Jose getting his groove back? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 09, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:12 AM, November 09, 2018

Jose getting his groove back?

When Manchester United scored the go-ahead goal in the 89th minute of their Champions League tie against Juventus, Jose Mourinho lifted his hands up to his ears and implored the stunned Juventini to speak up in response to 86 minutes of vitriol.

Over the past weeks the Portuguese has taken on a defiant tone unprecedented even by his standards. But rather than projecting negativity onto his own board or players as he has recently done, he has harnessed the voices and fed it into himself, harkening back to his glory days at Inter, Porto, Chelsea and to some extent Real Madrid.

“They insulted me for 90 minutes. I came here to do my job, nothing more," Mourinho said after the game. "I didn't offend anyone at the end; I just made a gesture that I wanted to hear them louder. I probably shouldn't have done it, with a cool head I wouldn't have."

It was understandable why he failed to keep a cool head. Other than the fact that he has been under unyielding bombardment from the press and contending with numerous fans on his back, the result was also the first time Manchester United scored two late goals (after 85 minutes) to win a match since their unforgettable triumph in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

It was also a landmark win for a side that had not beaten a big European team away from home since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure in 2013. In the time that followed they had defeated only Young Boys, Benfica, CSKA Moscow, Club Brugge and Bayer Leverkusen away from Old Trafford.

Add to that the fact that Juventus -- who have been Italian champions six years running -- had lost only eight of their 189 games prior to last night's match at the Allianz Stadium, and Mourinho's over-exuberance can only seem par for the course.

However, of more interest than the win itself is how such a result even came to occur.

Even the most hardcore Manchester United fan was hoping for a draw at best ahead of Sunday's clash against Manchester City but as the players said in their post-game interviews and on social media, it was the effect of a dressing room that has seen its atmosphere change dramatically.

Jose's initial plan of implementing his famous 'siege mentality' failed; Manchester United are a club used to hostility from every other fanbase in England. His authoritarian attitude -- which had famously seen Iker Casillas leave Real Madrid -- only led to scapegoats, such as Luke Shaw, stepping up their games. Now it seems his new mantra of instilling a winning mentality has struck a chord as evidenced by their third come-from-behind win in five matches, all of which featured a winning goal after the 88th minute -- the hallmark of vintage Manchester United teams.

Mourinho has also been much softer in practice -- recently exchanging death stares with Paul Pogba for high fives and hugs -- winning over players as he did at previous clubs. He is slowly shifting the focus to his brilliant game-management, which saw United hound Juventus with a high press for bursts and disorient them. He has also made an effort to repair burnt bridges, giving out-of-favour Anthony Martial chances to shine, which he has grabbed with both hands.

His vital substitutions, such as the introduction of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata last night, have also highlighted his tactical nous -- something forgotten amid all the drama at Old Trafford.

His defence may not be perfect -- they have leaked 18 goals in 11 league games. Even Victor Lindelof -- who has been tremendous since the reverse leg against Juventus -- took his eyes off Ronaldo for only a few seconds and was punished in the worst fashion as the Portguese created a half-space, outpaced the Swede onto one of Leonardo Bonucci's trademark balls over the top and laced a venomous volley past a disbelieving David de Gea.

And despite a plethora of attacking talents, United's play in the final third still looks listless, with little movement. Alexis Sanchez added a spark there, but it was futile in the face of the best defence of Europe. It was only Mata's moment of magic from a free-kick and a goalmouth melee which led to Alex Sandro bundling into his own net that rescued United. But that second goal especially highlighted how much Manchester United have begun to believe in themselves and their ability to win.

The English press may have entertained the now 55-year-old's request to be labelled 'The Special One' when he first arrived in the Premier League more than a decade ago, but his recent pleas for respect -- backed by the three-finger salute which he uses to signify his three Premier League triumphs -- have been mocked thoroughly.

However, with a good performance against Manchester City and a few more glittering European nights, Mourinho may just end up re-earning the respect he so desperately craves.

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