An uncomfortable win
It was vintage Manchester United going by the bare facts, but the truth after scratching the surface is still that it was rotten to the core. The start of this game exposed everything that was wrong about the club at present and it was an absolute disgrace which reflected dreadfully upon all involved.
United came back from two goals down to win against a Newcastle team who were nowhere near good.
This was not Mourinho’s Mark Robins moment.
If this win earns him a stay of execution at all, then those most relieved tonight will be Ed Woodward and – probably – Zinedine Zidane.
Why? Look at the fixture list awaiting United’s journey into winter. A change will surely not be made until after United visit Anfield at the earliest. Zidane will not fancy the task of being thrown into the job with trips to Chelsea, City, and Liverpool and a back-to-back face-off against Juventus as the honeymoon period of his time at United.
Nor will Woodward, whose judgement will surely suffer another blow and, in those circumstances, rather immediately too.
So, Mourinho will remain in charge until mid-December, probably, at the earliest and the latest.
Behind the smiles tonight the truth remains and is inescapable. In the moment the win was brilliant. As for what it means – probably very little. The overriding mood at the club completely overshadows any suggestion of a shining light.
We are now in a period where every single Jose Mourinho decision is perceived negatively. So, Scott McTominay, who was presumably kept in the team due to his positive performance (despite being, understandably, defensively poor as an ‘emergency’ centre half last week) was picked in midfield and this was called into question.
His selection against West Ham was, really, a very poor decision from Jose Mourinho. He was not helped, even if he wasn’t criticised. Today Mourinho was criticised for selecting the young midfielder, even though it was in his proper position, as “using” him. Considering Mourinho gave McTominay his debut, and also played him in crucial games last season, it seems an unfair criticism.
However, nonetheless — and, perhaps, some might say crucially — it’s something the manager himself invited after that selection last week. He was receiving the exact same criticism after twenty minutes of this game when United, who made as shambolic a start as they’ve ever made in a Premier League game, were 2-0 down. McTominay did not look comfortable as a makeshift centre back, even if in this case needs must.
So, when the second half started with Pogba and Matic at centre half, most observers were sharpening their knife ready to accuse Mourinho of sabotage. It looked like lunacy; it would be a stretch too far to describe it as genius, even if the changes won the game.
It would be too harsh to the manager to say the players won in spite of the tactics. But they were certainly playing for something other than the manager. That’s not a problem so long as they win, but the first half of this game does not provide much cause for optimism.
The most optimistic might hope that tonight was a watershed moment. Two weeks is a long time in football and defeat at Stamford Bridge after the international break will plunge the club right back into crisis.
Mourinho describing McTominay as ‘scared’ is only likely to invite more criticism from supporters. They have a point; and the manager cannot complain when such comments now overshadow any praise he may have received for the win.
Silence is golden
The game was played after the leak last night that Jose Mourinho’s days in the job are numbered; indeed, that it may not even be days, it may just be hours.
It has been suggested since that the press could have been tipped off by Ed Woodward, Mino Raiola or even Mourinho himself, in an attempt to show Woodward the crowd is behind him. That seems the least likely of the three but you wouldn’t rule any out.
That simple fact is enough to illustrate what a shambles the club has become since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and the club decided to take a more ‘transparent’ approach to its communications.
Briefings and leaks, ill-judged statements, inappropriately timed news releases and an absolutely disastrous approach to dismissing managers; it’s drama best confined to the cobbles of Weatherfield than Old Trafford, but then again, the football and the supporters seem to be the last consideration of anyone at the club. It’s just one more of the problems we’ll have to put up with no matter who the manager is.