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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Manchester United need to respond against Tottenham or face another week of intense scrutiny

Defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last time out has increased the pressure on Mourinho and Woodward

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will seek a response from his players when Tottenham visit Old Trafford on Monday. AFP
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will seek a response from his players when Tottenham visit Old Trafford on Monday. AFP

A leading British football pundit presented some big questions to this writer ahead of Manchester United's game against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

“Am I right in thinking that United have to win after the defeat last week? Big problems if they don’t," he asked. "They’ll be well behind City and the season has barely started. How do you think the fans will react to the manager if United lose?”

All valid points, but that conversation took place in October last year following United’s first defeat of the season at Huddersfield Town.

After that surprise defeat to David Wagner's newly-promoted team, United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0, before losing their next game by the same scoreline at Chelsea.

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That run of results left United eight points behind Manchester City and any Premier League hopes were all but over after 11 games.

United still generate more football stories than any club in the UK. England's best-supported club have a huge constituency of fans, while rival supporters stay tuned in to delight in any disasters.

The presence of Jose Mourinho as manager - a favourite pantomime villain most recently used by Manchester City in their Amazon documentary - adds to the narrative. United knew exactly what they were getting when they gave him the job in 2016.

This vast demand for stories has resulted in the media accentuating and analysing everything related to United - both the positive and negative. There were six pages devoted to Mourinho’s supposed rift with executive vice chairman Ed Woodward in the British Sunday papers.

For better or worse, United come in for more scrutiny than any other club, the fallout from any defeat magnified – and there has been plenty after the loss at Brighton and Hove Albion.

But it was about more than just one game. The defeat triggered a pent-up backlash after a summer transfer window which frustrated many fans, more so when the central defenders Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof – a position Mourinho identified to strengthen – performed so poorly.

That a team stocked with top players failed to respond to conceding three goals in 19 minutes only added fuel to the fire.

Rivals City and Liverpool winning convincingly last weekend hardly improved the mood among fans, but then City dropped points at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday. That’s a Wolves team which was beaten by Leicester City, who United defeated on the opening day of the season.

Mourinho may cut an unhappy figure when he talks to the media, and his Friday press conference, which he arrived for 30 minutes early, was spiky with truncated answers and a lack of trust.

But he retains support from most of the match-going fanbase who continue to sing his name and who will back him against Spurs on Monday. Those damning online judgements can be misleading.

And, as has happened at Old Trafford many times before, if fans perceive that the media are against the club then they will adopt a siege mentality which can help bring unity – the one thing that appears to be lacking between Mourinho, Woodward, and Paul Pogba, his current captain.

Fans would normally back a football man over a former banker like Woodward, but better still would be a show of unity so fans don’t feel they have to choose sides.

Previous United executives have seldom been popular among fans, though they have been among their staff. United’s leading executives and their families were all present for the first professional Manchester United Women FC game on Saturday, which attracted an impressive 4,835 attendance.

A win for United against a Tottenham side who have won their opening two games is important, although Spurs have their own issues after their captain Hugo Lloris was charged with drinking driving in the early hours of Friday.

Like United, Tottenham have also been missing several of their stars who performed well at this summer's World Cup in Russia.

Mourinho is likely to bring back Nemanja Matic and Antonio Valencia, while Alexis Sanchez is also back in training after missing the Brighton defeat, as is new signing Diogo Dalot.

Another United defeat will trigger another week of stinging headlines, but that is what comes with the territory of being England's biggest club. It is time those United players who let their manager down at Brighton rose to the occasion.

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