MANCHESTER, Sept 23 ― Manchester United eased some of the pressure on manager Jose Mourinho by beating Northampton Town in midweek but that will count for little if they lose to Premier League champions Leicester City tomorrow.
United halted a run of three successive losses ― the first time Mourinho had suffered such a run since he was in charge of Porto in 2002 ― by winning 3-1 at League One side Northampton in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.
That result earned United a last-16 tie at home to derby rivals Manchester City, whose 100 per cent winning start to the season under Pep Guardiola has contrasted starkly with United's stuttering beginnings.
United won their first three Premier League matches under Mourinho, as well as beating Leicester in the Community Shield, but then lost to City and Watford, either side of a Europa League defeat at Dutch club Feyenoord.
Observers have called into question Mourinho's tactics and team selections, while there have been suggestions the manager's criticism of individual players has not gone down well in the dressing room.
In typically bullish fashion, Mourinho has come out fighting, labelling United's detractors as know-it-all “Eintseins”, although he will be aware United can't afford another poor eight days with home games to come against Leicester, Russian side FC Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League and struggling Stoke City.
United's manager ― who must decide whether to keep faith with under-performing captain Wayne Rooney ― said: “We have three home matches now in a row and it is always good to be at home.
“If the fans have been disappointed with the last week, I understand completely. But I am sure they will be behind the team like they always are.
“We had a bad week. I know that the world is full of Einsteins. I know that they tried to delete 16 years of my career, they tried to delete an unbelievable history of Manchester United Football Club and to focus on a bad week with three bad results.
“But that's the new football, it's full of Einsteins.”
Leicester drew 1-1 at Old Trafford in May on their way to winning the title and, despite going out of the EFL Cup in mid-week to Chelsea, have shown signs of regaining last season's remarkable form with three wins in their previous four games.
But midfielder Ander Herrera believes United's victory at Northampton, where he was one of the goalscorers, means Mourinho's side will face the champions in a “better way”.
Herrera said: “We had a terrible week and we want to be positive. Now we have to face Leicester at home and after this victory we feel good.
“We are more positive and more optimistic. We want to be at the top of the table and we have to win. We are Manchester United.
“Of course we are playing against the last Premier League winners, the champions, so we have to respect them but we have to try to win.”
The game pits Mourinho against a man who helped end his second reign at Chelsea last season, with defeat by the eventual champions at the King Power Stadium prompting the Stamford Bridge board to relieve the Portuguese boss of his duties.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has exchanged angry words in the past with Mourinho, who suggested he had a losing mentality.
But Ranieri insisted any animosity was a thing of the past. “It's prehistoric, not now,” said Ranieri.
“It was a long time ago, I'm OK. He's a great manager and a fantastic person,” the Italian, Mourinho's predecessor at Chelsea, added.
“Maybe he will offer me a good red wine. I love red wine and if he offers I will go and drink it with him.
“Mourinho is a fantastic manager, intelligent, clever. He is OK.” ― AFP