Mourinho Must Change Big-Match Approach
In the weekend past, football fans were on the edge of their seats during the Manchester Derby between the Premier League’s top two sides, and although the clash delivered everything you’d expect from an encounter between rivals, one set of supporters was left disgruntled. Again, Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic approach had failed in a big match, but this time, the consequences were to be felt more than ever before.
It’s mid-December and many are claiming that Pep Guardiola has already won the 2017/18 Premier League season with Manchester City. Of course, the Spaniard and his players have played down these murmurs from pundits and almost every single person on earth, but realistically, it’s difficult to imagine the Citizens slipping up on their 11-point lead over their rivals United, right?
Guardiola’s men have displayed a focus since August that perhaps supporters have not seen in the EPL before, and their 14-match winning streak in the league is a testimony to that. Now, while their football has been scintillating and reminiscent of Guardiola’s great FC Barcelona side – arguably the highest compliment one can give them – I can’t help but wonder, “What if?” What if Mourinho had been more positive? What if he backed his players a little more?
In the first 10 minutes of the weekend’s clash, fans could immediately see how the game was going to go. City were going to dominate possession, while the Red Devils were going to try and catch them on the break – a ploy Mourinho has frustrated his side’s supporters within big matches since his arrival in May 2016.
The fluidity of movement in midfield from Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva troubled United’s Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic right from the first whistle, while Jesse Lingard, who started in the No. 10 role for United, was quite clearly given instructions to stay close to Fernandinho and perhaps even rile him up. This didn’t go as planned, as the Brazilian made a few defence-splitting passes in the opening 45 minutes.
Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane’s switching of wings also made it tough for United’s fullbacks to work on how they were going to defend their counterparts. Although United’s defenders struggled to get near to the City players at times, it was evident that Mourinho had given his players specific orders. Each player was assigned to a certain role, no matter how ineffective it turned out to be.
Now let me make myself clear. I’m not criticising Mourinho for setting up to counter City’s attacking impetus; I’m criticising the fact that it seemed the players had no idea what they were supposed to do with the ball once they had it! If I were to speculate, the manager didn’t once work on a plan to exploit the Citizens’ defence.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were deployed in wide areas to trouble City’s right and left back, but only 54 percent of their touches were made in the opposition’s half, while they made just five touches, combined, in City’s box in the entire game. This is simply not good enough, especially if you have ambitions of winning the league! With the quality United possess going forward, is there really an excuse for this negativity?
The “They were without Paul Pogba” excuse is also getting old now. In 18 games against top six sides in the EPL as United boss, Mourinho has won just four times. That’s a rather sorry return. If the boss’ approach was helping the Red Devils get important wins in these big clashes, the response would be different, but it isn’t working. The shackles need to be released and the belief restored.
I will, however, admit that I defended Mourinho’s tactics after United’s boring 0-0 draw at Liverpool in October, and my reason was that if they played without caution, Mohamed Salah and Co could’ve caused them severe damage. While that is very true, it’s an extremely dull way of looking at the beautiful game.
Like Guardiola does at City, United should set out to win football matches. They’re Manchester United, after all! There isn’t a game that the Spaniard and his side don’t feel they can triumph in, but sadly, the same can’t be said for Mourinho, who is in charge of the far more successful Manchester club.
Why the baffling pragmatism from Mourinho at United? It’s not easy to understand, as we didn’t see this from the boss elsewhere. Every other “Mourinho team” has played with an unshakable confidence and swagger that won him games before the referee blew the first whistle. Mourinho himself used to intimidate the opposition with his fiery eyes and arrogance, things he perhaps lost in his torrid last season at Chelsea, which resulted in his sacking.
While we’re not all world-class football managers, I think we can all agree that Mourinho needs to give his stars more licence to express themselves. He needs to go into big matches believing his side can outclass their opponents with relentless attacking play. It needs to be ruthless, it needs to be quick, and it needs to be Manchester United.