Another weekend, another win for Manchester United. But their 3-1 defeat of Arsenal would have been much sweeter if it wasn’t followed by another win from their noisy neighbours.
Last week I wrote that Man City had the title sewn up, an outlook that was somewhat different to the previous week, when I extolled the virtues of a Manchester United title challenge and remained optimistic of the Red Devils pushing City all the way.
2-0 after 11 minutes.
— United Xtra (@utdxtra) December 2, 2017
But this week, as with last week, I find myself forced to submit to realism: City DO have the title sewn up.
Perhaps it was optimism on my part that suggested that the title race was still open two weeks ago – a forlorn hope that United may make a contest out of this yet, but two more weeks have gone by, and although United have looked good, City have looked better.
And that eight-point cushion isn’t going away in a hurry, though they could chip into it with a win in the derby in Week 16 – a task made that much harder, however, by Paul Pogba’s red card.
That red card for Pogba may have just ended any title hopes Man United had left. They are nowhere near as good without him and he’ll miss Manchester derby. Mugba.
— Spencer FC (@SpencerOwen) December 2, 2017
I guess the point of my article this week is to question what Jose Mourinho will do with the situation he has ended up in.
A pragmatist and realist at heart, Mourinho will be well aware that whilst not officially ‘over’, the title now seems to be beyond his side’s grasp.
So what does he do now?
The Special One’s second season has always ended with success, and with the league title almost out of sight, I wonder if the Portuguese will now consider favouring the Champions League in his outlook and team selections.
One can never be sure, but with the players at his disposal, it seems likely that Mourinho will succeed in getting United a top-four finish, and he may well ask the question, “What is the difference between second and fourth, particularly when a Champions League win is up for grabs?”
We’ve more UEFA #ChampionsLeague action coming up on Tuesday as Manchester United take on CSKA Moscow for a place in the last 16.
UEFA Champions League Live: Man United b CSKA Moscow, tuesday at 7.30pm on TV3. #TV3UCL pic.twitter.com/j1DcxLXlbR
— TV3 (@TV3Ireland) December 3, 2017
The reason for my pondering? Last season, Mourinho showed himself to be utterly ruthless and single-minded when it comes to prioritising the most likely favourable outcome.
The United boss effectively gave up on the hunt for the top four last term, putting all his eggs in a Europa League shaped basket, and I wonder whether it’ll be the same this season.
The Premier League crown seems difficult, and with City so far ahead, it seems an improbably option.
But the Champions League? If Mourinho saves his best players for those big European nights? Is that more or less probable?
What the manager reminded us of in United’s march to the Europa League final last year was that when it comes to two-leg encounters, there are few better.
In a tactical two-leg battle, Mourinho regularly comes out on top, and if he is able to have fit and firing players at his disposal for each tie, the chances of United progressing rapidly increases.
“It was a phenomenal game. I loved the way my team fought. My players deserve all the great words: amazing, phenomenal, fantastic. And we deserve three points” – Jose Mourinho#ARSMUN pic.twitter.com/YqcJl6Da9J
— Premier League (@premierleague) December 2, 2017
And should he win the Champions League, the second season will be deemed a qualified success, particularly as Mourinho is yet to win the competition with an English club.
Time will tell, but I just wonder whether Mourinho’s ‘success at all costs’ mentality will see the Champions League grabbing the focus. It would be a ballsy move, but then Mourinho has always been a ballsy manager.
“I think the players deserve all the good words we can find for them.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 2, 2017