andre Schurrle, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku leave Chelsea.
"The gap between our true potential and the expectations we create… there is a gap," Mourinho claimed. "We are not ready to win everything. There is a space between the general ambition of such a giant club and what we are, in reality."
The downplaying of expectations isn't something United fans want to hear any more than they want to see four centre-backs on the pitch against one of the worst teams in the league as they did yesterday.
In 1999, United played nine times in 32 days, two days more than Mourinho's men will have for the same number of games next month. If he is to close the "gap" he believes exists, Mourinho would be far better served doing his job as manager rather than moaning about issues over which he has no control.