It’s taken a while, but Jose Mourinho finally has his mojo back.
The familiar swagger and glint in the eye, that have been missing for so much of his turbulent Manchester United tenure, have all returned.
That much was evident following United’s dramatic 2-1 comeback win away to Juventus, when Mourinho was back to his controversial and playful best.
After goading Juve fans who had abused him during the game, by cupping his hand to his ear sarcastically, Mourinho showed his impish side in a post-match interview.
Questioned about the incident afterwards and why he acted the way he did, Mourinho asked the interviewer if she understood Italian.
When she said no, Mourinho replied “ask the FA then, they’ll translate for you,” a sarcastic reference to the ongoing misconduct charge he faces for swearing into a TV camera.
After delivering his witty riposte, Mourinho dissolved into a fit of laughter, showing a lighter side that is finally emerging as United’s results and performances have improved.
Mourinho even joked about United’s late arrivals at Old Trafford for Champions League games, saying he hoped they “arrived on time” for the final home group game against Young Boys later this month.
He has also reacted to the leaking of his team before games, a situation that was said to have vexed him, with humour, joking with those responsible that the pressure is on them to deliver the correct line-up.
The scowl has been replaced with a smile.
From being on the brink of the sack against Newcastle a month ago, Mourinho has managed to steer United back on course, culminating in Wednesday’s remarkable win away to one of Europe’s heavyweights.
The timing could not been better for Mourinho and United, who head across Manchester on Sunday for their biggest game of the season against Premier League champions and local rivals City in the eagerly-awaited derby.
City may be top of the table, playing with a swagger and scored 12 goals in their last two matches, but United will feel they can get a result at the Etihad, just as they did last season, winning 3-2 to delay City’s title party.
On that occasion, United trailed 2-0 at half-time but fought back to stun City and remind everyone of their quality when they get it right.
Starting games slowly has been a recurring theme for United this season, and Mourinho must make sure they do not suffer a repeat of that affliction on Sunday, with City playing with such ruthless efficiency going forward.
Defensively United may still be suspect, but Mourinho has at least settled on a back-four that has an understanding, while in midfield he is likely to go with the trio of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera on Sunday.
The enforced loss of Romelu Lukaku has helped United, with more pace and movement in a front three of Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard, with Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford able to start or come in if required.
More than anything, United’s players seem to be enjoying themselves again after a tough start, as Lingard admitted in the wake of the Juventus win.
“We’re enjoying our football, enjoying winning games and enjoying the pressure of playing in big games,” said Lingard.
“You can’t write us off easily. We will fight until the end and we’ll get late goals as we have done over the last few games.
“This game will give us a lot of confidence going into the next match. We’ve still got a lot to work on, but on the whole we’re doing well and the confidence is up.”
Herrera put United’s victory in Turin into context when he said: “We were playing against maybe the team, along with City, that’s in the best form in Europe. So we’re happy because it’s a win that gives us a lot.
“City is a new game, a new situation. It’s true they’re the favourites because they’re in unbelievable form, but this is Manchester United and you never know what can happen.”
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United have endured criticism this season, but have come through their sticky period, with Sunday’s showdown ready to provide the ultimate test of where they are as a team, and whether they can get back into the title mix.
“When you play for United, the biggest club in the UK and one of the biggest in the world, you have to get used to that,” said Herrera. “United players need to have the personality to cope with that.
“We’re the real United, also in the bad moments, because we have to recognise that we’ve had bad moments and we have to improve.
“The last results gave us good spirit and energy, but the real United we’ll see at the end of the season and then we can say if we’ve had a good season.”
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