Manchester United’s limp defeat at home to bottom club West Bromwich Albion on the weekend handed their rivals across the city the title. It was a dreadful performance utterly devoid of creativity from the hosts and there was a sense that all the energy expended in the second half of the derby had left Jose Mourinho’s side with little left in the tank. The manager and fans will no doubt hope to finish the season in second place but in reality much hinges on the FA Cup. Should United lose in the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, it is safe to say it’s been a disappointing campaign whatever way the manager attempts to spin things.
While City were no doubt delighted to finally clinch the title, it’s hard to imagine a more anti-climactic manner with which to secure the league than this. A week earlier it had looked as though Pep Guardiola’s side, 2-0 up at the interval against their neighbours, were going to make certain in the most emphatic way imaginable but, in the end, they were crowned champions not with a bang but with a whimper. Some wags even suggested Mourinho might have secretly relished his team’s defeat so as not to give Guardiola’s players the satisfaction of winning it on the pitch but that’s probably stretching the truth somewhat.
The fact is that most United supporters wouldn’t have been too worried about the result given their team managed to avoid the doomsday scenario of City getting the job done in the derby. The issue, as has been the case for much of the season, was the performance. Mourinho has undoubtedly improved United since the departure of Louis van Gaal but there is no sense that the players impose themselves on games in the kind of manner that leads to success in the biggest competitions.
To make matters worse, United’s two biggest rivals are enjoying remarkable seasons. City have broken all sorts of records en route to the Premier League title while Liverpool, the only English club with the kind of history and global reach to rival United, face Roma in the Champions League semi-final after an extraordinary 5-1 aggregate win over City. Jurgen Kopp’s side are within touching distance of the final and the possibility of winning their sixth European Cup while United, with three, exited the competition against Sevilla in the most insipid fashion.
There is no feeling, after two seasons at the club, that Mourinho has his team on the verge of a serious push for the title or Champions League. He is probably still the right man for the job but this term was supposed to be about challenging for the top honours rather than offering half-hearted excuses for failure. The manager is not helped by the fact that the club’s most-loathed rivals are enjoying excellent seasons but the problem against West Brom had nothing to do with handing City the title and everything to do with the nature of the display. United were far more effective during the week at Bournemouth and fans will be hoping they can carry that kind of form into the clash with Spurs at Wembley on Saturday.