Most clubs would be delighted to be sitting second in the Premier League, into the FA Cup quarter-finals and on the verge of a return to the last eight of the Champions League.
However, Jose Mourinho is learning of the exacting demands of being Manchester United manager with incessant questions over not just results, but the manner in which they are obtained.
“If people don’t think we deserved it, I don’t care,” Mourinho said after United defeated rivals Liverpool 2-1 on Saturday despite enjoying just 32 percent possession.
The problem for Mourinho is not just United’s tradition for winning while playing on the front foot under great European Cup-winning managers Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson, but that United are no longer even the best team in Manchester.
Manchester City enjoy a 13-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand.
Moreover, the attractive style implemented by long-time adversary Pep Guardiola is far more in keeping with that United fans are used to seeing than the fare offered up by Mourinho’s tactics.
Chelsea fans serenaded their former boss with chants of “just like London, your city is blue” on their visit to Old Trafford last month.
“This isn’t a vintage United side, but it’s not as bad as the detractors would suggest,” Andy Mitten, editor of the United We Stand fanzine, told AFP.
“Just because City are having a successful season doesn’t mean United’s season has to be a disaster.”
However, with City seemingly just a few weeks away from sealing the title and having already booked their place in the Champions League quarter-finals, the pressure is on United to join them in Friday’s draw when they host Sevilla on Tuesday.
Tie delicately balanced
The last-16 tie is delicately balanced at 0-0 after Mourinho resorted to type by concentrating on obtaining a clean sheet at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan three weeks ago.
“Mourinho, look how hard it is to win when you don’t want to,” Spanish sports daily Marca said in a withering critique of the Portuguese’s set-up.
The decision to not go looking for an away goal against a side that has lost heavily to the likes of Spartak Moscow, Eibar and Real Betis this season will come back to haunt Mourinho if United fail to progress.
To do so, Mourinho must find the right blend between attack and defence with big decisions to be made over whether £89 million ($116 million) club record signing Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, who joined in January on reportedly the highest pay packet in Premier League history, start.
French midfielder Pogba missed the 2-1 victory over Liverpool on Saturday due to injury, paving the way for Sanchez to move inside with Marcus Rashford starting for the first time this year in the Premier League on the left.
Rashford took just 25 minutes to show what Sanchez hasn’t been delivering by scoring twice, doubling the Chilean’s tally in a United shirt.
However, Mourinho still withdrew the young Englishman rather than Sanchez as he battened down the hatches in the final 20 minutes — a decision that drew boos from the United fans.
“The fans they can do what they want. I’m not upset at all with that reaction,” insisted Mourinho before launching a staunch defence of Scott McTominay, who was selected ahead of Pogba for the first leg against Sevilla.
McTominay’s decision to pass the ball backwards rather than launching a counter-attack midway through the second half against Liverpool was met with derision.
“I’m upset with the reaction they had with Scott McTominay. That a kid with 21 years old, making all the right decisions, and they want him to make the wrong decisions,” added Mourinho.
That Mourinho saw playing forward as the wrong decision is a microcosm of why so many are quick to criticise even when results are forthcoming.