Welcome to Stick or Twist, our weekly column here at The Football Faithful taking a look at the under-fire manager of the moment and ponders whether they deserve the sack or not.
We look at factors such as recent form, fan opinion and media commentary, while asking important questions such as ‘Is there a viable replacement available?’ and ‘Is the team just experiencing a dip or are they in an irreversible tailspin?’ This week we take at look at…
Name: Jose Mourinho
Club: Man United
Time In Charge: 2 years, 5 months
Odds For The Sack: 20/1
Why José? We’ve already covered the favourites for the sack in this column, aside from Neil Warnock. And, let’s be honest, Mourinho is a far more interesting prospect than the sweary Yorkshireman as I sit here trying to squeeze out a word count.
The Manchester United boss looks relatively safe for the time being, but should he be? Recent results have been decent, most notably the comeback victory over Juventus in the Champions League, but has anything changed?
Even if, for a moment, we discount the 3-1 loss to Man City – by far the best team in the Premier League, maybe even the world, lest we forget – United would still be sitting in eighth, only without the negative goal difference they currently possess.
United are now the only team in the top half of the PL with a negative goal difference
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) November 11, 2018
So, are Manchester United better off without Jose Mourinho or should they stick to their guns? Let’s investigate:
Man United are currently eighth in the form table, with ten points from their last five games. That’s a respectable two points per game – which would usually be enough for top four over the course of a season – versus 1.8 points per game in the twelve games to date.
That’s not a massive upturn in form since their 3-1 loss West Ham, considering many were quick to claim United are ‘back’ following a good run of games.
There’s been a level of excitement and romance to the late goals and come-from-behind performances, especially given United’s penchant for it during their most successful years. It’s also true however, that they put themselves in bad positions in the first place through poor play, team selection and tactics, which they have had to throw out the window after going a goal down.
Juventus should have beaten United by three goals, Newcastle United deserved a result last month, while Bournemouth can consider themselves unlucky not to have capitalised on their eleventh minute opener a few weeks ago. Bad starts have become a mark of United games this season, and sooner or later that will catch up with them in a big way unless the performance level improves.
Mourinho has improved the side in one important way of late – by dropping Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker is clearly a brilliant goalscorer, but the team is clearly more fluid without him in the starting line-up.
In his absence, Mou has been able to utilise Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in various guises, with the latter scoring an incredible seven goals in six league games. Once considered surplus to requirements by the manager, the Frenchman is now integral to the attack.
Mourinho is still reticent to start his most creative midfield, opting for a midfield of Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera against Man City on Sunday. His long held reluctance to trust Juan Mata is bizarre, especially in a situation where Paul Pogba is missing through injury. And yet, the Spaniard is often the man Jose calls upon to give him a dig out when he needs it most.
United are pretty open, despite Mourinho sticking three of the monoliths from 2001 Space Odyssey in his midfield.
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) November 11, 2018
The biggest question mark hanging over Mourinho’s handling of the team comes in the form of the defense, especially as the club’s goal difference currently stands at -1. Everyone is already well aware of the problems, but it is remarkable that a manager who made his name through building extremely rigid back-lines can’t make United’s even remotely solid.
The problem with Mou’s preferred style of play is that it invites pressure onto the defense, which is fine when you’ve got Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry. Not so much when you’re calling on Phil Jones or Chris Smalling, while actively handing opposition a ton of high quality chances. Last season they rode their luck (and David De Gea) to second place, but their underlying statistics showed the table was lying.
Mou could make a legitimate argument that, having asked for a world-class centre-back in the form of Toby Alderweireld during the summer, he was denied the means to sort out his defense by Ed Woodward. United can afford to shell out for that kind of quality and, even if the Belgian’s age concerns them, itwould have been worth the investment. Given how much money has been spent on transfers under this manager however, you can understand why they held back.
On the latest Football Faithful podcast, our editorial overlord and avowed Man United fan Peter Henry reiterated his belief he’d be “gone by Christmas” if Champions League qualification looked beyond the club. Are the majority of supporters in agreement?
Colm Boohig, fellow United fan and Storyful journalist, believes so: “I would say United fans want Mourinho out by a 60-40 split.”
