SPORTS: VAN GAAL 5TH, MOURINHO 6TH? MAYBE SO, BUT THINGS ARE LOOKING UP AT MAN UTD

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The Special One might still be presiding
over an under-achieving team at Old
Trafford, but the signs of promise are
enough to prove dumping the Dutchman
was the right move.

Manchester United are sixth at Christmas.
Yes, the same Manchester United who
spent £150 million on transfers and
committed a hell of a lot more to new
salaries in the summer.
Where will James go when he leaves Real
Madrid?
Yes, the Manchester United who sacked
Louis van Gaal for the failure that was
finishing fifth in the Premier League. And,
yes, this is the club who, when choosing a
new manager last May, went for the man
with a record for delivering immediate
results rather than investing the time and
resources on somebody with a more long-
term vision, one in keeping with the club’s
long-established approach.
But as the country glares constantly at the
Premier League table this week for lack of
actual football leading up to Boxing Day,
there is more to judge Jose Mourinho on
than United’s current league standing well
adrift of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester
City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
Mourinho himself has pointed repeatedly
to the fact that United’s performances
have been on a whole other level to their
results, and while he has exaggerated the
point to an extent it is certainly true that
they have been better than their current
30-point haul suggests. More than that,
the recent run which saw them beat Zorya
Luhansk, Spurs, Crystal Palace and West
Bromwich Albion in a nine-day period
justifies the manager’s mantra.

Had the near-misses of the draws with
Stoke City, Burnley, Arsenal, West Ham
United and Everton been as good as it got,
their wastefulness would have been worth
every bit of the fierce criticism which has
come their way. But the fact is that United
have taken that run of draws and learned
from it. Their response has been to
continue playing positively and to develop
it into winning football.
Far from the state of play on 3 December
when they sat 10 points adrift of the top
four, United are now within four points of
the Champions League spots and aside
from Chelsea are the Premier League’s
form side. As Mourinho predicted, his side
have benefitted from an improved run of
their own coinciding with others slipping
up. Whereas United were struggling in
October and November as Arsenal and City
pulled away, the boot is now on the other
foot.

The Portuguese has Paul Pogba beginning
to rediscover the Juventus form which
made him the most expensive footballer
ever in the first place and Zlatan
Ibrahimovic silencing the critics in
spearheading the new United at the age of
35. Not only that, but he has somehow
come through a period in which he has
been shorn of his two best centre-halves
by instigating new levels of form out of
Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.
But for many that is still not good enough.
They will keep falling back on the bare
facts: Van Gaal fourth and fifth, Mourinho
sixth. For them, there is a greater
correlation to be drawn between Jose and
David Moyes than there his between him
and Sir Alex Ferguson.

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In truth Mourinho will continue to receive
such reviews until the day he brings a
Premier League trophy to Old Trafford, and
that will not happen this season. The 13-
point gap between United and Chelsea
already appears insurmountable, and any
tilt at the title from Old Trafford would
depend on too many other teams falling
apart besides Antonio Conte’s men.
Yet most United fans will accept the ebb
and flow of United’s season so far if the
end result is a more hopeful environment
at the Theatre of Dreams, and the early
signs are certainly positive in that respect.
The football under Mourinho has been like
a completely different sport to what Van
Gaal served up and results are now
starting to reflect the improved style in
which United have played. And in the last
three weeks alone, that has made one hell
of a difference to the league table. There
is a buzz around M16 once more which
was nothing but a distant memory under
the Dutchman.
RB Leipzig a nightmare rival for Bayern
Munich
There is no guarantee that their current
form will continue after Christmas, but
neither is it a certainty that Mourinho’s
difficult denouement at Chelsea was proof
of the Special One’s star being on the
wane.
The man himself has asked to be judged
after three years, and claimed that he
won’t have the squad as he wants it until
next season. He can’t expect everything he
desires, even at Christmas, but the least
he can ask is that people give him credit
where it is due for overcoming a difficult
first few months as Manchester United
manager and jockeying them into a
position of relative promise at the turn.

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Posted in Sports

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