First came the Champions League defeat to Sevilla that stung Jose Mourinho and then came the passionate defence of his achievements that it provoked, but this was not the sort of victory that was ever going to do anything to improve his mood.
Having kept his facial expressions hidden on the touchline during the game with a snood that covered half his face, as United made tough work of knocking Brighton out of the FA Cup, Mourinho did not try to mask his thoughts after it.
Even after his name had been sung by United supporters throughout, Mourinho went on the attack, criticising the quality of the performance, as well as the mentality of his players.
He knows he is taking a risk doing so, calling out players in public always takes you on to uncertain ground, but the Portuguese seems determined to challenge them. He is testing them, probing for a response, poking and prodding egos, watching for the reaction.
This was another insipid, timid display. They may be in the semi-final, their third in less than two years under him, but United will not win either that or the final playing like this. So, Mourinho did not mince his words.
.@DesKellyBTS: "Was you happy with that response?"— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 17, 2018
José Mourinho: "No. I didn't like the game."
"Matić was an island of personality, surrounded by not water but lack of class and desire. I have to say that."
Another strong interview from the Man Utd boss...
Wow �� pic.twitter.com/545RSFKDlX
“A few of guys I saw them scared to play,” he said after singling out Nemanja Matic for praise. “I cannot say much more. It is a relation with personality, is a relation to trust, is a relation to class.
“When the sun is shining and everything goes well, you win matches, you score goals, everything goes in your direction, every player is a good player and wants to play and wants the ball and looks amazing and is confident.
“When it is dark and cold and in football that means a period of bad results or a bad result, not everybody has the confidence and personality to play. To be on the pitch and touch the ball every five minutes, everyone can do it, but to be on the pitch and say give me the ball because I want to play, not everyone can do that.
“So, I am really happy with the result and the control we had. I know it could back fire [criticising the players in public] but it is my calculation that they have to be able to play with pressure. If they do not perform well with pressure, what do I lose?”
Yet, for the first time since he became United manager, this was a game Mourinho simply could not lose. There could be no excuses offered, no defence for a defeat, no hope of shifting the blame.
When a manager publicly challenges his players in a bid to defend their own reputation, it is their reaction that decides whether it was a blunder or not. If United had been knocked out of the FA Cup here, Mourinho’s second season would have been reduced to ruins. Instead, a trophy could still be salvaged from the wreckage.
A defeat against Brighton was, after all the drama in the build-up, unthinkable. Winning the FA Cup was not United’s priority in August – and it probably never will be for a club with its resources – but it is now.
Mourinho always wants to be judged on the silverware he wins and while nobody can seriously argue his second season has gone as well as expected, an FA Cup win, combined with a runner’s up finish in the Premier League would at least allow him to claim, with some justification, it has not been a disaster either.
So much would be revealed in how United started the game and with the designated singing section away to Mourinho’s right in good voice, they looked in the mood to put their recent disappointment behind them.
Brighton were happy to drop deep, to soak up the pressure, but they looked vulnerable as Romelu Lukaku volleyed over and Anthony Martial’s control let him down inside the six-yard box.
Brighton’s supporters knew their team were under the cosh and cheered their first corner like a goal. Minutes later, United’s best move sliced through the middle of the visiting defence and Juan Mata’s shot was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Chris Smalling could not squeeze a shot inside the near post.
Brighton responded, Lewis Dunk’s header from their second corner fisted away by Sergio Romero, but a United goal was coming and it was Lukaku who got it, stretching his neck muscles to get on the end of Nemanja Matic’s excellent cross.
It was his 25th goal in 44 appearances this season, but United needed a second. Brighton, though, came close to an equaliser as Pascal Gross’ shot curled narrowly wide. Sergio Romero also needed to make an important save to keep out Jurgen Locadia shot on the turn.
Brighton were growing in confidence and were more dangerous the bolder they got, Locadia heading another decent chance over at the far post. For the first time, the home crowd grew apprehensive, reminded of the timidity that had led to that Sevilla defeat, as Smalling and Matic both made important blocks inside the area as nerves spread.
United still have problems to solve, but finally they made sure of their progress into the last four when Matic headed in Ashley Young’s cross with seven minutes remaining.
“I’m delighted with the performance, “ said Brighton manager Chris Hughton. “The only difference were the moments in front of goal and the quality they can produce. We were always in the game.”
Woof. Mourinho was obviously trying to protect his players after that Sevilla defeat but he has absolutely gone to town on them here.
"That's the worst thing you can hear if you're a player, questioning your desire," says Paul Scholes.
