Mour­inho’s low am­bi­tions a sad sign for Utd

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FOOTBALL -

For­get the many la­bored per­for­mances. For­get the measly points to­tal. For­get, even, the fact that the English Premier League ti­tle was out of re­al­is­tic reach barely a third of the way in.

Per­haps the sad­dest in­dict­ment of the sit­u­a­tion Manch­ester United find them­selves un­der man­ager Jose Mour­inho is the low­er­ing of am­bi­tion that is per­me­at­ing the club.

This week, Mour­inho set about switch­ing his tar­gets, say­ing get­ting close to the top four in the Premier League was now the big aim.

Go­ing even fur­ther, he said United had a “re­spon­si­bil­ity to fin­ish in the top six.”

The 2-2 home draw with Arse­nal Wed­nes­day – United’s third straight draw in the league – was re­garded as a “pos­i­tive sign” by Mour­inho, who praised the “heart and spirit” of his play­ers rather than their qual­ity. The at­mos­phere at the fi­nal whis­tle, mean­while, sug­gested United’s fans were sat­is­fied with the re­sult, too.

Per­haps it was a re­ac­tion of loy­alty and re­al­ism. After all, United did have to play a patched-up team be­cause of a slew of in­jury con­cerns, and Arse­nal were ar­riv­ing at Old Traf­ford on a 19-match un­beaten run. But maybe it was also a sign of drift at United, a bru­tal ac­cep­tance of the team’s po­si­tion in the new Premier League or­der.

Mour­inho’s team are eighth in the stand­ings after 15 games, be­hind Bournemouth and only two points ahead of Brighton.

They have a nega­tive goal dif­fer­ence, hav­ing con­ceded 25 goals – more than ev­ery club out­side of the bot­tom five. They are eight points off the top four, and nearer to last place (Ful­ham) than first place (Manch­ester City).

As it hap­pens, Ful­ham are the next vis­i­tors to Old Traf­ford Satur­day. It is surely a match Mour­inho dare not lose, against an op­po­nent that hasn’t kept a clean sheet all sea­son, and against a ri­val man­ager in Claudio Ranieri whom Mour­inho once said “has the men­tal­ity of some­one who doesn’t need to win.”

The worry for United is that Ful­ham look to be im­prov­ing since Ranieri took over as coach last month as a re­place­ment for the fired Slav­isa Jokanovic.

The south­west Lon­don club have a win, a draw, and a loss in three matches un­der Ranieri, and seem more solid as a team com­pared to the naive and open side that floun­dered un­der Jokanovic.

While Ranieri al­ready seems to have a plan in place, does Mour­inho? He has yet to field the same lineup this sea­son and took the num­ber of changes he has made to his start­ing team to 46 after switch­ing seven play­ers for the Arse­nal game.

Tellingly, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku – the two most ex­pen­sive play­ers in United’s his­tory – were on the bench, while Fred – the club’s fourth costli­est sign­ing, at $70 mil­lion this sum­mer – wasn’t even in the squad.

“There isn’t any space for peo­ple that are not ready to give it their all,” Mour­inho wrote in his pro­gram notes writ­ten be­fore his team lineup was an­nounced.

The strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mour­inho and Pogba has been sim­mer­ing for months, and it spoke vol­umes that France’s World Cup-win­ning mid­fielder didn’t make the team de­spite the fa­tigue and in­jury prob­lems that were un­der­min­ing Mour­inho’s se­lec­tion for the Arse­nal game.

To make mat­ters worse, United’s top scorer, An­thony Mar­tial, may not be fit to play against Ful­ham after limp­ing off in the sec­ond half against Arse­nal, though Mour­inho called it a “pre-in­jury” after the winger felt tight­ness in his ham­string.

It has got to the point where United just need a win – how­ever it ar­rives, what­ever the per­for­mance – so that the top four doesn’t get too far clear. Other­wise, Mour­inho might need to win the Cham­pi­ons League to get back in that com­pe­ti­tion next sea­son, and po­ten­tially save his job. –

Mour­inho left the two most ex­pen­sive play­ers at United on the bench Wed­nes­day.

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