On a Weng and a Player
“I want to be champion,” Jose Mourinho declared with typical self-assurance, as he was officially unveiled as Manchester United manager in the summer.
The former Chelsea boss added unequivocally: “The top four is not the target. We want to play to be champions.” Pity that the Premier League is not actually won in the press rooms, Jose. Four months later, United are sixth on the table, eight points behind leaders, Liverpool. Yes, we are only 11 matches into the new season and we cannot conclusively rule out Mourinho’s men from the title race. But… you genuinely wonder, how the expensive lot will top the sides setting the pace at the top.
That begins with the visit of Arsenal on Saturday.
With no international break until March 2017, it is time for a crucially decisive period in the Premier League. United have lost three times already and Mourinho cannot afford to oversee another defeat, if his bold statement must be fulfilled next May. But Mourinho will be confident. It will be a fixture against his favourite adversary, Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman has not won in the league against Mourinho in 11 attempts. If Wenger achieves that at Old Trafford this weekend, then it might as well draw the curtains on United’s title challenged and the wait since 2013 continues. What is worrying for Mourinho, is that this is a real possibility. Arsenal have in superb form and are playing irresistible football. And Gooners must be smiling, after Alexis Sanchez overcame a muscle injury to net a match-winning double against Uruguay on Tuesday. The Chilean powerhouse has been reinvented as a centre-forward this season.
His intelligent movement and powerful running, married with Mesut Ozil’s sweet finishing, have made the Gunners a different proposition altogether this season. On the other hand, Mourinho’s train has been derailed a bit by injuries, loss of form and failure to determine his best 11. Whisper it with caution, but are signs of dressing room unrest. Paul Pogba has shown glimpses here and there. But if you are the costliest player in the world, then the spotlight is on you. And you are expected to run football games more frequently than you change hairstyles. Or upload dance videos on Instagram. All eyes will be on him. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended. Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw are doubts. Marouane Fellaini is struggling to overcome a calf injury and there will be no Chris Smalling.
United have 90 minutes to put their season back on track and their £90 million man needs to take centre stage. If there is anything Mourinho does best, it is setting up his team to grind opponents into the ground. And he will relish the opportunity to do that to Wenger’s team. However, not only does he need to stop Arsenal playing, he needs to take all three points. Or his assertion in July, will be looked back at, as the rantings of a man, who many insist is now a yesterday man.