Jose Mourinho has made it clear to his Manchester United players that they will need to exhibit greater mental toughness if they are to catch up with Manchester City next season.
Man United are on course to finish this season in second place and could end up with a maximum of 86 points along with another trophy if they beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
That would no doubt put smiles on faces, but it would not rectify the way United meekly surrendered the title to Pep Guardiola’s team back in December and similarly limped out of the Champions League last 16 to Sevilla.
And Mourinho, speaking earlier this week, has emphasised the need to improve on a psychological level next term.
“Sometimes I see that some kids – for me they are still kids – are a little bit up and down,” he said. “Sometimes after a good moment, the bad moment will arrive as a consequence of not the correct reaction to the big moment.”
“I feel quite frustrated. I don’t forget the points we lost against Newcastle, Huddersfield, Stoke City, West Bromwich. I think we should normally have eight, nine points more than we have and it’s due to that mental inconsistency.
“For me it is not easy because I am very consistent. I am very focused – I am very stable.
“I don’t consider the A match more important than the B match. For me every match is the same, every competition is the same – I’m very squared in my approach.”
For the most part of this season United have been resilient, efficient, strong, confident in their approach, in control of games. They have beaten every member of the top six since the turn of the year – three of which from a losing position. Progress is being made.
But there remains a nagging defect to this team that can, at any given time, spring up and bring United back down to earth. Huddersfield Town, Man City at home, those three inexplicable draws with Burnley, Leicester City and Southampton towards the end of 2017, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion. And, of course, the worst one, the real dustbin fire: Sevilla.
Over a gruelling nine month season these slip ups do happen. But United have allowed their focus to dwindle too often – often right after a big win – and Mourinho is understandably disappointed in that. Every team he has managed has won major trophies. Real major trophies. And that happened because any tendency to lose focus, to grow slightly complacent, was bashed out of them. The same needs to happen with this current United team.