Jose Mourinho has one game to prove Manchester United’s season isn’t an abject failure

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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.

AFP

In many ways, this is all part of Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s plan.

After a slow start to the Premier League season followed by an underwhelming 25 game unbeaten run featuring 12 draws, Mourinho essentially wrote-off a top four spot (which brings with it an invitation to next season’s Champions League) and instead pursued the the Europa League trophy. It’s not the trophy he particularly cares about, it’s the final Champions League invitation awarded to whoever wins Wednesday’s Manchester United-Ajax final.

There’s an argument that Manchester United had been deeply unlucky during the regular season, but that notion looks over the nuances of mechanism at work in Manchester.

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.




Now he finds himself outside the top four again, this time with Manchester United. The most expensively-assembled squad in Premier League history spent most of the season playing dull, defensive soccer, whose only real offensive strategy involved a bunch of crosses to a 6’5″, 35 year-old target man. All the attacking brilliance of players like Henrik Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Antony Martial and Paul Pogba has been stymied by Mourinho’s over-cautious tactics, one obsessed with covering potential mistakes, rather than embracing what some of the most talented players in soccer do well.

Win on Wednesday, and this get-out-of-jail-free card will paper over the cracks at Manchester United. Lose, and all will be exposed. Mourinho has built his career on riding razor-thin margins, only to complain when he falls victim to them. His game against Ajax is the ultimate test of his philosophy.

Here http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/05/jose-mourinho-manchester-united-europa-league-final

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