Where to even begin?
Before going into what Manchester United did or did not do against Sevilla in their disaster of a defeat on Tuesday night – it is important to revisit what Jose Mourinho said post match in one of the more (un)surprising (not in a pleasant way) press conferences since he took over the reins as Manchester United manager.
Quickly after expressing his unwillingness to discuss or dwell on the defeat, the Portuguese began to open up by citing past instances of Manchester United getting knocked-out at home by some of his sides in the last decade or so, in an attempt to normalise what happened in midweek.
A fifteen-second rant in the process, showed what Jose Mourinho has always been about as football manager and more importantly, a person – the relentless winner who will do everything to avoid his image being portrayed as the opposite; a man who would spare nobody and go to any lengths – not limited to taking a swing at his own employers – if it meant that he could come out of a bad result with the least amount of blame possible. The unyielding mentality that has been his strength at the best of times has also been his undoing when things did not go well; like on Tuesday.
Manchester United’s approach was cautious and one might go as far to say criminally negative. There is no two ways about that. Numbers seldom lie. Jose Mourinho’s side only managed four shots on target in over 180 minutes of football against Montella’s Sevilla who have conceded five goals on five separate occasions this season.
What is baffling, however, is this mentality where any big occasion at Old Trafford – be it in the league or in Europe – these days is a scene where Manchester United – no matter the quality of the opposition, happily star in the underdog role, for a club of their size and stature.
Even in the successful run in Europe last year as they lifted their first Europa League title, Manchester United, a club with the finances that would put most Champions League sides to shade, did not handle any opponent in the knockout rounds with the conviction they should have, come to think of it.
There were no comprehensive victories even at that level – barring the 4-0 aggregate win over two legs against St.Etienne in the Round of 32. The final against Ajax – against a bunch of inexperienced yet talented youngsters Man United got the early break through a deflection but made little attempt to increase the lead until they scored the second off a set play.
It is understandably hard to argue with the result in the end – as Mourinho lifted his fourth European trophy and Manchester United completing the lot – flying the flag for a counter-intuitive and measured approach to football that has always irked sections of United fans – quite a far cry from the identity that the club was built around for decades and still wants to actively associate itself with.
But how long can Mourinho not provide an environment conducive to the amount of talent he has at his disposal to get the best out of his attacking players to win games they should be perfectly able to win – for the sake of his ideals and natural instincts?
One of the most successful managers in football since the turn of the millennium is Jose Mourinho and for him to not have the confidence in his side that he has steadily assembled – to go out and express themselves against lesser outfits (on paper) on big career-defining moments will be the one obvious red flag in a campaign where they have progressed in terms of the league position, for the Premier League is where managers are judged, contracts are signed and jobs are lost.
Until such a time comes when Mourinho is comfortable with moulding himself in such a way to get the best out of his players – United will continue to fail to hit the heights they can clearly reach, which may be the glass ceiling that he may have to break in the remainder of his time at Old Trafford.