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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Reviewing Swansea vs. Manchester United

We explore the possibility that Manchester United are better off when Jose Mourinho watches from the stands.

by Will Magee
Nov 7 2016, 3:31pm

PA Images

Of all the dramatic developments in football over the course of the weekend, Manchester United not being terrible was perhaps the most shocking. The lumbering, laboured Premier League behemoths went into their game against Swansea on the back of a midweek defeat to Fenerbahce in the Europa League, as well as a lacklustre home draw against Burnley at Old Trafford that had seen Jose Mourinho sent to the stands, and subsequently handed a one-match touchline ban. Debates had raged all week about whether or not Mourinho had completely lost it, and how exactly United were still in the mid-table having spent hundreds of millions of pounds on transfer fees over the last few seasons. The feeling that United might not be getting value for money was only compounded when the team sheets came out, and it became apparent that the most decorated club in England would be playing a back four of Phil Jones, Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young.

In fairness to United, though, their performance at the Liberty Stadium was enough to quieten their most vociferous critics. Despite their defensive unit consisting of a utility man, two full-backs and a bemused winger, shielded by an ancient Michael Carrick, they only conceded one goal on the way to nabbing three points from the Swans. United were helped in no small part by Swansea being shite, of course, but the inadequacies of the opposition haven't stopped them from slipping up before. They are now a solid sixth in the table, and can at least go into the international break with a small but meaningful boost to their morale.

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This is a mere surmise but, on the evidence of their reasonably high spirits on Sunday, it's possible that Jose Mourinho's absence from the touchline was another cause for United to take heart. Having become an increasingly stifling presence in recent weeks – brooding in his press conferences, censuring his players, prowling his technical area like an unhinged Travis Bickle – the fact that he was watching at a distance seemed to visibly brighten the team up. Rather than play with the figurative weight of his bitterness, anger and general disapproval on their backs, United almost looked like they were having fun, and expressed themselves accordingly. Pogba scored a screamer, Zlatan did the same, and the experience was quite enjoyable, all told. The performance had the air of a good, clean lark in the park, as opposed to the air of an ultra-violent police siege-come-hostage situation which Mourinho has sought to foster in recent times.

With Arsenal at home next up for Mourinho's men, he should ideally want to preserve the embryonic sense of joie de vivre that the squad discovered down in South Wales. He's already taken the shine off a little bit, mainly by looking miserable as sin in his post-match press conference before questioning some of his players' resolve. Perhaps it would be best for Mourinho to change tack; to go easy on the lads and relax them in the build up to the Arsenal game, as opposed to making them feel like participants in some sort of footballing Hunger Games. Then, come matchday, maybe he could watch the game at a reasonable distance; from the executive suite, or the car park, or at home on the sofa, for instance.