Jekyll and Hyde

By Pete Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/8 23:53:41

A strange Manchester derby lies ahead


Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata celebrates scoring against Juventus on Wednesday in Turin, Italy. Photo: VCG

Manchester United are fast becoming the most Jekyll and Hyde of soccer teams. Last week against Bournemouth, fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the pink shirts of the away side were that shade because of their wounds.

The hosts certainly smelled blood in the way they attacked a shaken rear guard and they were unlucky not to be out of sight by the halftime whistle.

It was the away side who were figuratively and literally in the pink after the interval. Their second-half display was like a United side of old and they earned a 2-1 win and three points to leapfrog the highflying south coast side in the Premier League table.

When Chris Smalling suggested that the side would take that into their Champions League tie away to Juventus in midweek, few believed the central defender.

Maybe he knew something. A 2-1 smash-and-grab win, in classic Mourinho style, was the club's biggest result in Europe for some years, only the third loss the Italian champions have suffered in the competition since moving to the Allianz Stadium and an away win over a team that humbled them at Old Trafford just weeks ago, when the home side barely challenged the Juventus goal.

It was certainly Mourinho's biggest result in the Champions League with United. He may have won the Europa League in his first season but the elite of European soccer has been less kind while he has been at the club.

Comebacks

They rode their luck at times in midweek - Juve hit the post several times and David de Gea had one of those games that make you wonder where United would be if they had not been able to call on him in recent seasons - but the best teams do.

More importantly, they rallied despite going down and never gave up. If the win in Turin was unexpected going into the game, then it was even more against the odds when the visitors were a goal down with five minutes on the clock.

It was substitutes Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, the only signings made by David Moyes during his brief tenure, that made the difference against the Old Lady of Italian soccer. The Spaniard scored a direct free kick and the Belgian caused havoc from another leading to a Juventus own goal.

It was Mata's introduction against Newcastle United a month or so back that started another comeback. Proof perhaps that Mourinho is starting to understand how to get the best out of his squad, something that has not been a concern for his rival across town. Pep Guardiola's Manchester City cruised to a 6-0 home win over Shakhtar Donetsk for their derby day preparation.

Confidence

Even still, United have reason to be more confident going into the Sunday afternoon showdown at the Etihad.

A win at City gets United towards the top five. It could also mean City do not end the weekend at the top of the league, depending on results for Chelsea and Liverpool. Even a draw adds to the growing impression that there is not only more to come from this United squad, but they are intent on finding out what they might be able to achieve.

Admittedly, they have not been able to do that for more than a half yet, let alone 90 minutes but the players have dismissed all of the talk that they are unwilling to play for Mourinho.

As for the Portuguese himself, if he can guide his charges to a result then he is sure to offer up a gesture of response to the inevitable ire that will be flung down from the home fans.

That may be what is fast becoming his trademark three-finger salute. It would not this time be for his three Premier League titles at Chelsea, nor his treble while at Inter Milan, but if anyone can find a reason it's the Portuguese. Three points?

He's on to a winner even if his side lose. The recent revival means any return to talk of crisis would only be if it was a very heavy defeat, and then it would surely only come from the clickbait corners of the internet, fan TV rentamouths and the overly emotional element of the fan base prone to calling phone-ins.

Concerns

After weathering the season's early storm, all seems calm for Mourinho whatever the result. The same may not be so for City, who have not been troubled on the pitch but are facing difficult questions off it.

The game will come as a welcome distraction from the spotlight shining on the club thanks to the recent Football Leaks revelations regarding allegations that they have showed a total disregard for Financial Fair Play and UEFA's attempts to enforce it. Whether those allegations have been an unwelcome distraction for the players remains to be seen.

The Abu Dhabi-owned club must have felt they were on the right side of a growing gulf between the Manchester sides in recent years but these off-pitch allegations threaten everything.

That's sure to be picked up by the away fans as the stands, the dugouts and the actions on the pitch are sure to show the very best and very worst of human nature - Jekyll and Hyde, if you prefer. 



Posted in: FEATURE,SOCCER

blog comments powered by Disqus