Old Trafford or out, Manchester United must decide whether the club will back or sack Jose Mourinho.
The Red Devils head into the international break in a dismal eighth place – already an appalling 12 points behind Pep Guardiola’s league-leading Manchester City.
Derby defeat last Sunday to their bitter rivals could act as the final nail in Mourinho’s northwest coffin, but that could prove costly with suggestions the board will be forced to shell out £12million for early termination.
The former Chelsea coach has already made more than £30m throughout his career from being sacked at the London club alone, most recently when Roman Abramovich could take no more and signed off £8.3m in 2015.
At least for the meantime, Mourinho’s job at Old Trafford appears safe. A recent report in The Sun suggests that Champions League football next season is critical and is where the line will be drawn.
That, however, does not make overnight solutions to crucial issues the 55-year-old is claimed to have with United’s set-up behind the scenes. The Sun believes Mourinho deems the recruitment and scouting networks to be light years behind their rivals, and recent travel arrangements have caused mounting anger.
If Manchester United are to keep the faith in Mourinho being the man to guide a resurgence against City’s stranglehold on the Premier League, or at least secure Champions League football, the board must back their man and derby defeat will only strengthen his case for immediate changes.
It was widely reported in the summer that the former midfielder was unhappy with who he was able to bring to the club, signing Fred, Diogo Dalot and Lee Grant in a £74million splurge but missing out on a key central defender.
A focus on Toby Alderweireld, Harry Maguire, Jerome Boateng and Yerry Mina all came to the same conclusion and the season kicked off with Old Trafford outcast Eric Bailly lining up alongside Victor Lindelof.
ESPN now understands attentions are turning to Serie A and both Milan clubs, with Mourinho demanding United show he has a Red Devils future by signing Milan Skriniar from Inter Milan and Alessio Romagnoli from AC Milan, who both would harness hefty transfer fees.
At the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, Manchester United set out almost as if they had no intentions of trying to win. Sitting behind the ball in a classic Mourinho way of parking the bus, often hoping for a corner or free-kick to present an opening to score.
The only issue with that was United could not do enough to stop City from creating chances themselves, all too happy to sit back and pass the ball around knowing they would not be rushed in a gegenpressing fashion. When a United player tried to shut someone down they simply cut a lonely figure.
A rare Red Devils attack more often than not showed the same thing. A lonely figure longing for someone to come short and offer support rather than dawdle into the box in case a cross would come in as the wide man found himself swamped by Guardiola’s recruits.
Either the players were not listening to the message coming from their boss or Mourinho has lost faith in his players. Regardless, something must change for results to turn around. And again, Mourinho can stake his claim to a January sales extravaganza if he is the man to steady the ship heading into another iceberg.
Without Paul Pogba, one of the few men capable of sparking life into a game singlehandedly, Marouane Fellaini was called on to offer support to Nemanja Matic in sitting in front of the back four. Shifting side to side in strictly defined roles, the duo did their best to block out more of the pitch but as the 3-1 scoreline suggests, their efforts proved futile and in truth the result could have easily been wider.
A lack of alternatives when a key star is injured just goes to show Mourinho will need to strengthen not only the defence but also those charged with controlling the space across the pitch. The manager had one bullet in his chamber and clearly no plan ‘B’ when David Silva’s 12th minute opener showed it would be a long afternoon.
So what will it be, United? Keep the man in charge discontent with what resources he has or seek a fresh solution to return the most decorated club in England to the forefront of the Premier League.
Changes behind the scenes to scouting and recruitment will help to appease Mourinho should that be the route best seen as a return to Sir Alex Ferguson’s glory days, but it will also poise the club ready for the next man up and whatever the future has in store.
Either way, that future will need to hold changes whether it is manager or players, a costly situation United find the club in as Manchester rivals City flourish under the one who got away.