MANCHESTER — He stood at the famed Stretford End for over a minute after the game, applauding the few Manchester United fans left after their 3-0 shellacking at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
Jose Mourinho looked a broken man. We’ve seen this before. At Chelsea in 2007. Again at Chelsea in 2015. At Real Madrid in 2013. But not quite like this.
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The heaviest home defeat of his managerial career came in stunning fashion as his team folded in the second half, succumbing to incisive Tottenham attacks as the home fans watched on in horror.
Some prayed. Some were in tears.
‘You’re getting sacked in the morning!’ and ‘You’re not special anymore!’ taunted the Tottenham fans in the away end. Again. We’ve been here before.
Let the talk of the third-season syndrome, and subsequent meltdown, intensify as his United side are in a whole world of hurt, with shoddy defending, slack passing and woeful finishing the culmination of their problems.
Add to that Mourinho’s surly demeanor for months, rumors of a rift between himself and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward over a lack of transfers and star players not being happy, what do you have? Trouble. Mourinho third-season style.
This capped it all off.
In his postgame press conference, Mourinho ended up storming out as he tried to say his team played well and deserved more than a second defeat in their first three games of the season.
“What was the score? 3-0. Three nil. That also means three Premierships. I’ve won more Premierships alone than the other 19 managers put together,” Mourinho said. “Three for more. Two for the others.”
Mourinho demanded “respect” time and time again as he stormed out, seething, as his reputation once again hangs in the balance as his storied side, supposed to be challenging for the title this season, is so far away from what is expected.
He could have admitted they were all over the place defensively in the second half. He didn’t. He could have said it was his fault. He didn’t. Instead he went on the defensive, lambasting critics for trying to create a narrative he doesn’t feel is fair.
How much longer can he try and create this siege mentality without it working? Mourinho said “the best judge are the supporters” and asked journalists to “keep trying” to create a negative atmosphere. But he’s done a pretty good job at doing that himself.
Mourinho’s side were dismantled by Tottenham’s vibrant, organized unit in the second half, after a first half which saw them cause Spurs problems with their unusual 3-5-1-1 formation with Ander Herrera playing as an emergency center back. But that change in personnel (six from the side which lost at Brighton) and tactics proved there is no real plan for Mourinho at United, even after over two years in charge. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino all have a clear playing style. United do not.
Missing his long-time assistant this season, Rui Faria, initially Mourinho’s madness (tactically) worked. But then it all unravelled. Rapidly. The players lost their confidence and questions about them not fighting for Mourinho will now intensify. There’s no doubt this is now the biggest challenge of his career. One of the greatest coaches in history simply must turn this around.
Mourinho stood on the sidelines trying to urge his team on late in the game. But around him the empty seats were plentiful as Tottenham broke and scored their third. Then the chants about him ‘getting sacked in the morning’ started again. Just like they did in 2015 at Chelsea. Deja vu, indeed.
Mourinho blamed the empty seats on fans heading back to Manchester city center because it “takes two hours” in the postgame traffic.
He then continued to praise his players for putting in a display he claimed won them the “strategic” and “tactical” battle on the night, as he rebuffed questions from journalists about the performance not being good enough.
“When I win matches, I come here many times and you are not happy I won matches and you say the most important thing is the way of playing. You have to make the decision. I need to know from you what is the most important thing. To play well and play offensively? Or to win matches?” Mourinho asked, rhetorically.
Right now Manchester United are neither winning nor playing well.
Quite incredibly another third-season Mourinho meltdown is bang on schedule.