Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was driven from West Bromwich Albion to his home in London after his side’s 2-0 victory at the Hawthorns. With United not having a game midweek for the first time in a month, it was a rare chance to visit the family home ahead of the festive rush of fixtures. He deserves it.
Mourinho feels that he has never put as much time and effort into a job as he is doing at present and he will be able to reflect on a sharp upturn in results as he enjoys time with his family.
Ahead of next Sunday’s game against Sunderland at Old Trafford, United are 10 unbeaten in all competitions. They have won their past three league games, something they had not managed since winning the opening three league matches.
Though the team are still in sixth, the improvement from his players is clear and Mourinho’s own connection with fans is growing by the game. On Saturday, 3,000 travelling fans sang his name and the United manager also instructed captain Wayne Rooney to tell his teammates to hand their shirts to fans at the end. One, Paul Pogba, went further by climbing over an advertising hoarding to embrace fans as he passed his shirt to one.
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Pogba and Rooney were among the players who impressed as United comprehensively beat a West Brom side who had won their three previous home matches. They contributed to some thrilling attacking football with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring two fine goals.
The Swede has 16 goals in 25 appearances so far this term, his strike rate increasing in the last month as he feels that the players are connecting better around him.
Only Ruud van Nistelrooy scored more goals in his first 16 league games for United than Ibrahimovic, who has started as well as Andy Cole and Robin van Persie. He has also played in 25 of United’s 27 games so far.
“He is playing amazingly well but even in the period he was not scoring goals he was important for us,” said Mourinho. “We bought him for more than just to score goals. In the last two matches he scores three goals and we get six points in two away matches.”
With Chelsea on an 11-game unbeaten league run and clear favourites for the title, United fans and their manager do not expect to be champions of England in May. Finishing in the top four would be an achievement given the current league position. And the cups have become more important to Mourinho, a man who values any type of silverware. When United slipped after an impressive start to the season, Ibrahimovic featured more than Mourinho expected.
“I was expecting in the Europa League to give him a different situation but we put ourselves in a difficult situation losing the first match at Feyenoord and then every match became important, including the last one,” said Mourinho of why he now picks Ibrahimovic for every match, almost always for 90 minutes. For his part, Ibrahimovic wants to be picked for every match.
United fans are delighted with the upturn, and the atmosphere at matches is superb. Though Mourinho knows there is a long way to go before the team can catch the genuine title challengers, it is as though the clouds are clearing after three years of largely underwhelming football. At the Hawthorns, they were singing in support of the oft-criticised Marouanne Fellaini. It’s easier to be magnanimous when your team is playing well – and United are doing that, with confidence on the up and a swagger returning.
Mourinho has settled on a midfield three of Michael Carrick, Pogba and Ander Herrera. Partnerships are forming all over the field, some of them surprising. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo as central defenders is working, though the Argentine appears to have a stipulation in his contract that he must be involved in at least one controversial incident in each game.
United started 2016 in disarray and dismay as Louis van Gaal’s side fell out of form. Though there have been many ups and downs since, they are finishing in the year in much better shape.
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