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English Premier League

Manchester United must stick with Jose Mourinho but Old Trafford will have to lower expectations

  • Average finish in first five seasons after winning last title is similar to Liverpool post-1991
  • Manager faces share of responsibility when it comes to recruiting players after picking only two of his signings in defeat to Manchester City
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 6:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 6:23pm

As European football slips into the second international break, Manchester United fans can look at the six games between the two breaks and think it could have been much worse.

There were wins at Bournemouth, Juventus and against Everton, a defeat to Juventus and the team were a minute from winning at Chelsea. There was enough excitement from those games to create a slight sense of optimism ahead of Sunday’s derby.

However, Manchester’s Reds were completely outplayed by the Blues – a result which will set the tone for the next two weeks.

The subject of Jose Mourinho’s future is never far away when United lose a game. He’s in his third season, judgment time, even by his own reckoning.

But how to judge him? He’s not going to win the title or even come close, but what are the alternatives?

Could any manager lead United to that title while City have Pep Guardiola and the backing, effectively, of a sovereign wealth fund?

Are Uefa or the Premier League going to punish them for the financial irregularities exposed in the leaks published by Der Spiegel? It’s far more likely the power wielded by the biggest clubs will prevail.

For all the accusations of over-commercialisation levelled at United, they do generate their own money from their vast fan base. And, like a swimmer with 12 bricks tied to his back, they’ve spent the last 13 years saddled with debts after the highly leveraged and unwanted Glazer buy-out.

None of that makes it any easier for fans to see City 12 points ahead of United after 12 games. United fans need to redefine success if their team can’t come close to winning the league.

Eighth-placed United are not even close to last year’s second spot and also languish 10 points behind Liverpool. No one thought this would happen after 21 years when a third-place finish was seen as a freak failure, but United have become like the Liverpool of the Nineties.

Liverpool’s average league finish in the five years after winning their last league title in 1990 was 5.2; United’s is 5.0 since the team last won the league in 2013.

Liverpool then, and United now, enjoyed cup wins, top players and goals, but no one will recall either as a great side.

So it leaves the cups to fight for, the norm for United in the ’70s and ’80s. If there’s one man who you’d fancy in one-off cup competitions then it’s Mourinho.

Juventus are a significantly better team than United, yet Mourinho’s men beat them last week. He’s still got it, though he’s at a club where second best isn’t good enough, more so if it’s to City. That’s an issue which isn’t going away.

United should continue to trust Mourinho to build and rebuild if necessary, rather than start again as they have done several times in the post-Fergie era. In this case, it really is better the devil you know.

Only one thing is certain: United’s fans will be there regardless. Following a football team is more than what happens on the pitch. If you’re only there for the glory then you’re not much of a supporter. Fans of most clubs go a lifetime without seeing their team win anything, but expectations are understandably higher at United and the team are not yet consistent enough to win leagues.

Jamie Carragher said last week that while Anthony Martial can put in the 9 out of 10 performances, he also produces too many 5/10 performances. “Where are the 7 out of 10s?” he asked, with good reason.

Consistency should come with age. Martial is 22, Rashford 20, Luke Shaw 23, Paul Pogba 25, and Romelu Lukaku 25. There’s time and room for improvement.

Martial wasn’t happy for most of this year, but he is now. Maybe Alexis Sanchez, unpopular with teammates and with almost no inclination to communicate properly with fans, can find some contentment, too.

Mourinho deserves to be supported by fans, and hear them singing his name at games, but while he’s far from solely culpable for his side’s failings, he can’t avoid responsibility. Only two of the 11players Mourinho has signed since taking over in 2016 started Sunday’s Manchester derby.

The cheapest cost £19.8 million (US$25.5 million), the average price was £46 million. Let’s not buy the “We are paupers line” too much. Graeme Souness had a point when he said Mourinho could be getting more from the expensively assembled talents.

Guardiola has spent more than Mourinho and while it’s hard to describe a £45 million footballer as a bargain, Bernardo Silva looks a far better signing than Fred and Ilkay Gundogan cost £25 million.

Mourinho can’t blame a sporting director or interfering club president as he might have been able to at his previous clubs – he’s privileged to get a free hand at Old Trafford. The Portuguese’s record in the transfer market at United is patchy at best and for all the accusations levelled at City, their football department has got things spot on.

That was evident on Sunday as they dominated the game, United managing only one shot on target, their penalty. Incredibly, a United team have a negative goal difference after 12 games.

This is the unfortunate reality for Manchester United, but it can, and should, improve.