December has been a disappointing month for Jose Mourinho, who needs Manchester United to beat Southampton at Old Trafford on Saturday in order to restore some optimism for the New Year.
Mourinho has seen United fall 15 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City in the Premier League title race, as well as suffer an embarrassing League Cup exit against Championship side Bristol City.
Successive 2-2 draws in the league, against Leicester City and Burnley, have only deepened the United manager’s frustration.
Mourinho accused his players of “childish” decisions as they conceded a late equaliser at Leicester last Saturday, and was every bit as angry with the defending against Burnley on Boxing Day.
The quality of United’s defending has become an increasing problem for Mourinho of late.
Having kept eight clean sheets in their opening 10 league matches, they have managed just two in the past 10.
Injuries to Eric Bailly and Phil Jones at various stages of the campaign have not helped in that respect, but with the Ivory Coast international set to be out for another couple of months as he recovers from ankle surgery, Mourinho has to find a solution at the back quickly.
Chris Smalling, another of United’s central defenders, missed the Burnley game with a groin injury picked up at Leicester, and the manager still seems reluctant to use Victor Lindelof in that role in Premier League games.
Mourinho is still looking for his best combination in attack too.
Romelu Lukaku is struggling to rediscover his early-season form, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic is only beginning to find his way back to match fitness after seven months out with cruciate knee ligament damage.
France striker Anthony Martial missed the Burnley match with a knee injury, and will be assessed before a decision is taken on whether to include him in the squad to face Southampton.
Jesse Lingard has played himself into contention for a start after coming on as a half-time substitute for Ibrahimovic to score the two goals that earned United a Boxing Day point.
Raheem Sterling says Manchester City are motivated by the pursuit of silverware rather than the promise of breaking more records as the Premier League leaders chase another landmark at Crystal Palace this weekend.
Pep Guardiola’s side have already turned the title race into a lengthy coronation party after winning 18th successive league matches to open up a 15-point lead over second placed Manchester United.
A slew of statistical milestones have littered red-hot City’s incredible run and they can finish 2017 by claiming another notable feat.
Just hours before the New Year’s Eve fireworks begin to light up the night sky on Sunday, unbeaten City will be at Selhurst Park looking for a record-equalling 19th consecutive league victory.
The only club in Europe’s five biggest leagues to have had a winning run that long is Bayern Munich under Guardiola in 2013-14.
But, while the historic sub-plots are a welcome bonus, City winger Sterling insists it is the thought of moving another step closer to the Premier League trophy that inspires his side.
“I don’t think everyone is really too focused on records. The most important thing is the three points,” said Sterling, who scored City’s winner at Newcastle on Wednesday.
“Once you win the game and the stats come up, that’s all well and great, but you can’t be thinking about that.
“We’ve just got to have a single focus. At the end of the day, if it happens, it happens, but we need to go there with the mentality to get the job done.”
Carvalhal was sacked by second-tier Sheffield Wednesday on Christmas Eve, but Swansea surprisingly chose the Portuguese coach to replace Paul Clement, who lost his job on December 20 with the club languishing at the bottom of the Premier League.
The Welsh club said Carvalhal’s contract included the option of an extension at the end of the season.
“We felt we needed to get the managerial situation resolved as soon as possible and while the timing is not always perfect, we can look forward to the second half of the campaign with renewed optimism,” Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins said.
To convince Swansea to keep him beyond this season, Carvalhal might have to save his new club from relegation.
They sit five points from safety and bottom of the table with no wins in their last four matches after a 5-0 thrashing at Liverpool on Tuesday.
Carvalhal is Swansea’s fifth permanent manager in two years and his move to the Liberty Stadium might not inspire much confidence from the club’s frustrated fans.
He led Wednesday to the Championship play-offs in the last two seasons, but lost his job with the Yorkshire side after an eight-game winless run left them well outside the top six.
Jenkins is confident Carvalhal can rescue Swansea, saying: “We are very pleased with the appointment.
“Carlos’ time at Sheffield Wednesday, which included securing two consecutive play-off places, highlighted that he has great character and personality to lead the squad and the football club, which is vital at such a crucial time,” Jenkins said.
“He has built up a lot of experience over the years which will ensure the team is structured and organised.
“He is driven and ambitious and, while he has a big challenge ahead of him, I know he will tackle it without fear.”
Leon Britton had been working as a player-caretaker manager, but Carvalhal hasn’t announced if the long-serving Swansea midfielder will stay on the coaching staff.