Monday 23 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Jose Mourinho has doomed look of a dead man walking'

One-sided Anfield ‘derby’ offers further proof of United’s sorry decline under ‘Special One’

Manchester United and manager Jose Mourinho had a bad day at Anfield (Peter Byrne/PA).
Manchester United and manager Jose Mourinho had a bad day at Anfield (Peter Byrne/PA).
Red peril: Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho shows his frustration alongside his assistant Michael Carrick. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Watching Manchester United is like watching Brexit. Every time you think things can't deteriorate any further they take another turn for the worse.

Like Theresa May, Jose Mourinho apparently has no idea how to make things better apart from insisting that his sinking craft might magically right itself. So we're left with the sorry spectacle of a once-mighty imperial power floundering so pathetically it's become an object of pity.

All the talk beforehand about the great rivalry between United and Liverpool was historically accurate but essentially irrelevant. This didn't feel like a clash between two top teams, it felt like one of those FA Cup games where a non-league side tries desperately to keep the score down against Premier League opposition.

This was as one-sided a match as these two teams have ever produced. The statistics are extraordinary. Liverpool took 36 shots to United's six and forced 13 corners to their opponent's two. Mourinho has cautioned against placing too much faith in statistics and maybe he's right. The 3-1 scoreline gives a completely false impression of the game. It suggests United belonged on the same pitch as Liverpool.

Two players epitomise United's sorry state. Marouane Fellaini is a kind of comfort blanket for his boss. Like the GAA managers of old who reacted to every crisis by bringing off a corner-forward, Mourinho has a superstitious belief in the perpetual efficacy of a high ball bashed towards the gangly Belgian.

The introduction of Fellaini is usually an aesthetic disaster but at Anfield it was also a tactical catastrophe. His arrival for the second half prompted a realignment which handed Andy Robertson the freedom of the left flank. United's weakness on that side led to Liverpool's second goal and was a constant source of misery for the visitors.

Fellaini did almost hit the target in the second half. That's if the target was the corner flag. When his spectacular slice managed to floor a paramedic, it added an appropriate slapstick note to the comedy of errors which has been United's season.

Connoisseurs of the absurd could also cherish the sight of Paul Pogba languishing on the bench while his team's midfield inadequacies were mercilessly exposed. The Frenchman would surely have improved things if introduced. Instead he was forced to suffer another public humiliation from a manager overly fond of such punishments.

The dwindling band of Mourinho partisans insist Pogba is to blame for the breakdown of relations between player and manager. They point to his social media account and his fancy haircuts and his supposedly lackadaisical attitude. Yet such peccadilloes didn't stop Pogba being a colossus at Juventus or inspiring France to victory in the World Cup only a few months ago.

That Pogba has played well for everyone except Mourinho is telling. Managers are responsible for getting the best out of their players. Mourinho is not some fantasy football nerd who just selects his line-up and can do nothing about its performance.

Pogba cost United more than Liverpool paid for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino put together. The combined fees for that trio are only a few million greater than the amount United spent to secure Romelu Lukaku, an unhappy and anonymous figure yesterday. Like Pogba, Lukaku has not reacted well to the scapegoat treatment.

Mourinho seeks to cover his a**e by complaining he hasn't been given enough money. But why would anyone who's seen the use made of Pogba and Lukaku hand the United manager a 'War Chest'? It'd be like loaning money to someone you've just seen set fire to a large pile of cash.

The Brexiteers reacted to the news they couldn't have exactly what they want by refusing to negotiate seriously. Mourinho adopts a similar all-or-nothing policy. Once outspent by his old nemesis Pep Guardiola, he seems to have little interest in making the best of things.

Contrast his attitude with that of Mauricio Pochettino who really has something to complain about. Unable to make a single signing in the close season because of Spurs' parsimony, the gifted Argentinian has seen the return to White Hart Lane persistently delayed.

Yet Spurs lie third in the table, 13 points ahead of a United side which Mourinho predicted last month would be in the top four by the New Year. They have a better chance of being in the bottom half.

Ten years ago Mourinho rebounded from his dismissal by Chelsea by going to Inter Milan and masterminding a Champions League victory which was his greatest managerial achievement. That kind of resilience seems to have vanished from his character. He seems a curiously enervated figure next to Jurgen Klopp.

Rocky

Klopp had to endure rocky spells at Liverpool where at one stage there seemed to be an endless supply of 'former Kop greats' queuing up to criticise the new boss. But he has come through and now there's a sense of a jigsaw's final pieces being slotted into place.

One summer signing, Alisson, saved Liverpool's European bacon against Napoli, another, Fabinho, was outstanding yesterday and a third, Xherdan Shaqiri, got the two winning goals. The Reds are moving inexorably in the right direction.

United are in reverse. They'll exit Europe in the next round and spend the rest of the season trying to keep ahead of Everton and Wolves. The only consolation for Mourinho is that if he survives this week he'll probably hang on for the next few months.

But why bother with a stay of execution? The Liverpool fans sang 'don't sack Mourinho' at the final whistle. Every other Premier League club feels the same way. They know that under current management the one-time rulers of English football are doomed to decline.

It's time United said go away Jose. Before opposition fans injure themselves laughing.

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