The end came with Manchester United 19 points behind league leaders Liverpool and closer to the relegation zone than the top of the Premier League.
After an emphatic 3-1 defeat by their old rivals at Anfield on Sunday, United finally sacked Jose Mourinho as manager.
Having joined in May 2016, the former Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid boss led them to League Cup and Europa League success, and into the last 16 of this season’s Champions League.
Mourinho had lived at the Lowry Hotel since his appointment – perhaps a sign that he never truly believed he was at Old Trafford for the long haul.
Growing criticism of United’s style of play and endless tales of the Portuguese falling out with leading players, including record signing Paul Pogba, combined with poor results to seal his fate.
Despite spending nearly £400m on 11 players since he was first appointed, Mourinho let it be known that he felt let down by the club in terms of recruitment.
‘Whoever comes in will be charged with restoring United’s tradition of attack football’
However, many critics and fans argued that United’s local rivals Manchester City have spent roughly the same to much greater effect.
Whilst they weigh up their options, the United hierarchy have appointed former striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager for the rest of the season.
Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino, Laurent Blanc and Leonardo Jardim are just a few of the names in the frame. Some pundits believe that Blanc, who played under Sir Alex Ferguson towards the end of his career, could be the man to bring the best out of French star Pogba and compatriot Anthony Martial.
Whoever comes in will be charged with restoring United’s tradition of attack football. Furthermore, with Mourinho, gone key players such as Martial and De Gea are now more likely to sign new contracts.
Another mostly lacklustre, disjointed display in the defeat at Anfield proved to be the final straw for owners the Glazer family and the club’s board.
Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench to hammer the final nail in Mourinho’s coffin with two deflected goals as Liverpool ran out easy victors.
Sadio Mane opened the scoring with a great volley after his cleverly timed run was picked out by an accurate lofted ball from Fabinho in the 24th minute.
Liverpool had dominated the game up to that point and deserved the lead.
However, an error by goalkeeper Alisson gave United an undeserved chance before the break when he spilled Romelu Lukaku’s seemingly unthreatening cross into the path of Jesse Lingard who, in fairness, did well to follow it up.
After the break, United looked much more fluid and compact. They were starting to frustrate Liverpool, who resorted to shooting from distance.
Afterwards, Mourinho said: ‘In the moment when the game was going down, Liverpool’s intensity was dying, the centre-backs were shooting from 30-40 metres because they could not find spaces in a dangerous area.”
Thus, Klopp then sent on the maverick number 10 Shaqiri to try and find those spaces, and there was a bit of luck about both of his goals. But on balance, it was nothing more than Liverpool deserved.
When the scores were tied at 1-1 it was a tale of two approaches. Mourinho opted to bring on a central defensive midfielder in Marouane Fellaini at half-time, whilst Klopp brought on Shaqiri to chase the win.
Incidentally, Liverpool substitutes have now scored eight goals this season. Those substitutions summed up the managers at the moment.
Mourinho, who hadn’t tasted defeat at Anfield since 2007, was in a fairly gracious mood after the game.
“They [Liverpool] are fast, they are intense, they are aggressive, they are physical. They play 200 miles per hour with and without the ball. I am still tired just looking at [Andy] Robertson. He makes 100m sprints every minute, absolutely incredible.
‘Robertson, Mane, Salah, Wijnaldum, Keita, Fabinho: they are physical players and on top of that they are good players technically. I have lot of good players technically but we don’t have lots of players with that intensity, that physicality, so when the game has high levels of intensity it is difficult for us.’
Mourinho had previously promised the board he’d be fourth in the table by Christmas, but last week he backtracked on that prediction, saying it was impossible.
Although United fans have largely been patient with ‘The Special One’, many found this an unacceptable state of affairs for a team who finished second last season and spent £72.5m (Fred £52m; Dalot £19m and Lee Grant £1.5m) in the summer.
With their title hopes long gone, and having been knocked out the EFL Cup by Derby County, Mourinho had a relatively easy home tie against Reading in the FC Cup third round coming up in the new year.
However, the draw for the Champions League knockout stages was less kind and saw United pitted against French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, which just about summed up Mourinho’s week.
Normally, teams under Mourinho are renowned for not conceding too many goals, but this season United’s leaky defence have already conceded 29 which is more than the whole of last campaign.
Furthermore, it wasn’t just the fact that they conceded lots – it’s the fact they have been utterly dominated too often.
‘At Inter, he once looked forward to a Champions League tie at Old Trafford, saying “I want to destroy United”. Unfortunately for their fans, Mourinho has pretty well done just that’
At Anfield, they only registered six shots in the whole game, whilst Liverpool managed to muster 36.
When Mourinho won the Champions League with Porto, he raved that his team were amazing at regaining possession, comparing them to mad dogs with a big bite.
At Real Madrid, he hailed his players’ clinical counter attacking, whilst at Inter he boasted how they could defend for five straight hours without conceding.
None of the above applied at United, where Mourinho generally seemed more determined to throw his players under the bus than praise them.
Whilst with Inter, he once looked forward to a Champions League tie at Old Trafford, saying: ‘I want to destroy United.’
Unfortunately for United fans, Mourinho has pretty well done just that – but whilst sitting in the Old Trafford hot seat – and walks away with £22m for his troubles.