Jose Mourinho’s tenure at the helm of Manchester United has been a mixed bag so far this season. A stellar start to life in Manchester saw his side rise near the top of the table, but they have struggled to really get a decent run of form going since that point.
The Red Devils are unbeaten in the Premier League since October, but the fine form of sides around them combined with an increasing number of draws has prevented them from rising up the table – with 6th place simply not good enough for Mourinho.
The EFL Cup is already in the trophy case, of course, but with the Premier League title no longer within reach, Jose Mourinho must add to his trophy haul this season if he wants to consider it a success. Indeed, if Mourinho really wants to achieve greatness during his debut campaign, he must win the competition that he once described as ‘not good’ – the Europa League.
You could even argue that Thursday evening’s clash between Manchester United and FC Rostov could be the match to define Mourinho’s first year in charge. On a basic level, the fact that the Premier League title is out of reach and the FA Cup is but a distant memory should serve as motivation to give the Red Devils something to fight for – but the need to succeed goes much deeper than that.
From Jose Mourinho’s perspective, his reputation is seriously on the line. After a disappointing final few months in charge of Chelsea, the Portuguese manager needs to prove his worth – and poor performances in the league and FA Cup have done little to change the perception of him.
Certainly, the Europa League is not the pinnacle of European performance, but a victory in the cup will go some way to reestablishing the Red Devils as a side to be fearful of. Mourinho has always been a manager that brings immediate success, and should he fail against Rostov, the success that he has achieved at Old Trafford so far can be considered minimal at best.
Of course, perhaps the main motivator for success on Thursday evening should be the prospect of Champions League football. The winner of the competition this year gets a clear route through to the competition, and with a top four finish far from assured it could end up being Man Utd’s only route in. Manchester United’s presence back in the competition would help establish them as a big European force once again, and to do that, they simply must win the Europa League.
The return of Champions League football also brings so much more than just the competition itself. It also brings the prospect of money, and, perhaps more importantly, top players. Of course, Manchester United were able to land the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba without it over the summer, but that might not be possible again this year with players like Romelu Lukaku and Antoine Griezmann likely to be on Mourinho’s targets list.
Indeed, for many reasons, the success of Jose Mourinho’s first season, and indeed his second, could rest on victory against FC Rostov. Defeat could very well mean another year without major European football, and whilst a victory will only take them through to the quarter-final, they will be one step closer to their elusive prize.