Seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth. Manchester United’s last four Premier League finishes since Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye to the Old Trafford faithful.
Though silverware has continued, title challenges have not and despite Manchester City being far from catchable, progression under José Mourinho is becoming more noticeable as the Red Devils look set to become the best of the rest.
The problem for Mourinho and United fans alike is Pep Guardiola’s Citizens. The ‘noisy neighbours’ have dusted off the idea of only creating noise in Manchester (excluding in the dressing room at Old Trafford) and instead used their blue moon to overshadow any success Mourinho has in red.
Manchester United currently have one less point than Arsenal’s invincible side at the same stage in the season but still, Manchester City are eleven points clear. Of course, Mourinho could have and should have been more offensive in bigger games. Liverpool away and Chelsea away were two games which stick in the mind, though Paul Pogba’s absence wouldn’t have backed Mourinho’s thought process of being offensive against such opposition.
Dropping points at Stoke after being in the lead and losing to Huddersfield after Victor Lindelöf’s defensive horror show were both scenarios which could have been avoided but it would still leave us five points behind the league leaders and winning in those two would almost certainly mean another result wouldn’t have gone United’s way later on.
Ultimately, Mourinho has United in title contending form in any other Premier League season, however, they’re not in a title race because of the miracle Guardiola has created at the Etihad. Guardiola’s players are so comfortable, they are able to mock Mourinho’s playing style in their ‘park the bus’ chant despite the Red Devils having scored more goals (39) than any other team in the league not named Manchester City. The blues are in a different league to anyone else in England right now.
Guardiola has so much quality at his disposal it’s frightening. Every fixture they play seems to be a breeze and even when a last minute winner from Raheem Sterling seals all three points, it’s no surprise. Every player in City’s side right now is almost certainly nailing a place in the starting line-up of every other Premier League team whether fans like it or not.
And despite City’s incredible form, the media will have you believe José Mourinho has cost Manchester United a chance at the title with his style of play. However, he’s the closest manager in the league to a once in a generation footballing side. Antonio Conte has tried (1-0), Jürgen Klopp has tried (5-0), Arsène Wenger has tried (3-1) and most recently Mauricio Pochettino tried, losing 4-1.
Nobody could prepare for City to be this breathtaking and even when realisation has occurred, no manager in the top-flight has discovered the masterplan to beating Guardiola and as of late, it’s hard to think that anyone will this season.
It seems like whenever Mourinho takes a step forward, Guardiola is taking two, but that doesn’t mean that the one step forward Mourinho makes is wasted as for the first time since 2013, Manchester United aren’t a mockery. In the league, the club sits in second whilst still being in every competition possible, with a noticeable mention of topping our Champions League group with relative ease.
Manchester City are currently a footballing phenomenon and no manager in world football other than Pep Guardiola would have United any higher than second. It’s a knock to both the pride of both the club and fans to admit it, but City are quite a bit better than Mourinho’s men at this moment in time and every other club in the league for that matter.
The pressure will continue to be applied, but City aren’t willing to crack and United don’t have an Eden Hazard type player who can carry them to the title when other teams are better. Perhaps it’s something required in the transfer market or something from within, but as of now, everything United can give, they are giving, but it’s still too little to overrule a magical City side.