Football news - Is Jose Mourinho really going to try to beat Manchester City at their own game?
Two last-minute winners in a week has led to the Special One shaking off the dour persona of the opening weeks of the season. Whisper it quietly, but Jose Mourinho looks like he's got his mojo back, writes Ben Grounds.
He's back providing us all with golden soundbites, he's back in strident battle-mode, making mischief and actually being quite funny with his sharp quips about the Football Association.
Jose Mourinho may not have quite masterminded another masterclass in coming away with three points from Turin, with the two goals in five minutes taking almost everyone by surprise. A classic Mourinho display, it was not. Not in the same bracket as Porto's 1-1 draw at Manchester United which led to his famous knee-slide in 2004, nor in the same mould as when his Inter Milan withstood heavy pressure against Barcelona in 2010, leading to Mourinho darting through the sprinklers as he saluted the travelling fans up in the gods.
Mourinho masterminded a memorable defensive display from Inter Milan at Barcelona in 2010Getty Images
But the United manager has been in bullish mood this week, ahead of the Manchester derby at the Etihad, even suggesting that his side will not be sitting back in the same way Chelsea successfully did in February 2014, a 1-0 win which is placed among the Portuguese's most impressive rearguard displays. On the eve of the match, Mourinho was asked if he would go toe-to-toe with City, as he did at Juventus and in the recent 2-2 draw at Chelsea.
" We are going to try. I cannot say we are going to be successful in our motivations, in our desire, but we played two difficult matches away against two very good teams, Chelsea and Juventus, and we managed to get good results."
“And even if the good results were not in our pockets, the performances were there, the positive attitude was there, so we are going to try. But you are right, Manchester City is a very powerful team.”
Provided the United team bus arrives on time ahead of the 4.30pm kick-off on Sunday, will Mourinho be true to his word in not then parking it in front of David de Gea's goal?
Manchester City hit another six goals against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweekGetty Images
While United were busy exerting themselves in Turin, City were strolling to a 6-0 win in their Champions League outing against Shakhtar Donetsk at home. The contrasting preparations - and the manner in which City have been putting games to bed within the first 20 minutes of matches - suggests Mourinho could be bluffing.
His United side have started matches sluggishly, something they can ill-afford to do against Pep Guardiola's all-conquering outfit, so the likelihood is that Mourinho will look to keep things tight early on. But there is little to suggest he has regained faith in his defence, despite his side's autumn revival. They have kept just three clean sheets in 16 competitive games this season - with the shut-out at struggling Burnley the only one coming on the road.
United have a good recent record away to their neighbours - coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and spoil City's title celebration party last April while Mourinho did indeed secure a 0-0 draw 12 months earlier. Marouane Fellaini's disruptive presence led to him being sent off in that stalemate in 2017, and the Belgian's presence is likely to be called upon once more following his impact in Turin.
Marouane Fellaini is sent off during the goalless Manchester derby in April 2017Getty Images
The challenge facing Mourinho is whether or not to start the unorthodox midfielder, given the greater mobility in the trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. But he certainly offers an option for the final quarter of the match - whether as a makeshift forward if chasing the game like at Juventus or as an additional protective shield.
Just a month ago, reports claimed Mourinho was facing the sack ahead of the home game with Newcastle, following a string of insipid performances unbefitting of this club that has prided itself on attacking, vibrant football.
Three successive wins have eased the pressure on the inimitable 55-year-old - but the form of City places the visitors as strong outsiders. An indication of this is that seven City players have shorter odds to be the first goalscorer than any United player across bookies nationwide, with Anthony Martial as long as 11/1 to open the scoring despite his recent renaissance.
Anthony Martial has five goals in his last six games but he's not among the favourites to score firstPA Sport
Thirteen months ago, United were in similar form as they headed for Anfield, but the frustrating 0-0 draw was widely criticised despite a dogged defensive display. Mourinho felt the onus was on Liverpool to attack as the home team.
He said back then: "They played 90 minutes with (Emre) Can, (Jordan) Henderson and (Georginio) Wijnaldum and I thought playing at home, seven points behind us, they are going to change. They never did. They changed man-for-man in attack. They kept their three midfield players in the centre of the pitch and I had no chance to answer. I only had two midfield players and had no one else to compensate that. I had no chance to bring the game in another direction so I think it is a positive point for us."
It is only one month deeper into a season, but the feeling is that should City win on Sunday, the 12-point gap to United would be an unassailable one. If United harbour realistic hopes of joining Chelsea and Liverpool in challenging their neighbours, they must produce a similar display.
But while that stalemate at Anfield was the club's eighth clean sheet in 12 games, there's no denying that United's recent improvement has lacked the conviction brought about by a similar solid foundation.
Mourinho was accused of "parking the bus" when United drew at Liverpool in October 2017Getty Images
Mourinho's wind-up celebrations are back, and he may have another party-piece already prepared up his sleeve should United extend their recent fine run at the Etihad.
United are basking in the afterglow of their most memorable European away days for many a year, and their manager has his mojo back. He's not been averse to the odd pre-match mind-game, and sides who have tried to go toe-to-toe with City this season have been left embarrassed.
But having dragged United away from their worst start to a season in 29 years, the all-year pantomime villain may well take the approach that the best form of defence is attack.