Sarri's comments on United vs. Chelsea leave Mourinho in a tough spot
The international period is over and the What’s Going On at Manchester United? button has been unpaused
While several Premier League managers will have been arrowing profanities at the break in domestic transmission, it brought respite for Jose Mourinho.
There was no speculation over his future, no surgical analysis of the state of United and no simmering tension caught on TV cameras.
Normal programming has now resumed, however, with perhaps the best fixture to restore Mourinho as a protagonist: Chelsea away.
The Portuguese avoided being sacked prior to the interval on account of United’s 3-2 comeback win at the death against Newcastle at Old Trafford, but his suitability for the club will be brought into sharp focus again in Saturday’s early kick off.
Mourinho’s former club are unrecognisable in terms of style and mood from his tenure there as they thrive in Maurizio Sarri’s expressive, aggressive approach.
Chelsea and their manager have been the antithesis of United and theirs. The Blues are effervescent, organised and successfully executing their proactive, high-press 4-3-3 system.
Sarri has removed the draconian rules on and off the pitch that marked the spells of his predecessors Conte and Mourinho, promoting greater responsibility and collaboration at Cobham.
Moreover, he has facilitated an environment that players want to work in - serious, but enjoyable.
"I think if a team has fun often, the fans do too," Sarri explained of the culture he likes to create during his first press conference in England.
"There are the high-level objectives, but we must start by having fun. This is important for us and our fans. The difference in working well and winning is often minimal."
Mourinho, meanwhile, declared at his United unveiling three years ago that he wouldn’t be "hiding behind philosophies" as he preferred "to be more aggressive and say we want to win."
He has invested so much into the idea of victory, but unlike his counterpart this weekend, has not clearly identified or articulated the method of achieving that to his players.
And it shows.
The Red Devils, unfathomably, seem to leaping from game to game sans a discernible underpinning strategy.
Players, evidently short on confidence, are short on guidance. As Paul Scholes so acutely put it in an interview with ESPN: "I feel like we could sign Lionel Messi at the moment and he'd struggle in this team."
For Chelsea’s players, like Eden Hazard, who were present for Mourinho’s final months in South West London - his notorious third-season syndrome - the muddled, miserable scenes at United are familiar.
The Belgian described as much to HLN, labelling it a "negative cycle" and admitting: "It was not enjoyable.
"We didn't win, we got into a sort of routine, training without having fun, it was better for all parties that we parted ways."
Mourinho has lost his last three matches at Stamford Bridge as United manager and will have spent the break plotting a reversal of that trend, but this is the most formidable - and fulfilled - Chelsea side he has had to thwart.
Sarri has struck an excellent balance between offensive might and defensive diligence, gaining the buy-in from his squad on their requirements in and out of possession.
He has also unshackled Hazard, extracting the very best of his dynamism and decisiveness: as well as being the highest scorer in the top flight thus far, he's the first player to record 10 goal involvements this season (7 goals, 3 assists).
Chelsea can make it nine league games unbeaten at the start of a season for a third time, having become title winners on the two previous occasions they achieved the feat - 2005-06 and 2014-15 - poetically both under Mourinho.
"That Jose has gone," Scholes bluntly pointed out.
"Now it's just a moaning Jose, which frustrates you. He's moaning at his players and what he hasn't got. But look what he does have.
"He tells people he's the best coach, so he should now prove that."
Stamford Bridge on Saturday would be the perfect stage for Mourinho to action those words, but it can’t be an anomalous hurrah.
For his sake and United's.