Has Jose Mourinho's first season at Man Utd been a success?
Two trophies and Champions League qualification vs sixth place in the league and a reliance on pragmatism over poetry
Manchester United may have finished the season with two trophies (three if you count the Community Shield), but the jury is still out on Jose Mourinho after his first Old Trafford campaign.
The Portuguese manager has been typically bullish about his achievements, saying after the Europa League triumph over Ajax that his team have overcome huge obstacles and used "pragmatism" to beat the "poets".
But does his assessment of the season stand up to scrutiny?
It depends on where your loyalties lie, says Gabriele Marcotti of ESPN. "The reaction from many is purely binary" when it comes to Mourinho, he adds: "To his enemies, he's a whining crybaby; to his acolytes, he's the miracle man.
"If you like Mourinho, then it's job done because they got into the Champions League and won two (three?) trophies - that counts much more than the poets and their hot air. If you don't, he's deluded and dishonest because he oversaw the second-worst league finish at the club since 1990, one that saw him finish 24 points behind the champions with one of the most expensively assembled squads in history."
For much of the season, Mourinho's scowl and his willingness to take down his players in public has lent credence to the idea he was not enjoying the challenge.
However, the one thing guaranteed to lift his mood is the sight of silverware - and he finally unleashed his smile on Wednesday night, says Phil McNulty of the BBC.
"[Mourinho] has occasionally looked an uneasy fit at Old Trafford but here he was at home. As he held the trophy aloft in front of United's elated support, Mourinho's name was chanted in a manner rarely heard this season. It looked and sounded like he was finally right at home."
But while United supporters celebrated their team's Europa League success and a route back to the Champions League this week, Matt Dickinson of The Times was struck by a paradox.
"The nature of football is that many of those same United fans dancing deliriously in the Friends Arena… will have been decrying and demeaning Mourinho’s reactive, risk-averse football when he was at Chelsea," he says.
United used to regard Mourinho as the "wrong sort" for their club, but after the failures under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, they agreed to a pact with the Portuguese. And it has paid off. This season has seen "another significant step back towards the high ground that they surrendered when Ferguson stepped down as manager", says Dickinson.
The problem is: where do they go from here, because the Theatre of Dreams is a place for poetry, no matter how Mourinho sees it.
"Once upon a time, when they seemed invincible, United saw themselves as the great cavaliers, winners but with a strong streak of romance, too," says Dickinson. "They felt themselves above Mourinho’s pragmatism. Times changed, needs must. For now, just qualifying for the Champions League, by whatever means, is a step forward. But, one day, given the famous heritage, United will surely return to the loftiest aspirations. They will, as the poet might say, not just be trying to win but reaching for the stars."
Mourinho claims of fatigue at Man United cut no ice
After watching his side labour to a 0-0 draw with Southampton on Wednesday, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was back on his high horse berating the Premier League for his side's fixture pile-up.
United face Ajax in the Europa League final next Wednesday, but must play their final league game of the season on Sunday, leaving them 72 hours to prepare for the final.
Adamant he has been hard done by, Mourinho has called for his side to be allowed to kick off a day earlier than the rest of the league.
"We are sixth, Crystal Palace are safe, it doesn’t matter," he said. "Our match has to be Saturday.
"In any country in the world, it would be Saturday. I am here already seven years and I never saw any detail of trying to care about the English teams involved in European competitions."
He vowed to play a team of youngsters in order to allow his exhausted senior players to prepare for the final.
However, scepticism is growing over Mourinho's complaints of his team being fatigued.
A list of the 20 Premier League players who have seen the most action this season, published by the Daily Telegraph, shows five of them are Manchester United players, but that includes goalkeeper David de Gea.
Of the others, Paul Pogba has played more minutes than any other outfield player this season, but Spurs and Leicester also both have four players who take this position on the list.
Wednesday's draw against Southampton means that whatever happens against Palace, this will go down as the Premier League season in which United have won fewest games, notes MailOnline.
Under David Moyes and Ryan Giggs in 2013-14, and Louis van Gaal last season, United managed 19 league victories. This season, they have only 17 wins to their name.
"But that is just one stat that shames the manager among a plethora of them over the course of his sole season in Manchester," says Amitai Winehouse of the Daily Mail.
United have a "woeful" shot conversion rate this season, scoring with fewer than ten per cent of their chances. They have also drawn 15 times.
Mourinho's fatigue argument is also a "fallacy" says Winehouse. In 2008-09 United played 66 games to this year's 64 and still won the Premier League and League Cup and made the Champions League final.
And it was Mourinho's Chelsea who played more games than any other Premier League team in history in 2006-07.
The Blues played 69 matches that season, won the FA Cup and League Cup, reached the Champions League semi-finals and still finished second in the league.
Happy Jose Mourinho brings 'smiles and laughter' to Man Utd
It doesn't take long to change the mood at a Premier League, club.
In October, the bookies stopped taking bets on Antonio Conte being sacked by Chelsea and now they are six points clear at the top of the table. Arsenal, who inched ahead of their London rivals for a few hours earlier this month, are in sackcloth and ashes after two defeats in a week.
Meanwhile, the talk at Old Trafford is of handing Jose Mourinho a new contract after Manchester United following a two-month unbeaten run in the league.
It's a stark contrast to earlier this season, when there were rumours the new manager was a distant figure at the training ground and that his grumpy touchline demeanour was a cause for concern.
Mourinho himself even described life in Manchester as "a bit of a disaster" after setting up home in a city-centre hotel, where he was besieged by fans and press.
But the clouds have lifted and despite the fact United will be languishing in sixth place on Christmas Day, The Times reports that "senior figures at Old Trafford insist that they made the right decision in appointing Mourinho as Louis van Gaal’s successor and are convinced that the Portuguese is taking the club in the right direction".
