The Special One’s orb is rapidly dimming. In fact, it may have already burned out.
Manchester United’s exit in the Champions League at the hands of Sevilla sent shockwaves around European football because, well, it’s Manchester United, and Jose Mourinho. Two things most people outside Old Trafford love to loathe.
United’s Andalusian-designed demise came as a shock to most pundits, at least those in the spotlight commentating on the game.
Words like “disgrace”, “embarrassment” and calls for Mourinho to be sacked – from his own fans as much as those of rival clubs – did the rounds on social media.
Even more importance has now been placed on the FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton on Saturday.
The clash with the Seagulls was already their most-important game of the season thus far because it represented United’s best chance of a trophy. Now it represents their only hope.
But let’s not pretend Mourinho’s position at Old Trafford is realistically under threat. It’s not.
He immediately followed the dismal David Moyes and lethargic Louis van Gaal experiments by delivering two major trophies in his debut season – one of which, the Europa League, was the only major trophy in European club football to have previously eluded the Red Devils.
And let’s also not pretend he isn’t still a great manager. If it were not for Manchester City’s brilliance, critics would be raving about how, with eight games left to play, Jose’s United are on course for their best finish post-Sir Alex Ferguson.
Their 65 points this term has already surpassed Moyes’ ill-fated 2013/14 spell in charge, with 70 (in 2014/15 under Van Gaal) the target to beat. They have eight games left to do this, with the likes of Swansea, West Brom and Watford to visit Old Trafford.
United have won 20 times this season; one more victory will surpass the same number by Van Gaal (also 2014/15). United sit second and look assured of leapfrogging finishes of seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth since Fergie’s title-winning farewell.
So what’s the problem? Well, that’s easy. The football is turgid. Is Jose getting the best out of his squad, something neither Moyes or Van Gaal were able to do? Unequivocally yes.
The energetic Jesse Lingard is not a world-class talent, but has ascended to another level under the Portuguese. Scott McTominay’s emergence pours scorn on Mourinho’s apparent unwillingness to invest in youth.
But is the football any easier on the eye? Barely.
In a crucial Champions League tie, at home, to inferior opposition on Tuesday night, Mourinho opted for Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic as the central midfield two. France forward Anthony Martial, however moody, can change a game and was left on the bench until the 77th minute, when it was too late.
There is a time and place for pragmatism but this was not it, with United’s cautious approach audibly taking the strut from underneath the feet of the fans walking into the stadium still on a high from victory over Liverpool. This performance, this result, had been coming, too.
The major issue is that while he remains one of the best managers, Mourinho also remains steadfastly stuck to his principles, whereas others are adapting.
After a relatively dreary debut campaign in Manchester by his standards, Pep Guardiola went off script this season. Coincidentally, the criticism labeled at the Catalan then was that he was too attacking. He declined to adapt and prioritise defence when required, as a promising start unraveled after Christmas.
Essentially, Mourinho is being chastised because he’s not as good as Pep. There is a clear void between the two and that will continue to grow, as will the gap between the clubs (already 16 points) unless he changes.
One of Fergie’s great traits was to be able to mutate as football evolved during his 26 years as boss. He was a master chameleon, able to adapt to his changing surroundings, which was key to his longevity.
Ahahahaha !!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLL !!!!! GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL !!!! GOL GOL GOL GOL GOL !!!!!!!!!!!! GOLLLLLLLLLLLLL !!!! GOL GOL GOL GOL !!!! 😂😂😂😂❤️❤️❤️❤️ https://t.co/Fpga9S0UsA— Wissam Ben Yedder (@WissBenYedder) 14 March 2018
Mourinho remains a top manager but his unwillingness to evolve may be his downfall at a club that has long been a bastion of swashbuckling bravado and attacking guile.
Under Mourinho they’ve been reduced to an efficient machine, like an Audi.
But against Sevilla they broke down and collided with a stark reality – the manager needs to change his ways next season, or United may eventually trade him in for a new model.
