POINT TO PROVE
They say a week is a long time in politics, but in football management it can be an age as Jose Mourinho continues the most important run of games in his short tenure at Manchester United.
Mourinho began a pivotal week in his stewardship at Old Trafford with a battling goalless draw at arch-rivals Liverpool, but the next three encounters could prove defining for the Portuguese this season.
Off the back of that gruelling 90 minutes at Anfield on Monday night United face up to three games in three different competitions with Mourinho’s hosting Fenerbahce in the Europa League before an emotional trip back to former club Chelsea in the Premier League and then a League Cup meeting with rivals Manchester City where he will lock horns with old adversary Pep Guardiola.
These games are a potentially season-defining for United and Mourinho will be determined to show he is making progress at Old Trafford despite coming in for criticism from some quarters for his defensive approach against Liverpool.
The next three games look set to lay out a pathway for how the remainder of United’s season could pan out.
Avoiding defeat to Liverpool was paramount to Mourinho and United supporters, but given what is ahead this week Mourinho will be determined to show that he can win the big games when the stakes are high.
United do not really want to be playing in the Europa League this season, but Mourinho will be desperate to avoid putting any extra pressure on himself by failing to beat Fenerbahce on Thursday.
Mourinho is sure to make changes to the United side for the clash with Fenerbahce just 72 hours after the Liverpool game, but it is a game he cannot take lightly with a certain Robin van Persie back in town with the Turkish club.
Then comes the emotionally-charged return to Chelsea at the weekend where no doubt Mourinho will be desperate to prove a point to Roman Abramovic following his sacking last December after Chelsea’s title defence fell flat.
Mourinho is still revered by the Chelsea faithful for the success he brought to the club during his two spells in charge at Stamford Bridge and he is assured of a good reception from the fans if maybe not from some of the players he blamed for his demise last year.
Sunday’s clash in West London will not be the first time that Mourinho has returned to Stamford Bridge in the opposition dugout having taken charge of Inter Milan in 2010, but this will be different as it will be with a Premier League rival in Manchester United so there will be mixed emotions for the Chelsea supporters.
Chelsea will be well used to Mourinho’s resolve and tactical master classes in the big games, but defeat at Stamford Bridge would be a bitter blow for Mourinho personally and United’s title ambitions
Chelsea go into the game two points ahead of United in the table and defeat for Mourinho could leave him eight points behind the Premier League leaders just nine games into the season.
Mourinho and United then finish their daunting run of games with a home clash against Manchester City in the EFL League Cup having already lost to their neighbours in the Premier League at Old Trafford last month.
We all know Mourinho takes the League Cup seriously having won it twice as Chelsea boss and he can ill afford another defeat to Guardiola so early in the season and see a route to potential silverware ended in October.
Mourinho suffered a week to forget last month when losing to City, Feyenoord and Watford and although there will be plenty more twists and turns in the months ahead Mourinho must show in this run of fixtures that he is still the ‘Special One’ when it comes to the big games.