United's top brass are "impressed by the more attacking style Mourinho has brought to the club", it adds, "and are confident the 53-year-old can bring Champions League football and silverware back to Old Trafford".
What's more, Mourinho is "happy", says The Guardian, which conjures up an image of a jolly manager quite unlike the one seen stalking the Old Trafford technical area this season.
"The view that Mourinho has been grumpy and discontented at times has caused some bemusement among the United hierarchy, with it being said the manager can be light-hearted around the players and a practical joker," says the paper.
The Daily Telegraph reports the manager has brought "smiles and laughter back to the training ground after it had become a stale environment under [David] Moyes and van Gaal".
It adds: "Although there is no need for new contract talks to begin at this stage, given they already have an option to extend his deal until 2020, there is a feeling in the boardroom that United have finally found someone to fill, rather than merely step into, Sir Alex Ferguson’s gigantic shoes."
Indeed, the Times says: "Even though he is yet to complete four seasons at one club, United view him as their manager for the long term" and believe he could stay "much longer" than his contract.
'Troubled' Mourinho faces touchline ban after FA charge
Jose Mourinho is facing his third FA rap of the season after being charged with improper conduct following his sending off against West Ham on Sunday.
The Manchester United boss was sent to the stands for kicking a water bottle during the first half of the game at Old Trafford, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
"As expected, disciplinary proceedings have followed and now Mourinho has until 6pm on Thursday to respond to the charge," reports the Daily Telegraph.
Despite his track record, Mourinho is expected to escape a stadium ban, says The Guardian. "While the sanction remains a possibility, it is understood a punishment of excluding him from attending a game is unlikely. Instead, he may receive a touchline ban and this could be for two or more matches, alongside a fine.
"As he has so far paid £288,000 for previous offences, Mourinho could pass £300,000 if he is found guilty."
Two sendings off and three FA charges in a month do not bode well for a coach who rarely lasts more than three seasons at a club before things start to unravel.
But with United enduring their worst start to a season for decades there are fears that the Portuguese coach is already struggling.
"A man of Mourinho's experience should be expected to provide calm leadership in this situation," says Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail. "Instead, the exasperated coach is kicking water bottles and doing another enforced disappearing act from the dugout as his once mercurial powers have little effect.
"Just how he has reached this point so early in his tenure is not easy to fathom. There is little doubt, though, that Mourinho's mind is troubled right now."
He appears to be in a "permanent sulk", he adds. "There has been very little humour about the man, not even the moments of mischief that used to light up his media appearances at Chelsea."
For now the players remain on his side, says Wheeler. But even that support could be in danger, says The Times. "As well as United's wretched league form, and concerns from senior figures at Old Trafford about his conduct, Mourinho's team selection has also raised some eyebrows within the squad.
"Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial were left out of the squad for Sunday's game against West Ham, even though they were fully fit. Surprisingly, Ashley Young, who has made five league starts in 2016, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was forced to train away from the first team until a month ago, were on the bench instead."
Jose Mourinho sent off: Is Man Utd boss 'yesterday's man'?
Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands at Old Trafford for the second time this season as his Manchester United side were held to a 1-1 draw by West Ham. As a result, United is now slipping further from the Premier League's leading pack.
United now lie sixth, with 20 points from 13 games, the worst total of any manager since Alex Ferguson retired. David Moyes accrued 22 points from his first 13 games, and Louis van Gaal also garnered 22 in his first season, and 27 in his second. Mourinho's side are 11 points off leaders Chelsea and eight behind Arsenal in fourth place.
Of more immediate concern will be the the manager's fate after his second sending off of the season and his third in his last 20 Premier League games.
Mourinho was sent off by referee John Moss for kicking a water bottle in disgust after Paul Pogba was booked for diving as he evaded a tackle from Mark Noble in the 27th minute. By that time the frustrated Portuguese manager had already seen the Hammers take the lead after just 90 seconds through Diafra Sakho, although Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised 20 minutes later.
It is not the first time Mourinho has been in trouble this season. He was fined £50,000 for comments about referee Anthony Taylor in the build-up to the league game against Liverpool, and was sent off against Burnley last month.
"The Portuguese was warned on that occasion about his future conduct by the Football Association, who may now take a dim view of another unsavoury incident so soon after the Burnley offence," says the Daily Telegraph. He now faces a two-match touchline ban says the paper, which notes: "United have won just two of their past ten league matches and face Everton away and Spurs at home in their next two league fixtures."
Mourinho's touchline histrionics are nothing new but "the reality is that he is beginning to look like a relic of a bygone age", says Mark Ogden of ESPN.
"He is acting like a badly-behaved child on a weekly basis, projecting a surly image to the world and seems to think that everybody is against him and his club. Yet this has become a tired old act and Mourinho is increasingly looking like yesterday's man." His policy of lighting fires and "surrounding his team with smoke" only worked when they were able to win on the pitch.
His behaviour must be a concern, says Jamie Redknapp of Sky Sports, who says Mourinho is displaying "the traits he has after two or three years". He is "running out of excuses" for United's poor start to the season and appears "very uncomfortable within himself", says Redknapp.
However, support for Mourinho at Old Trafford "appears robust", says Henry Winter of The Times. And "there was enough on show from United to reveal that the future may improve under Mourinho, even if they are surely out of the title race, and unlikely to make up the gap to fourth".
Winter also has sympathy for Mourinho over the sending off. The offence was born of frustration and "did not warrant removal to the stands", he says.
"It revealed a pedantic, weak referee rather than a strong one. Mourinho's histrionics are tiresome but referees also have to take each offence as it comes, judging them on their merits and this was hardly mutiny."