Jose Mourinho takes Manchester United into Thursday’s derby day clash with their backs firmly against the wall. Three games in a week, every week, since the start of September has now started to have an impact, as Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, and Eric Bailly each left the field at Turf Moor either hobbling or feeling the strain.
They also currently only have Daley Blind and, hopefully, Bailly available at centre-back, while their leading goal-scorers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata are reportedly out until the end of the season, too.
But such adversity has actually provoked quite the reaction from Jose Mourinho, who has been able to coerce three straight victories from his depleted Manchester United side for just the third time this season.
While the first triumph in this sequence over the hapless Sunderland was mandatory, triumphs over table-topping Chelsea and the resilient Burnley were particularly impressive, especially as, in hindsight, they were achieved with relative ease and comfort.
In the absence of a big-player presence on the field, Mourinho has been the one to take the team by the scruff of the neck. After months of listening to Mourinho’s catty comments Anthony Martial had no choice but to deliver against Burnley, while even Wayne Rooney was adamant after the same match that he’d given his manager something to consider.
Having made eight changes between the sides that played against Anderlecht at Old Trafford on the Thursday and at Burnley, clearly Jose Mourinho has decided that in order for Manchester United to finish in the top four, win the Europa League, or both, he’s going to have to use all of and stretch his roster.
With just six Premier League, and four Europa League games left that would seem achievable if their domestic run-in wasn’t so preposterously difficult, as they still have games at Tottenham and Arsenal to contest after City. Yet, after the victories over Chelsea and Burnley, a glimmer of hope has suddenly twinkled, and yet another triumph over Manchester City would speed up Manchester United’s momentum even further.
Throughout his career Jose Mourinho has proven adept at using such momentum to galvanise his troops to Premier League and Champions League glory, and while he won’t be given a medal for defeating Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side on their own patch Mourinho will be just as eager to get one over his great rival, especially as it will see Manchester United move above them.
If Manchester United were to win on Thursday then Mourinho would feel supremely confident about defeating Arsene Wenger at the Emirates, especially considering it’s something that he’s proven rather proficient at over the years, while he’d revel in beating the much lauded Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, too. Defeating Manchester City is the first hurdle in this excursion, though, because even a draw would probably prove to be too feeble an effort to eventually get United into the top four.