History tells us that there’s an automatic conversion between a Jose Mourinho team recording four straight wins to start a Premier League season and them going on to win the title. On all three occasions his Chelsea side opened the campaign with 12 points from 12, they won the league, but every time they collected anything less there was no silverware for them come May.
On Saturday, Manchester United were unable to match the feats of their manager’s title-winning sides as they were held to a 2-2 draw in a pulsating encounter away to Stoke City which asked them a whole heap of questions they had not had to even consider when strolling to their first three successes of the league season.
Not only were they forced to come from behind for the first time this term, they then had to cope with a team pegging them back too as Mark Hughes’ Potters made them work right to the bitter end. Mourinho had been asking for just such a test.
“The thing I want to happen is for the team to be losing, so I can see the way we react emotionally,” he said after the 4-0 win at Swansea in August. “It has not happened so far but going a goal behind will be a different challenge and I want to see how these players try to change a result.”
United trailed for just 161 seconds at the bet365 Stadium after allowing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to get on the end of Mame Biram Diouf’s low cross, with Paul Pogba’s header from close range going in off the back of Marcus Rashford’s head to restore parity shortly before the break. In terms of responses to adversity, it was about as resounding as Mourinho could have wished for.
So, when they took the lead early in the second half when Romelu Lukaku fired past Jack Butland at the second time of asking, one could have been forgiven for thinking they’d go on to kill the game off. Yet it took Choupo-Moting only six minutes to level the scores as Phil Jones stumbled and allowed the striker a free header.
United toiled thereafter, with Lukaku firing just over after escaping his marker at the near post and Butland somehow getting down to a Kurt Zouma deflection that looked destined to drop in, but Stoke were a match for them and deserved their point. The hope is that Mourinho learned something about his side today that hadn’t been evident previously.
After making three changes to ensure his squad goes into Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Basel fresh, the manager might have been hoping for more cohesion in his side’s display. But having bemoaned the inability to work with his players before Friday due to last week’s international break this was a result he saw coming.
"With some fitness fragilities, it's easy to feel that some of the players were not with their sharpness, with intensity," he mused afterwards. "I know after internationals there are no miracles. I am not disappointed with the players, I am not critical of them, it is just a natural consequence. Four matches, 10 points, top of the league... we are OK."
Indeed, but Mourinho will have to break new ground to keep them at the summit. Only at the end of the season will we know whether this was a point gained or two lost.