Another cup final for Manchester United. Another cup final for Jose Mourinho.
As the final whistle was blown, United celebrated reaching their second FA Cup final in three years and a chance to equal Arsenal who hold a record 13 titles in the oldest domestic competition in the world.
Jose Mourinho’s side will take on his former employers Chelsea in a repeat of the 2007 final – of the inaugural edition in the new Wembley. Jose Mourinho was victorious on the day for the Blues, ironically, after losing the league title to Manchester United in a thrilling Premier League season.
This season has been a strange one for him and for the club in that it is still hard for many quantify the progress that United have made under his management. One glance at the numbers will paint a clear picture. Manchester United are on course to hit their highest Premier League tally of points since they won the league the last time five years ago.
By extension, United have already won the highest number of games this season than in any of the seasons post Ferguson’s departure. They have scored more goals, conceded less and are reasonably more entertaining to watch – in most games.
A keener look at the results suggests that United have fared much better against the top six than in recent years, particularly in the last two years when they have struggled to overcome the ‘top six’ away from home. This season, United have beat the champions-elect Manchester City, Arsenal and now Spurs away from home. In the last two months, they have also managed to edge Chelsea and Liverpool at home; while their home record across the two seasons has been impressive.
Now, is this a bar high enough to call the appointment of Mourinho a resounding success so far? Maybe not. But the Portuguese has been far from disappointing and in general, the consensus is that the club is being taken in the right direction under his management. Two trophies (Mourinho would say ‘three’) and the likelihood of another in the first two seasons on top of what is increasingly looking like a second place finish – the highest they will finish in the league since 2013 – cannot be construed as anything but progress either.
Yet, Mourinho still faces the heat of criticism – often from large sections of the English media that continue to question the value he has added to the side since he took over the reins in 2016.
However, the flaws in Mourinho’s design at Man United are quite obvious. As prolific his record in the knockout competitions could be, often times against the lesser sides in the league, his sides still lack the imagination and at times motivation to win games, despite the attacking talent at his disposal.
Manchester City have been ruthless in the league this season and they are where they are on grounds of merit but Mourinho’s estimation that his side should have avoided dropping at least 10 of the 28 points that they have, was absolutely correct and that is something he should work on the training grounds to better prepare for next season.
The defeats against Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and more recently West Bromwich Albion could have all been avoided had Manchester United approached the game better from a mental perspective and most certainly braver from an attacking standpoint.
United mustered a total of 11 shots on target in those three defeats combined and therein lies the issue. They have switched off for large periods in games they are expected to win as the in-game management has failed to deliver to change the outcome in a way it did in the big games more often than not this season.
Whether Jose Mourinho will reassess his approach to find a different solution like he did on Sunday – by going in with a 3-man midfield with Paul Pogba on the left – is the ultimate question we will find an answer to, from August. Until then he will be glad that his side will have another meaningful game to stay focused for and look forward to in May, which is all that matters for now.