Despite referring to rumours of his potential exit as “garbage”, the press continues to speculate over José Mourinho’s position at Manchester United.
With rivals City’s title charge all but done-and-dusted, should the Portuguese call time on his Old Trafford tenure?
And, if so, who should replace him?
No English side has threatened to oust Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City this season.
The Sky Blues remain unbeaten in 2017-18, with a rejuvenated Raheem Sterling and seasoned club legend Sergio Aguero netting a combined 27 times.
The City faithful are living in dreamland; most are ready to burst open the bubbly, blast Oasis and celebrate a campaign which could better that of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.
Meanwhile, on the red side of Manchester, José Mourinho looks to sit back, drop deep and grind out 1-0s and bore draws.
The Red Devils beat Everton 2-0 on New Years’ Day, ending a run of three ties against mediocre sides Leicester and Southampton and an overachieving Burnley.
Star forward Romelu Lukaku, signed from the Toffees in a transfer window which saw a down-and-out Wayne Rooney move the other way, has struggled since mid-December, failing to bag a strike since the club’s win at West Brom and lacking the consistency the Liverpudlian is now displaying.
Rising English star Jesse Lingard, on the other hand, has been making the best of Lukaku’s mini-drought, Ibrahimovic’s lack of game time and the misuse and underappreciation of Anthony Martial by the coaching staff at the club.
The Cheshire-born 25-year-old looks to be rapidly approaching his peak, finding the goal on seven occasions in United’s last nine Premier League outings.
But he, alongside world beater Paul Pogba, has been a shining light in an otherwise relatively disappointing Manchester United side.
In today’s mercenary and unforgiving football climate, any manager who is deemed to be underachieving, making the fans or the board unhappy or simply encouraging “unattractive” football in instantly in danger of losing their job.
In a Premier League era which sees the exhilarating, high-press tactics of Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, traditionalists like Mourinho will come across, to some, as mundane.
There is no denying that José Mourinho is arguably the best manager in the world with regards to his adaptability.
The ex-Chelsea boss is a maestro when it comes to switching up tactics to suit different opponents with different formations and ideas.
He suited the English game perfectly in 2004 when he took over at Chelsea.
Nevertheless, the Premier League has since evolved into more of a European league. Foreign owners and managers have brought stylistic changes to the game.
The local businessmen have been bought out by Chinese consortiums, Middle Eastern oil firms and Russian tycoons. The top teams are led by Spaniards, Germans and Italians.
You’d be right in saying that was the case in 2004, but the philosophies of Spain, Germany and Italy are now much more visible and are taking England’s top flight by storm.
Guardiola’s quick passing, high-speed attacking approach, Klopp’s self-adapted “gegenpressing” dogma and Conte’s popularisation of utilising a back line of three are just some examples of intriguing modifications European bosses have made.
Spectators are excited by these changes in the game and, collectively, these managers make Mourinho appear a bit dull.
It would not surprise me at all if José Mourinho leaves Manchester United in the summer.
He oversaw the side’s Europa League and League Cup triumphs last season and, if that campaign isn’t followed up with more silverware this time round, I can’t see him staying.
The title race seems all but over so it’s time for the former Real Madrid boss to focus on the Champions League and the FA Cup.
The Red Devils bowed out of the League Cup to Championship club Bristol City the week prior to the latter’s 5-0 Aston Villa defeat, so, now, it is more important than ever that Mourinho gets stuck into the remaining tournaments he can win and gets the job done.
José Mourinho has also continually moaned about an apparent lack of transfer funds and the fact that rivals Manchester City have been able to spend more freely over the last few windows.
In the board’s defence, it has to be said that United’s squad is rotting at the edges, with defenders Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind all due a move, so a transfer window clear-out is an obvious option for Mourinho.
The manager also needs to respect the fact that considerable money was dished out for the signatures of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.
United have recently fallen into the trap of signing a small number of big names and failing to fill the necessary gaps to succeed in the league.
From Manchester United’s fans’ perspectives, I would be in favour of ditching Mourinho in the summer.
The club doesn’t need to necessarily spend whopping sums of money to compete with the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
In my view, Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone would be the ideal replacement for Mourinho.
He seems to have taken his side as far as he can and is screaming out for a switch to another club.
Simeone has adapted Mourinho’s philosophy during his seven-year spell with Atletico and has proven that he can get the best of the players he has rather than shelling out ludicrous amounts of money to bring in huge names.
David Villa, Yannick Carrasco, Kevin Gameiro and Gabi have all shone under the Argentine whilst each costing less than £20 million.
Their current star player, Frenchman Antoine Griezmann, cost just £27m according to TransferMarkt.
With squads featuring these players, Diego Simeone has romped to a La Liga title, a Copa del Rey, a Europa League trophy and two Champions League finals.
Fundamentally, Diego Simeone could get more out of the current Manchester United squad than José Mourinho can.
He is proven, to a greater degree, when it comes to creating a team of players who are not necessarily the world’s greatest, but gel incredibly to form an impactful unit.
Simeone could also ease a United move for Antoine Griezmann at a cut price as the English side have been perpetually linked with the attacker.
Some may argue that Simeone’s ability to win trophies has fizzled out much like Mourinho’s tends to.
However, a clean slate and a fresh new project will rejuvenate United’s prospects and his own. Mourinho’s usual two-year spell of greatness seems to be coming to a premature end already.
The Argentine would also get the best out of a struggling Henrikh Mkhitaryan and would be able to sure up a rusty United defence.
Atletico conceded less than any other club in La Liga during the 2016-17 campaign.
The addition of Benfica’s Alex Grimaldo or Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro plus an extra centre-half like Diego Llorente of Real Sociedad or even Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld – an ex-Atletico player, would bolster the team greatly.
With just small adjustments and a new face at the helm, Manchester United could be led to greatness once again.
Fans and pundits have thrown the names of Mauricio Pochettino, Laurent Blanc and Thomas Tuchel into the proverbial hat to replace Mourinho, but the appointment of Simeone would require a less considerable transition.
The move seems faultless in my eyes.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur currently both look more likely to challenge Manchester City than the Red Devils do.
If Pep Guardiola remains at the helm of Manchester City, no team will come close with ease.
However, a Manchester United side under Diego Simeone may be your best bet.