The sheer scale and speed of Manchester United's unfolding crisis has been remarkable.
After two seasons of gradual improvement, from a Europa League trophy in 2017 to a second-place finish in 2018 with a points tally (81) just five short of the average Premier League winner over the previous decade, Jose Mourinho has imploded – again.
Seven weeks into the new campaign and things are rapidly falling apart. Mourinho's public chasitising of his players, and the subsequent stand-off with Paul Pogba, has stolen the headlines but of equal concern is the tactical cluelessness of his side. They are aimless in possession and disorganised off it, failing to collaborate in a discernible pattern and instead floating around the pitch in a daze.
Mourinho's tactical failures, culminating in a bizarre formation at West Ham United, are as damaging to his reputation as his players' immunity to the siege mentality strategy.
There is only one way this can end. United have made their poorest start to a league campaign for 29 years, worse even than David Moyes's beginning at Old Trafford. The Chosen One was averaging 1.68 points per game in the league when he was sacked in April 2014; Mourinho is on 1.42 so far this season.
More importantly, there is seemingly no way back, and not just because the dressing room has been well and truly lost. All of United's next five fixtures will be very difficult, with the final one, away at Manchester City, potentially the game that triggers Mourinho's dismissal:
Newcastle (h) & Chelsea (a)
As one of three Premier League teams without a win, Newcastle United - whose manager has far more of a right to bemoan a lack of transfer activity than Mourinho – might seem the perfect next opponents for United to steady the ship at Old Trafford. However, Rafael Benitez has a long history of frustrating the Portuguese with ugly low-scoring games. Their rivalry cranks up the pressure this weekend.
Consequently it could be another weary 0-0 for the hosts. Newcastle will park the bus, keeping a compact shape to deny space for Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, which should increase the tension inside Old Trafford. Man Utd's sluggish tempo and predictable attacking lines make it easy for defensive opponents to tactically prepare; the Magpies stand a good chance of keeping a clean sheet.
Next up is a trip to Stamford Bridge, an extremely tough game for obvious reasons. Chelsea had won all of their home games this season before Daniel Sturridge's late goal last weekend, and Maurizio Sarri's quick, incisive football will surely overwhelm that tepid United midfield. What's more, Eden Hazard is far too dangerous for a back four in chaos.
Everton (h) & Bournemouth (a)
Marco Silva's Everton are picking up after a patchy start to the campaign, and yet this is definitely United's most winnable game before the Manchester derby. The Toffees are yet to win on their travels this season, partly because their bold attacking strategy leaves them too open. Then again it is certainly plausible that Silva's aggressive, confrontational approach will unsettle the nervous hosts, while Richarlison is likely to cause problems behind Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian is struggling for form this season.
Bournemouth will be looking forward to the visit of Mourinho's side. Their narrow 4-4-2, with wingers David Brooks and Ryan Fraser cutting inside to overload the central attacking midfield space, is perfectly set up to counter-attack successfully against United's flaky midfield. Eddie Howe's team are extremely well organised, playing with the kind of tactical coherence that should confidently outwit a team as directionless as Man Utd.
In among these matches are the two games against Juventus in the Champions League. After drawing 0-0 at home to Valencia United cannot afford to lose either game; doing so would probably be the quickest exit route for Mourinho.
Sadly, United is a profit-making brand more than it is a football club these days, and consequently the most important thing to the owners – and vice-chairman Woodward – is a strong showing in the lucrative Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired humiliation would most likely push Mourinho out of the door.
The Manchester Derby
On November 11 United will travel to the Etihad as the clearly inferior team; the gap is already nine points and, with rumours of a dressing room mutiny, that should widen over the next five weeks. What could be more humiliating for the club – could more poignantly highlight Mourinho's flaws and United's sinking reputation – than defeat to Pep Guardiola's stylish Manchester City?
There really is no need for detail here. It is obvious why City would be heavy favourites for this one, and why the contrast between the two sides – in mentality, atmosphere, and global appeal – would make Mourinho's position untenable.
At the current rate the Portuguese will struggle to make it as far as mid-November. He surely won't last beyond it.