Mourinho was up on his feet trying to urge them forward, getting the team to follow that attacking setup but the players didn't carry it out. No wonder he's frustrated - it makes Mourinho look like he's stuck in defensive mode. But he says he's not. I agree Matic was the best player on the pitch, followed by Lukaku. Smalling was awful throughout and looked scared to pass forwards, Valencia didn't seem quite at it, Martial only wanted to attack, Lingard couldn't get involved. They need more.
Jose Mourinho rips into his players
"No. I didn't like the game. I think we deserved to win, we scored goals but we didn't play the way I want the players to play. I had a reaction from some of them, some of them were mentally strong enough and with quality to play. A team of 11 if you do't have a minimum of six or seven players playing with responsibility so I'm not happy with the performance at all.
"When I spend two days working on a faster building gap, between the lines, that depends on the defenders and the movement of the attacking players. Here attacking players hiding behind players, defenders playing square passes taking 10-12 passes to go to another line.
"Statistic is fake. Sometimes they have 10 shots and eight of them go to the stands and one goes in goal but is a shot to save. What means for me is that we prepare the team to play a different way, be aggressive, attack the last line much more, play between the lines much more but attacking players wanting the ball.
"It was a decision from one player to another player in the same position. I want to defend better, I want my defensive line to be better from a few moves from the sides and I wanted more personalities on his own. I felt Matic was an island of personality, surrounded by not water but lack of class, lack of personality, lack of desire. McTominay lost more passes today than in all the matches together but he was a Manchester United player. When he plays bad he gives for the team."
Gross has another shot from long range but that's it. Mourinho gets the job done.
90 mins +2
Gross very nearly scores as he twists and turns in the box and wrong foots Bailly but Romero can catch the shot as it's hit right at him. United have seen this out. The semi-final awaits!
Fellaini comes on for Lingard. Young is absolutely fine to continue.
United take their time with a throw-in high in the Brighton half, Rashford goes through a few tricks on the edge of the area and wins some space doing so! A pass is chipped ahead of Fellaini but is cleared, Brighton win the ball and try to go forwards. United shut them out.
Brighton have a corner. Kayal has it on the edge of the box but gives up possession way too easily to Rashford, who also can't keep control... and United come out from the back. Young is down on the floor having landed really awkwardly. Let's hope he's OK.
What. How? From where? United win a free-kick wide left, the ball is hooked into the area and Matic is calm and composed to finish past the goalkeeper. I don't know if I can really say United have deserved this, they've been so poor but have a two goal lead.
Brighton doing all the attacking at the moment. A cross is poked ahead of Murray but is just too far ahead for the striker to get a touch.
Man Utd haven't had a single shot on goal in this second half apparently. That is both appalling and very funny. I'd not even noticed!
Martial gets shirty and thrusts his chest into a rival male. The referee doesn't care.
Mourinho is having an animated discussion with Hughton about... I think... tactics. It feels a little bit like Mourinho is playing to the cameras here tonight.
Glenn Murray is on now. BT Sport are wondering why he wasn't called up to the England squad. Come on, lads. Yes he scores goals but do you really think Glenn Murray should be a World Cup option for England?
Juan Mata is substituted and the home fans don't seem too happy about it. Here comes Rashford though. Maybe he'll help a little more in defence - Locadia is enjoying himself down that flank.
Smalling is torn apart by an obvious one-two move but Izquierdo (who's just come on) fires his cross into the first man. Brighton keep up the pressure, Izquierdo tries to work space on the edge of the area... but his shot is blocked again.
And then Locadia comes across from the left, beats Bailly easily and has a great chance to shoot! But he blasts his shot straight at Smalling! Horrible defending from United.
It's so slow. United really are playing this one like it's La Liga but when they get to the Brighton half, forget to move into space to let the passes flow. Brighton are sitting deep, winning the ball pretty easily and then getting forward quickly. A cross from right is struck towards the back post and LOCADIA IS THERE AGAIN! He's headed over from six yards! Oh what a miss! United are there to be beaten... Brighton just need to be careful not to fall into a Mourinho trap.
Good defending by Valencia! All of a sudden the United back four opens up and there's a chance to run at goal but Valencia reads it before the centre-backs have realised what's going on and sprints over to deal with the danger.
United go up a gear and they needed to. Bailly is the deepest player and he's in the Brighton side of the centre-circle now. They're passing quicker too. But there's still not enough movement - everyone's rigid and static, when they really need some movement to open up passing lanes and pull the defence apart. Brighton aren't having to work to keep things quiet here.
The ball ends up with Duffy from the corner and he hits a bending pass into the six yard area but puts a little too much on it. Romero gathers. Romero has probably been Man Utd's best player. Hmm.
LOCADIAAAAAAA! Saved by Romero! The forward turns on the spot outside the penalty area and launches a volley at the top corner which the goalkeeper has to be alert to! It's a corner.
