Defeat edges Jose towards PSG

A RM2,500 bottle of wine would never have tasted so bitter-sweet. Portugal's finest drop was meant to help pick Jose Mourinho's brains: it ended up unopened as the Special One didn't hang around to drown his sorrows.

Manchester United's League Cup defeat at Bristol City will be brushed off as he would a speck of dandruff. After all, it is the most minor of the four major trophies by a distance.

A chequered list of partners says as much – Milk, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, CocaCola, Worthington, Carling, Capital One and now Carabao. Cynics would say there's really only ever been one – Mickey Mouse.

But if the competition is a tart among grand dames, it is what launched Mourinho on his glittering trophy-laden career outside of Portugal and one of two gongs that he won last season.

The League Cup is whatever you want to call it. Irrelevant, inconvenient, irritating – or invaluable for blooding kids, giving bench-warmers a run out and knackered stars a breather.

Mourinho, who has won the trophy four times and was aware City are riding high in the Championship, was trying a careful blend of the latter three.

Losing such a game to a spiky underdog who was very much up for it is hardly a hanging offence. But in an increasingly difficult season, it is one more negative, one more stick for critics to beat him with.

City boss Lee Johnson would have been disappointed there was no post-match tete-a-tete after all. The United boss was warm with his congratulations and generous in his praise, apart from saying the home side "were lucky".

They were a tad – United hit the woodwork twice – but it was enough for the critics to pounce on this solitary sour grape and disappearing act among an otherwise gracious acceptance of an embarrassing loss.

Yep, the knives are coming out of their sheaths with every non-United performance and every perceived non-United move he makes. Whether it's the cruel castigation of players – Luke Shaw and Hendrik Mkhitaryan in particular – or lacklustre displays, his enemies find more ammunition – justified or not.

United knew what they were getting with Mourinho despite promises and a six-page letter to the contrary: leopards do not change their spots. And as soon as the going got a little tough, he reverted to type.

Privately he must be cursing his luck. Nearly halfway through his second season he is in a familiar position: comfortably clear of the chasing pack but for the small matter of his nemesis being in front of him and almost out of sight.

Were it not for Pep Guardiola, Mourinho would be on course to deliver the league title, as he has at every club in his second term, right on schedule – and would not be subject to the barbs he's currently having to duck.

Senior Old Trafford figures are said to be losing patience with the non-United behaviour, but most of all, it is on the field where they have reason to be concerned. Much has been said of parked buses, but it is the lack of any discernible style that is disappointing the faithful.

They don't let in many – they have the world's best keeper – but they don't score many either, despite having a £75m (RM409 million) striker and a previous world record signing in midfield. Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba have had their moments but are they value for such huge money?

Coming second to City would be excruciating enough even without the personal Pep factor, but just about acceptable if United were seen to be giving it a real go with flair and a clutch of future stars.

But Mourinho's United are too cautious by half for United fans and don't have enough kids. They wonder why Timothy Fosu-Mensah was loaned out when Chris Smalling is still around. Why Axel Tuanzebe doesn't play more and why Shaw was ostracised?

No one was expecting another Class of 92 and Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingaard have played a fair bit, but it's hard not to think the manager feels youth is wasted on the young.

Last month there were rumours that he would jump ship and go to PSG in the summer. And his refusal to buy a house or even bring his family to Manchester only adds the view that his bag is always packed for another assignment.

Stories linking United with likes of Eden Hazard in a big January spending spree suggest he is prodding the Glazers for more cash. And if it is not forthcoming, he'll have his excuse.

What's more, if PSG do not win the Champions League – they've got a tough draw in the Round of 16 against Real Madrid – they will soon have a vacancy and he will have a new challenge.

As he skipped a glass of his favourite Barca Velha and heard that he would have been facing Pep in the two-legged semifinal, he may well have thought he'd dodged a bullet.

He still has to go to the Etihad in the League but to risk not two but four defeats to the noisiest of neighbours would have invited the grapes of wrath.

Bob's latest book Living the Dream, about British football meeting foreign billionaires, is on sale at MPH, Borders, Popular and Kinokuniya bookstores.