Jose Mourinho was fired just over two weeks ago on December 18th. The news was no shock. In a world of soccer where lack of wins often trigger impulsive attitudes and decisions, a club with the international stature of Manchester United has a very low tolerance for error. Before defeating Cardiff which came after Mourinho’s exit, they had only won one game in their last 6 Premier League matches.
Manchester United as a club are going through a rough last five seasons as what has been English football’s biggest dynasty since the turn of the century, is now being forced to get used to underwhelming times. That being said as United have the biggest international following by any English club, it is a joy for opposing fans to watch them finally struggle.
So when did this poor period begin? Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign which ended with a Premier League title in 2013, Manchester United has finished 7th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 2nd respectively. This has seen the exits of manager appointments David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and now Jose Mourinho.
While Moyes only won a Community Shield tournament, Van Gaal’s term ended with an FA cup and the massive signing of Paul Pogba. The move to appoint Jose Mourinho to succeed Van Gaal seemed perfect.
A manager with undoubtedly the best resume in Europe featuring titles in the Portuguese, English, Italian and Spanish leagues as well as two Champions League titles, what could go wrong? Maybe tying the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this year showed a bit of a weakness?
At United, Mourinho won the Europa League, a League cup and a Community Shield in his two seasons which may seem like a step in the right direction in relation to the previous years. But even ending 2nd in the league last year was not enough as disappointing league play and style this season has been way too much to handle.
Mourinho’s style of walking out on press conferences, having arguments with players and coaches continued at United causing great problems. His disagreements with Pogba not only caused poor play but questionably led the teams best outfield player to the bench.
His inability to find a consistent lineup created distrust and frustration among players. In fact things were so shaky that there were rumors that attacker Alexis Sanchez and defender Marcos Rojo reportedly made a 20,000 pound bet that Mourinho would be fired this season.
So what has happened since?
Since the firing of Mourinho, players have responded on and off the pitch. Simply feeling like a new team, Pogba and Sanchez expressed their happiness over the move as Sanchez posted a video on instagram playing “Now we are Free” by Hans Zimmer and Pogba posted something but was forced to quickly delete it.
On the field, four games have been played: 5-1 over Cardiff, 3-1 over Huddersfield, 4-1 over Bournemouth, 2-0 over Newcastle. These impressive results prove that Mourinho’s firing was exactly the move that Man U needed to make.
It is easy to overlook one or two wins, but four in a row prove that the Red Devils truly look like a new team.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who has been promoted to “caretaker manager” has been the root of United’s success. Ole has favored the talents of Rashford and Lingard who have visibly improved; combining for five goals in the last four games. Paul Pogba also looks entirely revitalized and has found enormous success moving freely on the field making incredible passes, runs and finding the net already four times in just the four games.
Romelu Lukaku also proved a disaster under Mourinho but since his return from “compassionate leave” the striker has scored in the last two games as a sub. Also, Alexis Sanchez finally got his first playing time under the new manager and immediately produced an assist.
So what now? The objective of the season is to reach the top four to get a Champions League birth, but even now 5th place and a spot in the Europa League would be an improvement as United sits in 6th place behind Arsenal by three points and behind Chelsea by six points. That being said, with eighteen matches left, there are a lot of points left to gain.
Analysts seem to agree that this team looks to have completely transformed which promises success in the future and as Arsenal must face 4th place Chelsea and 2nd place Manchester City in the next four match days, this could allow United to climb the standings sooner than expected.
The flashiness of Pogba, Rashford and Lingard have so much potential and they are now showing how much excitement they can create together on the field. It has been a joy to watch this team move about freely and gain its new identity, and while I predict that they will end up in 5th place, just missing out on Champions League, slip ups by Chelsea or even Tottenham could pave way for Manchester United to chase the top 4.
On Sunday January 13th, look to see how United fares against third place Tottenham. This will be the first real test that the new Manchester United faces as they aim to make their stamp against a top five opponent.
– Alex Jaramillo