Brighton are enjoying the ball at the moment. They have time and space in the United half, nobody's closing them down, and Locadia takes a shot from 20 yards which Romero has to save at the bottom corner.
GROSS! Goes close. A rhyme! Hooray. Anyway, Brighton attack down the left, the ball is cut inside and Gross sees Smalling coming towards him and slices through the ball, drilling it low towards the bottom corner but just the wrong side of the post.
Smalling out-muscles Ulloa. Schelotto gets caught out of position but Lukaku doesn't really seem to realise it early enough and Dunk follows him wide to win the ball. Throw-in.
More of the same so far. Brighton want to counter-attack, United passing patiently/slowly.
KICK OFF 2
Aaaaaand that might be the end of Luke Shaw's Man Utd career. He's been subbed at half time for Ashley Young. Let's see if that's because of an injury... otherwise... it's not good.
Brighton have been good but just don't have the players to punish a very ordinary looking Man Utd team. They've been pretty slow, have hardly threatened... and if Brighton had players to really take advantage of the weaknesses the scoreline might be quite different.
The BT Sport panel have pointed out that Mourinho has been up on his feet all through the game urging his players to attack. I can't remember him doing that too many times before.
HALF TIME: Man Utd 1 Brighton 0
United have the lead without reeeeeeeeally pushing Brighton for it. Hughton will be disappointed to be behind.
45 mins +1
Brighton attack and get a couple of decent crosses into the area but Romero deals with them. They're looking for an equaliser before half time but United are keeping things tidy to make sure they see it out.
Gross gives the ball away and Martial is onto it! United have men over! But the ball is passed straight to the Brighton defence.
Brighton are keeping a compact shape as United get men forward and Valencia is able to run into the box but has no options, such are the numbers back defending.
United seem a lot happier since that goal and are stroking the ball around with purpose in the Brighton half.
But that doesn't matter! United are patient in their build-up play, Matic has it wide left and hits a brilliant cross with pace and dip towards Lukaku. He finishes the job at close range.
74 per cent possession to Brighton in the last five minutes.
Another dangerous Brighton move is intercepted by McTominay in his own six yard box. Luke Shaw isn't offering much of a battle down that left side for United.
The corner is good.. and HEADED AT GOAL! Dunk has a free header but Romero is equal to it. There's such a lack of fight in this United team. They look really short of confidence.
This is what United's shape looks like at the moment. That area is where Brighton are keeping the ball when they have possession. Their first plan of attack is still high balls over the top for the forwards to chase though.
This is better from United! They get to the final third and ping a one-two move together that gives Mata the chance to shoot! Corner! That is curled into the box, comes off a defender and lands with Smalling inside the six yard box! He must score! But he's put it wide!!!
United's defensive midfielders are so deep! There's a huge gap between defensive midfield and their attackers, and Brighton are using that space to keep possession.
Brighton look more likely to score than United at the moment! Their attacking play is much more fluid and direct. A low cross into the box is cleared behind by Bailly. Corner.
It's headed away by Lukaku and falls with March about 30 yards out. He shoots! But that effort will be more use to Brighton as an asteroid repellent than attempt on goal.
Schelotto runs in behind Martial, who stops! He's just offside but he's able to run clean in behind the defence and nearly beats Romero to the ball too. Martial completely switched off there, as though he didn't realise it was his job to track that ball over the top.
Mourinho doesn't look happy on the touchline. His team have started without that aggression and desire he needs from them and Brighton have grown into the game.
But that's a dreadful mistake as a pass back to the goalkeeper is put out for a corner. United come up the pitch to take it, go short, take forever with their passes... and Martial bends a cross into Lukaku! Headed away.
This is a good spell of possession for Brighton. They've got United on the back foot and that defence doesn't look incredibly confident when balls are put into the area.
Brighton take their turn to keep the ball for a bit but they're looking for big switched passes to move United around and then get forward from there. Gross has the ball on the right and beats Shaw, then cuts back and loses control. Throw-in.
United totally in control of possession but their passing is slow and predictable. Always sideways. Martial passes to Lingard, who shoots from 25 yards... it swerves way wide of goal.
Hughton is up on the touchline yelling instructions at his players as to who and when to press. His team is clearly looking for long balls over the top on a counter-attack. They're sitting deep and filling the space in their own half.
But Valencia has found some space on the right! He crosses in towards Lukaku, who does well to get ahead of the defender but shoots high and wide.
The fans are in good voice tonight, though that could be the away fans I can hear. I don't fancy having to head back to Brighton in this weather! Mata is drifting all around the final third into space and linking United's passing moves. Smalling really doesn't want to have the ball at his feet and passes it to someone else as soon as he has it.
