Anyone who thought that Jose Mourinho was actually in charge at Old Trafford should now reconsider their position.
When United lost to Liverpool in Week 17, the consensus was that the players were either not good enough to wear the shirt or the manager’s tactics were not working. After six wins on the bounce since Jose was fired (including a home win in the FA Cup), it is blatantly obvious that the players had basically downed tools. Player power is nothing new in the EPL, and there have been several instances in recent years where a manager is working with footballers who don’t want to play for him.
However, players don’t get sacked. They might be benched or fail to get into the matchday squad, but they are the ones who hold all the cards. Jose lost the dressing room, plain and simple, and the appointment/success of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager has woken these overpaid superstars up.
Prior to the game at Spurs, the general feeling amongst the media was that Ole had not really been tested so far. Games against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Reading (FA Cup) were all matches that United was expected to win, even under Mourinho. Spurs at Wembley was another matter.
An added narrative was the well-reported speculation that Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is the first choice to take over at Old Trafford at the end of the season. Poch has been extremely coy about the job opportunity, but that might be moot if Ole continues to build on the temporary relationship that he has with his players and, it seems, with the United fans.
As a result, the recent run of victories has exposed player attitude/apathy as not only the underlying reason for Mourinho’s departure but also acts as a warning for the next permanent manager. Yes, United won at Wembley so it could be argued that Solskjaer passed his first real test, but they were under pressure for most of the game and had their keeper to thank for keeping Spurs out.
“United are working hard and putting the effort in. They did not do that under Mourinho,” said BBC pundit (and former England defender) Danny Mills during the game. “Forget about tactics, forget about anything else. That is down to the players themselves. It’s almost a bit embarrassing how, overnight, the United players went ‘actually, we’re not going to try that hard. Oh, the manager’s gone, now we’re going to put in every single effort’.”
As it turned out, the game was a fair reflection for both sides of their current aspirations and league position. United defended well, scored on the break and had keeper (and man-of-the-match) David De Gea putting in a shift that included 11 saves in the second half alone. Spurs, for their part, always looked the better team and racked up a 61 percent possession rate, with striker Harry Kane registering seven shots during the game.
The caveat is that if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net, you can’t possibly win and Spurs’ finishing was arguably the defining factor in United’s 1-0 victory. An added worry for Spurs was the news that Kane is going to be out until March with an ankle injury (picked up in the last minute!) and this alone may yet prove to be the defining moment in the North London club’s season.
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