After a disastrous first half and with the keyboards already writing the same bits of criticism of Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. But then Paul Pogba happened. And then he happened again. And then Chris Smalling happened. And instead of being hailed as conquerors and champions, Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have to head into their second leg in the Champions League quarter final against Liverpool with a few more problems to consider.
Surprisingly, Mourinho wasn’t at his most arrogant, gloating mood after the win. He did fire his usual darts at the media for their constant critiquing of him and his team, but he did say something that was quite out of character for him this season: Praising the club and its history – Even if Manchester United don’t win another title in 50 years, they are still Manchester United.
And he even praised Pogba, saying the French midfielder had a terrific first half, and didn’t let the two goal deficit get to him. Add that to the reports about Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, offering him to Guardiola in January only gave opportunity for Mourinho to laugh about the matter. I wonder what his reaction would have been had Manchester United lost the match.
This wasn’t a great performance by Manchester United. The official, Martin Atkinson, had a terrible 90 minutes, with most of his mistakes going against City (how Ashley Young wasn’t sent off is beyond me). Manchester City missed an incredible amount of opportunities, especially in the first half. If chances is the only way to judge a match, they deserved to win.
But the bottom line is that Mourinho didn’t let his team’s local rivals celebrate a championship against his team in his face, against a manager he detests personally and ideologically for everything he represents. Maybe he didn’t just win bragging rights in the city. Maybe this was a demonstration to his players and to himself what Manchester United can be, despite his instincts to play a more controlled, cautious style.
Maybe he doesn’t need to spend hundreds of millions more to improve his team. Instead, he can just have a little more faith in the attacking talent he has, figure out ways to use it better instead of subdue it, and focus on developing it into a championship team, instead of figuring out how to make excuses for himself and his players.