That 40% have been pretty vocal in the past couple of months, calling on the fan base to back the manager no matter what.
Jose Mourinho is the biggest savage alive. Back from the dead. Never doubt this man. 👏🏻 https://t.co/FnJtpdKfMs
— SirAlexWay (@SirAlexWay) November 7, 2018
Colm believes this line of thinking is foolhardy at best: “Fans are fickle and United fans are up there with the worst.”
On the pitch, Colm is of the opinion that José is “troubleshooting every game”, lacking consistency at every step:
“We’ve had a good run of form recently… if you ignore the football on display.
“Mourinho is all about the results and trophies (it doesn’t take much for him to whip those fingers out at abusive fans) and when his teams are winning it covers over the cracks and does the job.
“But when we’re inconsistent and so-so most of the time then there is absolutely no benefit in having Mourinho. He is Big Sam at the other end of the table. Always has been.”
It seems as if we have gotten to the point where visible signs of progress have diminished beyond recognition, and that is when fans start to lose belief in a manager, such as this one who wrote in to Football365 to ponder what is even the point of Mourinho at United. Ouch.
The media were pretty scathing of Mourinho after the Manchester Derby, following a trend of criticism of his methods this season.
Convincing Man Utd supporters that he cannot possibly do any better with this team is Mourinho’s biggest managerial feat in recent weeks.
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) November 11, 2018
José Mourinho has got Manchester United fans to live game-by-game and completely ignore the bigger picture. Any victory, no matter how awful it is to watch or who the opposition is, is seen as a turning point
— Andrew Cesare (@AndrewCesare) November 11, 2018
Guardiola and Mourinho don’t even breathe the same air. They’re two separate species. United needs to find a coach somewhere on this planet that will play modern football. #MUFC
— Rob Blanchette (@_Rob_B) November 11, 2018
What Is The Manager Saying?
Mourinho hasn’t brought up the topic of getting sacked, as he did during his second reign at Chelsea, just yet, but he was biting back at the critics during his post-Manchester Derby press conference:
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) November 11, 2018
Fairly tame stuff, although he did give one notable answer on Sunday evening.
Mourinho asked how United are closer to Cardiff in the table than City. "I think we are not going to be relegated."
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) November 11, 2018
Well, that settles that then.
Zinedine Zidane has been heavily linked with the job this year, and is the favourite to take over at even odds. Just behind him is Antonio Conte (10/1), who would be an ideal choice to turn things around and bring back the ‘big club’ mentality, as he did with Juventus and to a lesser extent Chelsea.
Leonardo Jardim (13/1) would suit the United fandom’s notions of “attack, attack, attack” football, although the quote-un-quote best man for the job is Mauricio Pochettino (12/1), who hasn’t sounded happy at Spurs this season.
Premier League away points over the last nine months:
Tottenham – 34
Man City – 29
Chelsea – 22
Liverpool – 22
Man United – 20
Emphasises the outrageously good job Mauricio Pochettino is doing.
— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) November 10, 2018
I have to say though, this suggestion from Michael Caley at The Athletic caught my eye: Claudio Ranieri. The Italian isn’t even being considered by bookmakers, but Caley makes a great argument for his appointment at Old Trafford.
You might laugh, but it’s hardly as bad as this suggestion (who is currently 25/1 in the running!) from Andy Gray, is it?
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) August 27, 2018
Jose Mourinho’s time at the very top level is very possibly at an end. He’s being surpassed not just by Pep Guardiola, but also by the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp in terms of tactical nous. Mou hasn’t worked as a short-term fix in the hunt for instant glory and it’s clear there is no future for him at the club beyond this season.
Even if we assume Mourinho can still hang with the big boys, his tactics are totally unsuited to the current squad. The amount of attacking threat at his disposal is frankly terrifying, yet he struggles to get them flowing in synchronicity. That depth of talent could be utilised to amazing effect, yet Mourinho has taken one of the world’s most expensive squads and turned them into mid-table stragglers.
In this writer’s opinion, the smart money should be on Mourinho staying until the end of the season, at which point the club will part ways in order to pursue the viable options that come onto the market. I reckon United should Stick until the summer and get Poch then, but definitely Twist for the poetic justice of hiring Ranieri.