Man U not quite the lost cause they seemed to be at the start

Sunday Times - - Sport Golf/soccer -

● There is some­thing rather un­com­fort­able about the club with the big­gest wage bill in the Premier League be­ing char­ac­terised as the un­der­dog but, in the con­text of a week when plenty have been pre­dict­ing mis­ery for Manch­ester United, it was pos­si­ble to see where Paul Pogba was com­ing from.

“I think it’s al­ways good to be the out­sider, so peo­ple ex­pect bad of us and then we sur­prise peo­ple,” the United mid­fielder said af­ter his team’s 2-1 smash-and-grab win against Ju­ven­tus on Wed­nes­day night and, no doubt, with one eye on to­day’s derby at Manch­ester City.

It is not a look that will al­ways wash, of course, Go­liath re­painted as David, but United have en­joyed two enor­mous shots in the arm over re­cent days — one en­tirely of their mak­ing, one not — that have given Jose Mour­inho more wig­gle room, scope for op­ti­mism and ar­moury than he could pos­si­bly have imag­ined sev­eral weeks back when he woke to head­lines that he would be sacked.

A fort­night af­ter be­ing out­classed by Ju­ven­tus at Old Traf­ford, vic­tory at the Al­lianz Sta­dium rep­re­sented a lot more than just a boost to United’s prospects of reach­ing the Cham­pi­ons League knock­out stages. It was not the best per­for­mance un­der Mour­inho that some have rather hys­ter­i­cally sug­gested. As Cris­tiano Ron­aldo was keen to point out, Ju­ven­tus should have been three or four up by the time Juan Mata equalised with that sump­tu­ous pressure free-kick.

Yet, fol­low­ing on from Satur­day’s last­gasp 2-1 win at Bournemouth, United had dug deep to come from be­hind to win for the sec­ond game run­ning.

Nat­u­rally, Mour­inho never seems too far away from a cri­sis, but there has been a spirit, re­silience and en­deav­our to United’s re­cent dis­plays that, amid the many ob­vi­ous flaws, sug­gest they are not quite the lost cause they seemed dur­ing a hope­less start to the cam­paign.

Whether he now opts to aim his fire across the road re­mains to be seen, though the op­por­tu­nity to ques­tion the va­lid­ity of City’s re­cent suc­cess in the wake of ac­cu­sa­tions they sys­tem­at­i­cally cheated Uefa’s fi­nan­cial fair-play rules would ap­pear an open goal for Mour­inho.

You had to won­der if he was sim­ply bid­ing his time, wait­ing for the right mo­ment to go on the of­fen­sive, when, asked this week about the leaks to Ger­man mag­a­zine Der Spiegel, he re­sisted the chance to stick the boot in on City.

The Der Spiegel al­le­ga­tions this week are cer­tainly per­fectly timed from United’s per­spec­tive. They of­fer a chance to get un­der City’s skin but, if United lose to­day, and cer­tainly if they lose big, Mour­inho will have a ready-made ex­cuse. How can United ex­pect to com­pete with a team ac­cused of cheat­ing the sys­tem? — © The Daily Tele­graph, Lon­don

Ad­van­tage Mour­inhoJose Mour­inho, right, has a chance to go on the of­fen­sive against Pep Guardiola af­ter ac­cu­sa­tions that City cheated Uefa’s fi­nan­cial fair-play rules.

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