‘Special One’ Mourinho is rapidly becoming yesterday’s man
Chelsea’s current success heightens contrast with the Portuguese boss’ lack of achievement in recent times with United struggling to make an impact this season
Today marks the first anniversary of Jose Mourinho’s second departure from Chelsea and the current standings in the English Premier League make clear that the club has emerged in better shape than its former manager.
Mourinho takes his Manchester United side to West Brom in Saturday night’s late game with a yawning 13-point gap between his new club and Chelsea, who are setting a ferocious pace at the top.
Chelsea’s fortunes have turned around completely since Mourinho’s exit. Guus Hiddink stabilised the club as caretaker manager in the second half of last season and now Antonio Conte has breathed new fire into the players Mourinho left behind.
This time last year Chelsea were 16th in the table with 15 points, a mere point above the relegation zone. But Conte’s Chelsea have advanced so quickly that they have accumulated 40 points from their first 16 games – a total the Blues did not reach until March 5 last season, after 29 matches.
Contrast that with United’s stop-start progress under their new manager. Being in charge at Old Trafford may be his dream job, but it has been a struggle so far for Mourinho. He started with three straight wins in the league but has added only four more in 13 games and three of those were against teams in the bottom seven.
Another comparison seems appropriate too. At this stage of last season, United were much more in the title race in fourth place – six points off leaders Leicester – and performing much the same as they are under Mourinho. Then they had 29 points (27 now), had scored 21 goals (22 now), conceded 12 (17 now) and, although they had been beaten only three times (also three now), they had a high number of draws (five then, six now).
Yet Louis Van Gaal came in for much greater criticism then than Mourinho is now. Perhaps that is understandable, given that Van Gaal was in his second season and Mourinho is only four months into his first league campaign with United, but it is clear the gloss that peeled off Mourinho’s reputation last autumn has not been restored.
Mourinho claims United have been unlucky and to some extent justifiably, considering his team have dominated most of the games that have ended in draws. But results have always mattered most to Mourinho and the simple truth is his team have not been good enough, nor have most of the performances been in the United style, any more than they were under Van Gaal.
Lack of goals lies at the heart of the problem both with results and style. United have not been able to press home their apparent advantage in the drawn games because their attack has not been as sharp as Chelsea’s, Liverpool’s or Arsenal’s.
United have scored nil or one in 11 matches, whereas Liverpool have had only four games with such a low score, followed by Chelsea and Manchester City with five and Arsenal with six. Instead of ranking alongside those title challengers, United are closer to habitual low scorers such as Southampton and Middlesbrough.
The effect on United’s results is clear. All of their draws have come when they scored no more than one goal and they have won only two of the 11 matches in which that has happened. It is hard to argue that 11 low-scoring efforts are all down to bad luck. By this stage of the season, with almost half the games played, they are indicative of a safety-first style of play, which is why United rank with the likes of Southampton and Middlesbrough.
The stats also tell us that United are struggling against better-class opposition. Chelsea have taken 15 points against top-eight teams, whereas United, with only one win out of six in that category, have taken just six points and have averaged less than a goal per game.
Three of United’s four away wins were against relegation strugglers Hull, Swansea and Crystal Palace - the other was against Bournemouth - and that form line appears to make them a risky bet when they visit seventh-placed West Brom tonight.
Both of West Brom’s home defeats came when the opposition scored at least two goals, which suggests United will have to raise their game.
Back-to-back wins in the past week have improved United’s outlook and December is already looking brighter than last year, when they took two points out of 15 under Van Gaal. But there is still much repair work ahead for Mourinho and his team.