Manchester United's defeat to Spurs shows just how quickfire football turns on a knife edge
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will be the next Premier League boss to lose his job, according to the bookmakers, while press speculation has it that the Portuguese will meet that fate if his team loses against Burnley in the Premier League this weekend.
The pressure on Mourinho was already growing after a shock 3-2 defeat at the hands of Brighton earlier this month, but the latest wave has reached new levels in the wake of a disastrous 3-0 defeat when Tottenham visited Old Trafford on Monday night.
Having delivered a short press conference before the game showcasing his displeasure with his treatment from the media (he started half an hour early and spoke only for four minutes so that many reporters missed him), Mourinho stormed out of the post-match event demanding respect from probing journalists, several of whom appeared to smirk to each other as he left the room in disgust.
Had United won the game against Spurs, the situation, while not completely extinguished, would have at least been dampened. The Brighton loss would have been written off as a mere blip, with all eyes set on a clearly winnable next fixture against a Burnley side who have struggled to find the balance between domestic and Europa League commitments this season.
On the face of it, losing 3-0 at home against a direct rival in Spurs is objectively bad - this was Mourinho's worst ever home defeat in his managerial career to date - and the nature of the result is what has been driving most of the hyperbolic reaction in the days since.
But, consider this, United were not far off winning the game and at least for 45 minutes it actually looked as though they would do, something that has been massively overlooked and ignored.
The first half performance from United was played at a good tempo and was full of energy as the players pressed on the front foot. After Brighton, they were clearly out to prove a point. There was passion, aggression, an obvious desire to play well, and good goal scoring chances were created.
It was the most exciting 45 minutes United have put together for some time and it created a buzz inside Old Trafford. I was there and it felt good and refreshing to see them playing this way.
The only problem was that they couldn't make the most of the dominance and actually put away one, two or even three of their major opportunities to take the lead. Romelu Lukaku was guilty more than most, agonisingly missing the target after taking the ball round Spurs goalkeeper and firing a header wide from right in front of the goal. Fred, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba also went close.
Tottenham didn't create very much at all in the first half and United should have been 2-0 up going into the break and could feasibly have been 4-0 up. But they weren't and soon the 'game of two halves' cliché had never been more relevant as quickfire and avoidable goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura in the opening stages of the second half rendered United a panicky mess.
Mourinho may not be the right man for the job, but the fact this one game could have been so different but for a handful of small variables - the ball falling just inside the post rather just outside the post for Lukaku, for example - shows how results are balanced on a knife-edge.
As it was, United lost and are being treated as a club in crisis. But a win that was genuinely within reach would certainly have kept the bloodthirsty wolves from the door...for now.