Wissam Ben Yedder came off the bench to secure the Spaniards a deserved 2-1 last-16 second leg win at Old Trafford, where the hosts were jeered off the pitch having only belatedly got their act together as Romelu Lukaku netted.
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s loss and how it leaves Jose Mourinho‘s men.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Something everyone at United is trying to get grips with in the aftershock. The goalless first leg in Sevilla never seemed as sturdy a result as some suggested given the lack of away goal and the hosts’ performance, with only inspired goalkeeping from David De Gea keeping United on level terms.
Instead of heeding that warning, United wilted under the Old Trafford floodlights. Poor tactics, inept individual displays and a questionable attitude allowed Sevilla to progress to the quarter-finals at the fourth time of asking.
DID MANY PEOPLE SEE THAT COMING?
Well, not given United’s fine form since the first leg, having shown spades of character in beating Chelsea, Crystal Palace and bitter rivals Liverpool to increase their stranglehold on second spot. The Red Devils had won 11 of 15 UEFA competition ties in which they recorded a first-leg away draw, including six of nine when it had ended goalless on the road.
Then, lest we forget, there is the financial gulf between these clubs, along with Sevilla’s struggles at times this season and the fact they had never won on English soil before. Last year they bowed out in the last-16 to Leicester.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE UNITED?
Their last remaining hopes of silverware come in the FA Cup, making Saturday evening’s quarter-final against Brighton all the more important. Mourinho oversaw Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield glory in his first season, but Manchester City’s eye-watering lead means the Premier League is out of reach on the back of Carabao Cup and Champions League exits.
The Portuguese did not take kindly to a Spanish-speaking reporter asking whether that represented failure for United in the post-match press conference.
MOURINHO A BIT CHIPPY?
On a night when it was plain to see the best team won, the United boss claimed their performance was not bad. Mourinho was curt with some journalists in the post-match press conference and attempted to downplay the surprise loss by bringing up the last-16 exits he masterminded from the away dugout at Old Trafford when managing Porto and Real Madrid.
His claims that the exit is not “something new for the club” has not gone down well with many the fans, especially given his side’s negativity over both legs against Sevilla.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The inquest is ongoing but, as Mourinho pointed out, there is no time for self-pity with Brighton looming large. United fans will demand a response from their under-performing side and FA Cup progress in a match when the manager’s selection and approach will be under scrutiny.
An effective role needs to be found for January signing Alexis Sanchez – that or he needs to be dropped – and Paul Pogba continues to prove a tactical headache for Mourinho, who has the attacking talent but has struggled to effectively shoehorn it into a coherent side.
Given the ongoing questions over style and silverware, you would not blame United fans for making envious glances across to swashbuckling City right now.
Old Trafford witnessed history on Tuesday evening as the Andalusians chose a timely moment to secure their first ever win on English soil.
Wissam Ben Yedder came off the bench to score a match-winning brace as Sevilla triumphed 2-1 in the second leg of the last-16 tie, seeing them comfortably through given the first leg ended all square.
United could have few complaints about their exit given a lacklustre display that even surprised the visitors, who feared their best chance of reaching the quarter-finals had passed after a goalless first leg in Spain.
“That’s what I thought because I think we played well at home, but we didn’t score that goal, so we knew it was going to be very hard here at this stadium,” former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder N’Zonzi said.
Number 9⃣ @WissBenYedder comes off the bench ➡
5⃣ minutes later history is made pic.twitter.com/P4VSVDWTFS
— Sevilla FC (@SevillaFC_ENG) March 14, 2018
“But at the end, in football anything can happen and we proved it, so that’s great.
“Even myself, I thought they were going to press a little bit more, but the first 20 minutes we saw that we could keep the ball, we could play our possession game the way we like and we just kept going until the end.”
N’Zonzi said Sevilla performed strongly defensive and the twice capped French international said his team did a great job nullifying United, allowing them to dream ahead of Friday’s quarter-final draw.
“Anything is possible,” he told beIN SPORTS. “That’s football. Just two games, so in two games you can beat anyone.
“We know that it’s hard, it’s always hard against those big teams, but we proved that anything can happen in football.”