“We have to put ourselves in a position in the Premier League that allows us to fight for the title.” - Jose Mourinho
It has just been four months since the Manchester United boss claimed his side were aiming for the league title. After a first season at Old Trafford that was all about rebuilding and winning second-tier trophies to build some confidence and rediscover that winning habit, the Portuguese manager looked all set to unleash the hounds.
Four months on, his hounds are still on a leash and he finds himself 15 points behind his eternal rival Pep Guardiola. Manchester City are yet to lose a game and pretty much everyone has them as favourites to win the league title this season.
As for Mourinho? The tide has turned and nobody is buying into his tirades anymore.
Despite spending £310m himself ever since taking charge following Louis van Gaal's exit, Mourinho claims that the amount was nowhere enough to compete for the title. And don't forget, he even managed to snare Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer - his saving grace in the first season.
“It is not enough. And the price for the big clubs is different from the other clubs. So the big, historical clubs are normally punished in the market for that history." - Mourinho
This actually holds true - especially for Premier League clubs who are now easily played in the market thanks to the multi-billion pound broadcasting deal which has given each club on average £100m more to spend every year.
However, this is not an excuse you expect from the manager of the richest club in the world (according to Deloitte) - one which had the second-highest wage bill in Europe. For a club without a so-called sugar daddy that has plenty of sponsors pumping in millions into brand 'Man Utd', the lack of money to spend is no excuse at all.
“I have always had one team at least – sometimes four – who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that. People don’t want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful.” - Arsene Wenger
And how much more money did Mourinho envision spending in the market? Apart from Ibrahimovic's free transfer; Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Eric Bailly arrived last summer while Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, and Victor Lindelof came in this summer. Of the lot, Lindelof was the cheapest at £31m.
A look at both clubs' net spend this summer also shows there is little to separate the two clubs.
Mourinho blames Man City for transfer market inflation
With questions now being asked about his own team's performances that have been far from ideal, the Red Devils boss then took a jibe at Guardiola and City for spending more than was necessary for full-backs.
"We are in the second year of trying to rebuild a football team that is not one of the best teams in the world. Manchester City buy full-backs for the price of strikers." - Mourinho
City spent a total of £130m on likes of Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, and Danilo in the summer and this is Mourinho's bone of contention for his own team's poor results?
Firstly, City are in the same boat as United - asked to pay over the odds since they are a Premier League club with deep pockets.
Secondly, nobody prevented Mourinho from breaking the transfer record to sign Paul Pogba. They were well within their rights to spend £89.5m on him. Nobody stopped him again when United made Romelu Lukaku the second-most expensive player in Premier League history (£75m).
So why is he so bothered about City splurging on full-backs to strengthen the weakest positions in their squad in 2016/17? Apart from Bernardo Silva, Guardiola's signings prior to the start of the season have all been in the defensive half and the result is there for all to see.
And besides, only Walker has been heavily involved for City since the start of the season. Mendy had to undergo knee surgery after he was sidelined early in the season while Danilo has only made six starts.
Is Mourinho taking pot shots at his own squad?
Most managers prefer to deflect attention away from their squad either by pointing out things that did not go in their favour during a game or by blaming themselves for not approaching the game with the right tactical approach.
However, Mourinho seems happy to throw his players under the bus (pardon the pun) by saying his hands are tied in the transfer market. This is the kind of thing that sows distrust in the squad and eventually leads to teams collapsing like Chelsea did in his second stint.
It displays a lack of trust in his own squad that has been assembled by pumping in a lot of cash over the years - even before his arrival.
The likes of Juan Mata (£37.1m), Anthony Martial (£36m, potentially rising to £58m), Luke Shaw (£27m), and Mourinho's go-to man Marouane Fellaini (£27.5m) did not come cheap. Almost all clubs in the Premier League would love to have the squad depth Mourinho has at his disposal.
There is one primary reason why United have failed to mount a title challenge despite being the only team that can actually compete with City both on the pitch and off it - and that is Mourinho's philosophy.
Why Mourinho is to blame for United falling behind in the title race
“When you describe a club like Manchester United, do you think Milan is not as big as us? You think they are not as big as we are? Do you think Real Madrid are not as big as we are? You think Inter Milan is not as big as we are? There are many big clubs and you say big clubs, I know what is a big club.” - Mourinho
Except he doesn't. United was a club built on foundations of attacking football in the past two decades. Even though Sir Alex Ferguson took his time to get there, he did not have the riches available to any manager who walks into the job now.
Despite being a 'big club' manager, Mourinho still sets up his teams like they are the smaller club. This season, it worked against Tottenham who made errors but the game against Liverpool proved to be a damp squib while Chelsea managed to eke out a win.
And the excitement of seeing four forwards in his starting lineup in the Manchester derby quickly subsided when they were all asked to defend with hopeful long balls to Lukaku being the order of the day.
This season was always going to be a two-horse race. Chelsea, despite their success last season, failed to strengthen their squad by investing in the market due to disagreements at the board level.
Liverpool and Arsenal were always going to fight for the top four with their squads while Tottenham's inconsistency and thin squad eventually took its toll. That United are still second proves it.
After declaring that United could mount a challenge, this season could be the first time Mourinho fails to win a league title in his second season at a club. But nothing will change the fact that his team plays insipid football that now relies on individual moments of brilliance to get results.
Mourinho's philosophy is reactive football and it is not something that is expected at a club such as Manchester United. It is what has given rise to chants such as "Attack! Attack! Attack!" and the rivals' favourite "Park the bus, Man United!".
Mourinho claims he has managed at big clubs such as Real Madrid but his brand of football was what eventually drove him out of the Spanish club. Purists would say his critics don't appreciate defensive football. But you do not manage clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United, spend millions on players, and then set up to play like Tony Pulis' Stoke City.
Most United fans were divided when Mourinho was appointed and that gap seems to be widening with each passing game. The first season was about bringing stability to build upon for the second. But he seems hell-bent on shaking the very foundations that the club was built upon. It may also be why the club are reportedly stalling on offering him a new deal.
Nobody expects United to go on an unbeaten run like City did. But it is his constant moaning and complaints in the media that have frustrated even the most ardent of fans.
Back in the day, the Special One's quotes were headline gold. Nobody is buying what he has to sell anymore, though. They now paint an ugly picture of a man whose pettiness has become synonymous with United's poor results.