Rarely are outcomes as binary as they are for Manchester United right now.
The black-and-white line between winning and losing is, of course, the essence of sports, but the truth is always muddier than that. The Atlanta Falcons lost its Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion, but it’s hard to argue its season was a total write-off because of it. Classic Empire saw its Triple Crown bid falter at the Preakness last weekend, finishing a close second, but we can’t then dismiss the Kentucky Derby triumph which preceded it.
But for Manchester United, it truly does all come down to one game.
Mourinho is among the most decorated managers in recent history, but he’s also an unapologetically one dimensional one. He doesn’t rotate his players to keep them fresh. He doesn’t indulge young talents. He dismisses style and flair. Any alterations to the system aren’t so much changes but tweaks. His philosophy is simple: build an impeccable defense, rely on a moment of offensive magic to snag a goal, then kill the game. Don’t try to beat them, let them beat us.
There’s no doubt it worked for him, but recently, there are signs Mourinho has stayed still as the game has crept ever-so-slightly past him.
His first season back at Chelsea, in 2014, ended in a failed late-bid for the title. Chelsea shed all its young talent for proven win-now players the next season, capitalizing on the Premier League’s power vacuum at the top and a supreme season from Eden Hazard to crawl over the finish line. Mourinho followed that Premier League win with the worst title defense in history, with the club eventually firing him after claiming his players “betrayed” him.