Jose Mourinho’s quest for a third Champions League Trophy
Manchester United may have started their Champions League campaign with an emphatic win this week, however, the result still hasn’t brought the desired happiness to Jose Mourinho as most would have anticipated. An impressive victory over Swiss side, Basel in the mid-week fixture did give them the three points but it was Pogba’s injury that has left the Portuguese miffed.
Mourinho, whose mood was darkened by Paul Pogba’s injury, seemed to spruce up when the Belgian, Marouane Fellaini's performance came up. Fellaini, the go to guy for Louis van Gaal and David Moyes previously, chose an opportune moment to justify Mourinho’s faith once again as he was at the fore front of all United attacks. He headed in the opening goal before providing the cross for Marcus Rashford that sealed the result for United.
Mourinho later admitted to not being wholly pleased with the performance of his team as he felt that his side stopped playing in the second half. Given that the match was not as stressful as anticipated, Mourinho could have been a tad bit happier but the Portuguese has proven over the years that he doesn’t dwell on his laurels.
United’s chance to go all the way
Mourinho has always given European games the respect it deserves, be it the Champions League or the Europa League. His trophy cabinet is a testament to this fact, which reflects his success in Europe with Porto, Inter Milan and most recently Manchester United with whom he won the Europa League in his debut season.
Although one could point to his track record with Chelsea where he failed to crack Europe, it was still his team, at least the core of it, that was responsible for the success when Chelsea won the Champion’s League in 2012 under the tutelage of Roberto Di Matteo.
Similarly, last season once Mourinho realised the strengths and weaknesses of his Manchester United team, he chose to approach the Europa League accordingly. Mourinho’s respect for European competitions has been vindicated as they find themselves in the Group Stages of the Uefa Champion’s League despite not finishing in the top four last season.
The draw was kind to Mourinho’s team as they find themselves in a group which doesn’t have any of the Champions League heavyweights. CSKA Moscow and Benfica are the two other opponents and the Portuguese has already targeted the knockout qualification before the final set of fixtures in the group stages. This, in fact, is essential to ensure Manchester United are able to challenge for all the trophies come the month of May.
Mourinho’s discontentment with players taking their foot off the gas was evident the other day, as he believes that will impact the future games and the lackadaisical approach always encourages the opponents.
No winter break and other possible problems
Given that the Premier League doesn’t have a winter-break, Mourinho will be keeping one eye on the injuries when the Champion’s League continues with the knockout stages in the month of February. Between now and then, Mourinho would want his team to also create a distance between the rest of the group contenders so that Manchester United can get a favourable draw in the final 16 of the Knockout Stages.
Mourinho has already emphasised on United’s need to do well in the league, as he considers the entry to this season’s Champions League was not the right way for a club of United’s stature. As he reiterated in the press conference after the game, “The Champion’s League for the big teams in Europe start in February and the group stages are only a warm-up for the bigger teams”.
He went on to state the problem of no winter break and how English teams are hampered by their own commitments in the domestic league and also how the English teams are still second-tier compared to the big guns in Europe. While one may not agree with this observation, the track record of the English teams speaks for itself as they have failed to provide a finalist since Chelsea's victory over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
For years now, one has seen the other European contenders arriving fresher for the Champion’s League knockout stages in comparison to the English teams. Mourinho in that sense has experience having already been there with Chelsea. However, it will be interesting to watch how he approaches the same problems with Manchester United, as it has been almost a decade since United last won the Champions League.
Mourinho had yearned for the Manchester United job since his antics on the Old Trafford touchline with Porto. His unheralded side announced its presence and cemented his reputation as the foremost managers of his generation. And having been denied the job initially, he would like to cement his legacy at Old Trafford.
Theatrics aside, the Portuguese has shown his sides are notoriously hard to beat, especially when it comes to the big matches. If injuries are kept at bay, there is no doubt that Manchester United will possess a bigger threat in comparison to rest of the English sides.
Conte will be in his first season where he must balance Europe and the Premier League. While Klopp and Pochettino have had exposure to the same schedule, they have experienced mixed results and don't have as big a squad as United's. Pep Guardiola's side still don't have the defensive stability that Barcelona and Bayern Munich had a few years ago. And he still failed to win the competition with the Bavarians.
Mourinho in that sense has a wealth of experience to fall back upon. This United side has strengthened over the summer and the gaffer's imprint over this United squad is slowly and steadily starting to yield the results. One of the primary examples was that of Ashley Young on Tuesday evening when he was handed the captain’s armband and led the side with aplomb from his position as the right-back, having not started a game in the league this season.
If United are to go all the way in Europe, the depth of the team will come into play. With Mourinho at the helm, one wouldn’t be too surprised if Manchester United are lining up for the final at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, in Kiev, come 26th May 2018.