Man Utd are past masters at overhauling huge deficits to romp to victory in the Premiership title race. Few can forget the look on Kevin Keegan’s face as the Red Devils won 13 out of their final 15 games to make up a 12-point gap on Newcastle and topple the Magpies. Then they went on an 18-game unbeaten stretch to make up a nine-point deficit to Arsenal in 2002-03 to seize further glory. They have also been on the receiving end, having let slip a 12-point head start against Arsenal in 1997/98. So why is it that, with Man Utd 10 points off the top of the table in October, everyone has already written them off?
Man Utd are priced at 100/1 to win the league title with most bookmakers after a desperately sluggish start to the 2018/19 campaign. Even the stunning 3-2 comeback victory against Newcastle has done little to convince the bookies. If you were to click on a recent national press story titled “Gary Neville rules two teams out of the Premiership title race”, you would see he is talking about Chelsea and Arsenal. He is saying it is between Man City and Liverpool, and Utd do not even get a mention.
When the Red Devils go to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Saturday, they are as long as 4/1 to win with respected betting sites such as BetDSI. Back in the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, you would never see such long odds on Man Utd in a single Premiership game. In the Champions League, Man Utd have drifted out to 40/1, despite taking four points from their first two group games. Man City are 11/2 favourites, while Liverpool are just 8/1. They are the only two Premiership sides considered to have an actual chance in the Champions League.
So what can Man Utd do to rescue their season? Perhaps it is time to axe Jose Mourinho. When Ferguson was in charge, you could never write Man Utd off at such an early stage in the Premiership season, and they were always a threat in the Champions League. Like Mourinho, he too was a strict disciplinarian, but he was a far better man manager. He also had Man Utd playing an exciting, expansive brand of football, while churning out positive results at the same time.
Early season sackings can sometimes deliver Champions League glory. Chelsea were galvanised after axing Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo came in and led them to European glory along with the FA Cup. Real Madrid sacked Rafa Benitez, appointed Zinedine Zidane as manager and he delivered the Champions League. The Frenchman is free after walking away from Real following a third straight Champions League triumph in May, and securing his services could give Man Utd a massive boost.
It feels like there is too much water under the bridge for Mourinho. The likes of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez turned it on in the second half against Newcastle, but whether they will play like that for him on a consistent basis is another matter entirely. He cannot accuse the board of not backing him in the transfer market, as the club has spent a fortune on bolstering the squad since he arrived, regardless of his protestations. Meanwhile, his style of play will continue to spark withering headshakes among the Old Trafford faithful. Playing turgid football while grinding out wins and seizing silverware is one thing, but playing drearily while winning nothing is a quick way to being fired.
It seems unthinkable that Man Utd could overhaul a 10-point deficit in the title race this season, even though there are still 90 points left to play for. Man City and Liverpool are playing with the sort of pace, dynamism and unpredictability that defined the Ferguson era at Utd, while the Red Devils are either parking the bus or hoofing it up to Marouane Fellaini. It could be that a change of manager is the only way to salvage something from this season.