Alexis Sanchez rescued Manchester United – and perhaps under-fire Jose Mourinho – in a thrilling 3-2 comeback win against embattled Newcastle.
Off-field issues have been compounded by poor performances in recent weeks, but senior figures strongly denied a report in the build-up that the manager would lose his job this weekend regardless of the outcome here.
Newcastle, lifeless and winless heading to the north-west, looked set to ratchet up the pressure on Mourinho and sent United into a tailspin after deservedly racing into a two goal lead through Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto.
But Old Trafford was rocking during a second half that will live long in the memory as Juan Mata and Anthony Martial struck before Sanchez snatched a last-gasp winner.
This could prove a huge moment in Mourinho’s United career, although there remains big questions to answer after a pathetic first-half display in which Kenedy netted early on.
Muto compounded matters as United conceded twice within the opening 10 minutes of a Premier League match at home for the first time and matters could well have got worse.
Mourinho, gesticulating furiously on the touchline, brought on Mata for Eric Bailly after 19 dreadful minutes and exasperated fans chanted ‘Jose’s right, the board is s****’.
That underlined the issues that need solving off the field, but on it United belatedly showed togetherness, skill and intent in the second half.
Mata pulled one back from a free-kick and Martial levelled with a smart low finish, before Sanchez headed home in front of the Stretford End in a memorable win.
With reports that Jose Mourinho is set to be sacked on Saturday, regardless of the result against Newcastle United later in the evening – though that has since been denied – it’s time to look at who could be the next man in the Manchester United hot seat.
Zinedine Zidane has been the name most mentioned, but a few other candidates could be under consideration if Mourinho is indeed let go.
Here’s a look at three potential new United managers.
OBVIOUS: Zinedine Zidane
Zidane’s record speaks for itself. Three straight Champions League titles with Real Madrid, an unprecedented achievement. The second of those came along with a La Liga title, Madrid’s first in five years, and a first league-and-European double for the club in 59 years.
His resume is not the question. The doubts with Zidane come, firstly, with his supposed lack of tactical acumen, and secondly that his only success came with a ready-made, star-studded squad.
Then again, Mourinho didn’t win three straight European titles with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, and the rest of that squad. He couldn’t win a single one. Nobody could, apart from Carlo Ancelotti.
United’s squad is undoubtedly not as good as the one Zidane had at his disposal in the Spanish capital, but given that he extracted more from Madrid’s players than anyone else had, there’s a good bet he can manage something similar with players like Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, and the rest of the attacking players at Old Trafford.
As for the criticism of Zidane’s tactical chops, while it’s valid, it’s as much a strength as a weakness. He simplifies things for his players, giving them the freedom to express themselves. There’s many at United who’d love that right now.
LONGSHOT – Mauricio Pochettino
From a United standpoint, there are likely no arguments against a Mauricio Pochettino appointment. Sure, the Argentine is yet to win a trophy in his managerial career, but the work he’s done at Tottenham, turning them into established members of the Premier League‘s “Big Six” and making them regular Champions League participants and league title contenders is remarkable.
The difficulty in appointing the Spurs boss is the resistance they’ll face from his club. Daniel Levy is already known as a hard negotiator when it comes to any of his players. How much worse will he be when it comes to the man, who, at the moment, is basically Tottenham’s own golden goose?
Levy will likely dismiss any United approach for Pochettino out of hand, and on the off chance they are actually able to get in the door and begin negotiating, he’ll extract a king’s ransom as compensation.
Ultimately, if United are desperate enough and convinced enough about Pochettino, they’ll make it happen. But the process will be painful, and just that thought might put them off from even trying.
WILD CARD – Michael Carrick
There’s been talk of appointing former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte – what a slap in the face to Mourinho that would be – but, though the Italian has a good relationship with Pogba from their time together at Juventus, he grated on the Blues’ board during his two-year spell there, something United would want to avoid.
Plus, Chelsea’s own attacking players seem to have been stifled under him, which would mean he would be no different from Mourinho at Old Trafford.
It may be too hard to tempt Ryan Giggs away from Wales so soon as well, so that option of turning to a club legend is, for the moment, closed.
But a different United stalwart is already on the club’s books. Michael Carrick went straight from the pitch to the backroom – though in fairness, he barely played last season – and though his apprenticeship has only been a few months long, there’s long been a thought at United that the Englishman is managerial material.
Whether they’d take a risk on someone with no experience is a separate question, but there are plenty of points in Carrick’s favour. He has a relationship with everyone in this current squad, and he was both well-liked and well respected by those players.
Carrick also has a deep understanding of the United ethos, and will likely try to live up to the players’ and fans’ desire for attacking football.
The boardroom may also think of him as a safe candidate who won’t rock the boat and mouth off when things start going wrong – though, they may be in for a surprise in that case. Understated though Carrick may be, he’s also no-nonsense, as future employers will no doubt discover.
It’s an unlikely appointment, but it would also be a throwback to the “United Way” that seems to have been lost. Would the club take the risk?
Jose Mourinho’s position at the helm of Manchester United is not under immediate threat, according to senior figures at the club.
Weeks of speculation and scrutiny came to a head on Friday evening, when the Daily Mirror reported that the 55-year-old was set to be sacked, irrespective of the outcome of Saturday’s Premier League clash with Newcastle.
Poor performances have been compounded by off-field problems during an uncomfortable start to the season at Old Trafford, with the relationship between Mourinho and star midfielder Paul Pogba creating unwanted headlines.
Jose Mourinho’s position at the Manchester United helm is not under immediate threat, senior figures at the club have told Press Association Sport— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) October 6, 2018