Jose Mourinho edging closer to Manchester United job
Manchester Utd 1 Aston Villa 0
Jose Mourihno has told friends he is increasingly confident about succeeding Louis van Gaal as Manchester United manager this summer.
Van Gaal has admitted in recent weeks that he could be sacked if United miss out on Champions League qualification or fail to win the FA Cup.
United are running out of time in their battle to finish in the top four. They trail Arsenal, who are fourth in the table, by four points with five matches remaining and face Everton in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley on Saturday.
The club's hierarchy are keeping tight-lipped about their intentions and refused to comment on reports in Germany yesterday that Mourinho has agreed a three-year deal to take over at Old Trafford from the summer, but the former Chelsea manager believes that is moving closer to becoming a reality.
Mourinho is thought to have had a gentleman's agreement in place with United for the past few months, although the precise details of that arrangement remain unclear.
Van Gaal has not given up hope of seeing out the final year of his United contract. But, despite acknowledging the glut of injury problems the manager has had to contend with and his commitment to blooding youngsters, there is concern at the club about the poor results, sterile football, lack of goals and failure to extract more from a squad that has had in excess of £250m invested in it.
Saturday's victory came courtesy of Marcus Rashford's seventh goal in 12 games but the one-paced football and lack of entertainment caused more exasperation among worried supporters.
If Van Gaal triumphed in the Cup, it would offer the opportunity to head into retirement on a relative high, should United opt to dispense with his services, but the Dutchman does not believe his superiors have made a definitive decision yet and thinks results over the next few weeks could still have a bearing on his future.
Despite Mourinho's calamitous season at Chelsea, where he was sacked in December seven months after winning the title with the club one point above the relegation zone, the prospect of the Portuguese taking charge at Old Trafford would be tantalising, not least because it would see a renewal of his rivalry with Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola, who succeeds Manuel Pellegrini as Manchester City manager in the summer, was in charge of Barcelona when Mourinho managed the Catalan club's bitter rivals, Real Madrid.
United are interested in signing Renato Sanches, Benfica's gifted young midfielder, and Everton centre-half John Stones this summer, and they are targets Mourinho fully supports. Mourinho made a series of failed bids for Stones when at Chelsea and also tried and failed to bring Sanches to Stamford Bridge.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has admitted he would happily play under Mourinho at United, with the club also weighing up a move for the Sweden striker, who is out of contract at Paris St-Germain at the end of the season.
Saturday's defeat confirmed Villa's first top-flight relegation for 29 years in the most embarrassing circumstances and life in the Championship will present new challenges to a club in disarray.
"It's going to be very difficult - nobody is under any illusions. For starters, there are an extra eight games and the physicality is different to the Premier League," said caretaker manager Eric Black.
"Nobody is under any illusions it will be plain sailing. If we can get the right squad together then we can bounce straight back, but it will be no easy task."
Now comes the Villa rebuild, starting with a new manager and a much-needed overhaul of a squad who, through shortage of ability and, even more damningly, a lack of backbone, are largely despised by their own fans.
"Some players will want to fight and battle for it, some won't. Some players you will want to keep and won't be able to, some you'll want to get rid of and won't be able to."
Steve Bruce is a leading candidate to take over at Villa if they cannot persuade Nigel Pearson to take the job.
The painful disconnect between players and supporters was fully illustrated on Saturday when, at the end of the match, only a handful of players ventured in the direction of the away fans to offer applause.
Then came the comments on social media from captain Joleon Lescott, who described relegation as "a weight off the shoulders" of the players.
Lescott's remark was part of a wider point but was as ill-judged as his tweeting of a picture of a £125,000 sports car after a 6-0 humiliation by Liverpool in February and, many critics would say, much of his decision-making at the heart of the team's woeful rearguard this season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)