Tottenham travelled to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon knowing that a win would propel them back into top four and condemn Manchester City to a week outside the Champions League spaces.
From a Spurs perspective, they must have felt that it was a particularly good time to play United. Confidence appears to be quite low, Mourinho is struggling along and the Red Devils were in Ukraine on Thursday night playing in very, very cold weather.
Tottenham, fresh from their win at Wembley on Wednesday, must have been confident.
But if they were, it was misplaced.
In truth, this was very much a performance that encapsulated Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s form this year: a lot of the ball, precious few chances and a highly avoidable mistake that has cost them all three points.
— Tottenham Fans (@spursnewsonly) December 11, 2016
Something is missing at Spurs. Something they had last season. And when you consider that the personnel is roughly the same – and so is the manager – you’re forced to conclude that something has gone wrong psychologically.
Last season, Tottenham got into a ‘winning mentality’. They turned up to each game raring to go, hit the ground running and more often than not got an early goal.
Once they were in front, they were perfectly positioned to use the pace of some of their attacking players and their fullbacks to catch teams out on the counteract.
But this year they’ve not been getting in front. Whether it’s because they don’t ‘believe’, or it’s some other reason, what’s clear is that it needs sorting. Sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, it was United who got that all-important early goal, and in truth, they were the side that looked far more likely to make something happen.
Henrikh Mkhitaryans goal against Tottenham and Ander Herrera’s assist🔥 #MUFC
— United Report (@ManUtdReport_) December 11, 2016
Whilst there weren’t too many clear-cut chances, you always felt that United had it in them to score, something that it’s difficult to truthfully say about Spurs.
For Jose Mourinho, this was a massively important result. Had they lost they’d have been level on points with Watford and a full nine points away from the top four. Not insurmountable, but definitely difficult. And for Mourinho, one feels that if he can just get this United side in the Champions League next season, he’ll kick on from there.
Full time: Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham.
Goal [Henrikh Mkhitaryan]
Assist [Ander Herrera] pic.twitter.com/AGkdddJltz
— ㅤ (@TheUtdReview) December 11, 2016
If he fails, then who knows what will happen? Both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal have paid with their jobs when failing in exactly the same way, but it seems unlikely that Mourinho will succumb to the same fate. Only time will tell.
For now, Mourinho will be the manager excited about the Christmas period. For Pochettino, a few days of soul-searching to find the missing link awaits.