COMMENT: Everton first. Then Bournemouth. Two wins on the bounce ahead of the biggest week of the season. But there's no escaping it. He's tearing at it. Jose Mourinho. He's tearing at a foundation of Manchester United. A tradition that deserves better than what the manager has given it this season...
Back from a goal down. A winner in injury-time. That's the stuff of United legend. Pushing. Probing. Ball to feet. Passing at speed. You could see it all at Dean Court. The United Way. Traditions upheld.
But in the aftermath. Listening to Ander Herrera's post-match reaction. The Spaniard delivered the best final whistle assessment from any United player this season. And as he offered his considered, honest thoughts on the state of play, you realised a foundation the manager has shattered this season. Not deliberately. Not with any cynical purpose. But the disregard with which he's treated the club captaincy isn't worthy of Manchester United.
Big clubs. Proper football clubs. They take this position seriously. For all his injury problems down the years, Vincent Kompany is synonymous with the success of Manchester City. Mention Real Madrid and the image front of mind is Sergio Ramos. And Juventus, with Gigi Buffon now in Paris, didn't simply raffle off the armband. Instead rewarding Giorgio Chiellini the honour. And it's significant the 33 year-old stopper is now doing PR like never before. A spokesman for the football club. A player reflective of the best of it's traditions. The Juve board didn't make this choice on a whim. They gave the decision the focus it deserved.
But United? Antonio Valencia? A sometimes player. One who cannot speak English. Even after 12 years in the country. Mourinho should've given this more thought.
But the captaincy should be worth more. The man who fills the position should be there to shoulder a burden. Be a symbol of the club. A lieutenant to the manager. He doesn't have to the best on the team sheet. Sometimes he doesn't even have to be on the team sheet. But he should be on the front line. Available to media. To fans. To have a presence that makes us all sit up and take notice.
But this goes beyond any individual. Their character. This is about one the great clubs in the world not taking the position of captain seriously. Bryan Robson. Steve Bruce. Roy Keane. All great captains. All great leaders. Nemanja Vidic. Gary Neville. Again, players who epitomised the club - and their manager. Now tag on Antonio Valencia... is there really any comparison?
Valenciahas been a great servant. And in Mourinho's first season at Old Trafford, he was as good as any wing-back in the world. Indeed teammates, even Mourinho, declared him the best on the planet - with good reason.
But captain? And of Manchester United? This was an error by the manager. And it was shown up on Saturday by Herrera.
It's not like he hasn't thought about it, Mourinho explaining as much when discussing the decision to take the armband away from Paul Pogba last month.
“One day I give to David de Gea, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling," he said. “I thought about Paul already last season because a player of a different generation, younger player and the captain of the future because Valencia, Young, they come more or less same age, same generation.
“Paul was not the vice-captain. We don't have the vice-captain. It depends on the match, depends on if Valencia is playing.
But that's just it, what is the direction? Rotating the armband isn't working. It's selling the club, the position and the fans short. Herrera revealed as much after the Bournemouth win.
The Basque was articulate. Engaging. And honest with his reaction. Just watch below. It's something United have missed this season. That one leader who speaks for the group. For the club.
It doesn't necessarily have to be Herrera. This column recently argued Ashley Young was a worthy candidate. And he is rightly wearing the armband in Valencia's absence. Again, like Herrera, Young is one capable of speaking openly and passionately about United. About his teammates. And he is also one who reflects the manager. A player who has been written off. Who fought his way into England's World Cup XI. Who did the same under Sir Alex Ferguson in his final years in charge. And now who is repeating the act under Mourinho.
A League title winner. A three-time Cup winner. Young is entering his eighth year with the club. And on matchday, he's as big a vocal influence as any inside the United locker room. For Mourinho, naming Young as permanent captain would right a wrong.
This week. In Turin. United will face-off with Juve - again. And front and centre - before and after the Champions League tie - will be Chiellini. He'll be thoughtful. Serious. Charismatic. Everything you expect from the man Juve have chosen to represent them.
As for the United equivalent. As for whom they choose to offer up. That's anyone's guess. Which for a club of Manchester United's standing simply isn't good enough.