Manchester United have battled back after their defeat by Tottenham but recovery built on shaky ground

From a dismal starting point, their lowest ebb under his management, Mourinho's United have negotiated three awkward away fixtures

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Saturday 22 September 2018 13:13
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Manchester United have bounced back from their loss to Spurs
Manchester United have bounced back from their loss to Spurs

It has been 26 days since Manchester United last played at Old Trafford and it might be tempting to say that, in that short time, much has changed.

Though the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on 27 August was not even United's worst performance of the new season - that had come the previous weekend in Brighton - it was the point when the stifling tension of pre-season threatened to stretch into an Indian summer.

The words "respect, man, respect" were heard on news bulletins across the globe, introducing many to the special malevolence of Jose Mourinho. One clip, uploaded from raw footage shortly after the press conference and shared on Twitter by NBC's Kyle Martino, was viewed 5.13 million times alone.

And though Mourinho might bemoan a lack of support among the Manchester press corps, his defiant post-match press conference following the Tottenham defeat won fans across the water.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho reacts angrily to questions after Tottenham defeat

"Respect my gangsta," said Bomani Jones, one of the anchors of ESPN's High Noon programme. "He's got more rings than anybody else in the league and you're coming to holla at me about a three-game start? Yes, you do need to put some respect on me."

And yes, to be fair, you do - not necessarily for what Mourinho achieved in the past, but for what he has achieved in the past 26 days.

From a dismal starting point, their lowest ebb under his management, Mourinho's United have negotiated three awkward away fixtures to take three points from each, scoring seven and conceding just once.

The crucial first victory at Burnley began with a declaration of civil war - United's supporters came out in support of Mourinho by protesting Ed Woodward's stewardship of the club - but it ended with a truce. Mourinho dedicated the 2-0 win to his executive vice-chairman.

At Vicarage Road, United did what their vanquishers Tottenham could not do a fortnight earlier and ended Watford's 100 per cent start to the season, taking maximum points in the process.

Wednesday's win away to a spirited Young Boys outfit was expected, meanwhile, but could not be taken for granted by a manager and a team with a chequered Champions League history in Switzerland.

Paul Pogba scored twice in United’s win in Bern

The positive results have been produced by a slight but noticeable change in style. Pressing is now permitted, sometimes even encouraged. The dynamism offered by Luke Shaw at left-back and, against Young Boys, Diogo Dalot on the other flank adds more options to an often unimaginative attack.

Interestingly, these changes were first visible against Tottenham. Mourinho noted as much. "Today we were aggressive, we press high," he insisted. "Tottenham couldn't make two passes coming from the back. We project the full-backs, we had [Antonio] Valencia and Luke Shaw arriving in dangerous positions."

Then, this slight switch of style could be dismissed as an accident, produced by the quirks of a single match. After three similar but more successful performances, it now seems more like a small but deliberate change of tack on the part of the manager.

Has Mourinho listened to some of the criticisms of his side? Is most short-term of managers looking at the bigger picture?

Maybe, though the sample size remains small. A stylish victory on their return to Old Trafford this weekend would help to strengthen the sense that United are turning the corner.

Equally, victory for Nuno Espirito Santo's capable Wolverhampton Wanderers visitors - an outcome well within the realms of possibility - and the tentative optimism around the club would suddenly be punctured.

In that sense, for all the progress made since United last walked out at Old Trafford, little has truly changed in that short time at all. One bad result and we could find ourselves right back where we were 26 days ago.

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