United are really taking their time with the passes. It's like a La Liga game and Brighton look dangerous on the counter-attack.
It's also quite cool that you can see the passing lines on the snow!
Brighton are keeping United in their own half. The central defenders are passing sideways rather than bringing it out from the back but United work their way forward eventually. Martial comes inside from the left and lines up a shot... deflection... corner.
United are a 4-2-3-1 and the ball is slowing in the settling snow as they pass it around their own half from kick-off. Bailly misses a bouncing ball from a Brighton clearance and fouls the striker nipping onto it, play continues, Brighton win a throw-in.
Here we go! Brighton have never won at Old Trafford - could that change tonight?
Here come the players
The snow is absolutely pelting down! Weird.
"Important, very important. Especially because it's a knock-out match. If we want to stay in the competition we have to win!
"They improve at every level. They were difficult when they came in the Premier League, of course experience improve, couple of new players, amazing work by Chris. They don't have anything to lose, they are in a good position in the league, they are relaxed I expect."
"I'm not sure of freedom and enjoyment! We're here for a reason against a team who are clear favourites but we've been competitive in recent games."
Pogba and Sanchez on the bench
It's a big call but if you've seen United play recently, you'll almost certainly agree with Mourinho's decision to drop both. They have been dreadful. Sanchez looks like he's chasing his own shadow, hitting passes to nobody, lifting high passes into the area to particular target and then yelling at teammates for various reasons.
Clearing the pitch
The pitch should still be OK to play on but if snow keeps falling like it has done today, it'll make things interesting.
There are rants... and then there are RANTS
If you haven't yet caught up with Jose Mourinho's 12-minute ramblings in his press conference yesterday, now is the time to do so. You can read the entire transcript HERE.
Here is how it all began:
I say to the fans that the fans are the fans, and the fans have the right to have their opinions and to have their reactions.
"But there is something that I used to call football heritage - I try to translate from my Portuguese, which is almost perfect to my English that is far from perfect.
"But translation, word by word is something like football heritage and what a manager inherits is something like is that the last time Manchester United won the Champions League, which didn't happen a lot of times, was in 2008. The (last) final was 2011...
Shuffling the pack
Alexis Sanchez starts a Manchester United match on the bench for the first time since his January arrival, with Paul Pogba another among the substitutes.
Sanchez has flattered to deceive since his high-profile arrival and is part of a strong-looking bench named by United manager Jose Mourinho.
Scott McTominay, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial are among those to come into the United side, while goalkeeper Tim Krul is part of Brighton's five alterations.
Manchester United: Romero, Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw, Matic, McTominay, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: De Gea, Lindelof, Young, Fellaini, Pogba, Sanchez, Rashford
Brighton: Krul, Schelotto, Dunk, Duffy, Suttner, Kayal, Propper, Gross, Locadia, Ulloa, March. Subs: Maenpaa, Bruno, Goldson, Sanders, Izquierdo, Baldock, Murray.
Referee: Andre Marriner
What is it?
Manchester United vs Brighton in the sixth round of the FA Cup. Both sides' only hope of silverware this season.
When is it?
Saturday the 17th of March, also known as Paddy's Day.
What time is kick-off?
A Saturday prime time viewing 7:45pm!
What TV channel is it on?
BT Sport 1 from 7:30pm, straight after the Liverpool game has finished.
What is the team news?
Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all ruled out through injury but Jose Mourinho is likely to make changes to his team after a disappointing performance in defeat to Sevilla midweek.
Speaking of Mourinho, he went full Benitez with his written press conference rant following the Champions League exit, including:
- Midfielder Nemanja Matic and striker Romelu Lukaku were the only players who had delivered consistently all season and that “many Sevilla players” would walk into his United side.
- The challenge of trying to topple City was similar to the task he faced overhauling Barcelona with Real Madrid but warned at the Bernabeu he possessed “a nucleus of players of a really high level”.
- His squad must “grow up” and match the “high expectations” of fans.
- United could remain “side by side” with City if their rivals stop spending but otherwise City will be “difficult” to catch.
- Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, was “on exactly the same page” and recognised the huge job at hand and need to spend.
Brighton are missing Anthony Knockaert through suspension and Dale Stephens and Gaetan Bong are both doubtful, nursing little injuries. Steve Sidwell is still also stuck in the physio room.
What are the odds?
Man Utd 3/10
What's our prediction?
Mourinho will demand a reaction from his players but his method of winning knock out competitions - something he's done a great many times - is with defensive football. Expect a rigid, cautious approach from Man Utd, soundtracked by an increasingly agitated crowd - that is unless United score early. Brighton will push them close and might even score but there should be more than enough talent in Mourinho's starting XI to see them off.
Man Utd 2 Brighton 1