“I’m really proud of my players, I’m really proud of Manchester United fans.”
Predictable and familiar post-match comments from the Manchester United manager following another defeat to Chelsea this season. On a night where once again the terraces of the travelling fans provided more entertainment than the side itself. Understandably, the tight and compact unit was to be expected from the Red Devils, particularly given the fact they were reduced to 10-men because of the stupidity of Ander Herrera.
But, just 27% of the ball, one shot on target, and 16 duels lost by one individual – the most expensive player in the world – are not statistics which should sit comfortably with the travelling support. It’s shameful, but what United have had to come to expect. A notion of feeling relief and reason to celebrate at only losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, rather than being completely hung out to dry as they were in October.
The look on Jesse Lingard’s and Carlos Lalin’s faces says a lot here: “do you know what you’re doing, boss?”
And the short answer is: no. Mourinho has zero game plan, zero strategy going forward. The 54-year-old has always lacked an identity when in attack other than having some very decent players in his strikeforce, and relying on their brilliance to win matches.
The method is to keep tight and compact at the back, use every trick in book to keep a team at bay, and hopefully one of the world-class players up top will do what they do best without needing direction from their boss. Look at the Inter Milan side in 2010, the Portuguese boss relied on Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in the Spanish capital, and then Diego Costa and Eden Hazard in his second spell at Chelsea.
When the stars in attack turn against him, he can’t manage or direct them. And then the predictable at Chelsea happened.
But, this is now the problem at United. The Red Devils gaffer is relying on Zlatan Ibrahimovic going into games without a clear plan other than keep compact; zero philosophy. So evident in the Chelsea FA Cup defeat, that the Marcus Rashford chance was United’s only notable attack from 90 minutes.
But this is where the questions should be raised, why do Manchester United fans seem content? Why are a fanbase who have become so used to expansive and attacking football accepting such methods enforced by the manager? They didn’t under David Moyes’ leadership, made clear when the terraces rang with vocals such as…
The fans had not accepted a negative identity, one which did not choose pragmatism over expression as much as a Mourinho side. Of course, the obvious answer to this is that the Ferguson legacy was still fresh, still looming around Old Trafford. But, surely a 26-year legacy should not be forgotten just three and a half years later.
It seems it has; an acceptance of not moving from sixth position in the league, and glorifying the ‘Mourinho way’ through chants such as…
“Woke up this morning feeling fine, got Man United on my mind.
Jose’s playing the way that United should, oh yeah
Something tells me I’m into something good”
The Mourinho way is not killing teams off by getting another goal; it’s instead the way you beat teams by scoring one-goal, and then locking up shop by bringing a John Obi Mikel-esque figure on.
This is not playing the ‘way that United should’. But it is being praised by the fans; clear by the support of the United fans virtually celebrating a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final. Commendable on some levels, but lacking ambition and forgetting success from the past, on others.
The tactics to stop a team by constantly fouling their best player. It does not seem the legacy Ferguson wanted to create at Old Trafford, nor the brand of football he’d expect United to be playing just three and a half years after his retirement.