Thursday 14 December 2017

Jose is well behind Conte

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho at a squad training session ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash with Anderlecht
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho at a squad training session ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash with Anderlecht
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is well capable of calming the nerves of his players on their Premier League title run-in

Jose Mourinho is on trial like never before when Manchester United take on Anderlecht in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium tonight.

He is painfully aware that the Europa League could be his only route to salvation.

In a season of managers in the Premier League, his report card heading into the final furlong of a disjointed title race dominated by Antonio Conte is poor and only a rip-roaring April and May will save his reputation.

Already, the statisticians have compared him unfavourably with both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and recently, the pundits have been on his case for his frequent targeting of players for public humiliation.

Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have all been dressed down in full view of the media but that's a policy which only works when you're winning.

When you're not winning often enough, blaming players looks like an excuse and that's all it is; an attempt to deflect from the fact that his very expensive team is coming up short.

This was always likely to be an unusually tough season for managers in the Premier League, given the number of star names now working in England, and when placed alongside Antonio Conte, Mourinho looks like a whinger with a bunch of over-paid under-achievers.

Mauricio Pochettino can hold his head high and Jurgen Klopp has pushed a motley bunch of Liverpool bottlers to a solid third place in the table but "must do better" applies to just about everyone else.

Pep Guardiola is a walking enigma, who seems taken aback by England and is taking time to adjust.

Arsene Wenger is a walking basket case and the only person who doesn't know this is Arsene Wenger.

Mourinho still has cards to play but he's not helping himself with a short-term approach to man management.


His inconsistency in hammering young lads on the way up while standing in front of Paul Pogba with a verbal shotgun ready for anyone who points out the Frenchman's clear inadequacies will have been quietly noted by the squad.

These days, players stop playing and managers get fired. Mourinho knows this better than anyone else and it is irrational to choose young lads as fall guys unless he has already decided that they are disposable.

It is ironic that the group he last used these motivational tactics on are sitting pretty on top of the table with a manager they respect.

Conte is, by some distance, the manager of the year and barring a catastrophic collapse, Chelsea's title will be confirmed soon. Unless Mourinho can work some magic, that is.

Looming large for both sets of fans on Sunday is a potentially season defining game between United and Chelsea at Old Trafford.

If Mourinho could somehow engineer a win and Spurs do what they should at home to Bournemouth on Saturday, Conte has a job on his hands to steady nerves. He looks more than up to it.

But if Mourinho loses, a top-four finish becomes very unlikely and his entire season will rest on whether United put down a big enough deposit in tonight's quarter-final first-leg in Belgium to carry them to semi-finals and the beckoning carrot of Champions League football for the winner of the Europa League final.

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