Jose Mourinho has proven himself to be a serial winner. 32 trophies at 6 different clubs speaks for itself. It was typical Mourinho against Liverpool earlier today. But, one key part of it was missing: the winning goal.
Mourinho’s gameplan against lesser opposition has always been to attack first and defend second. The vice versa of this plan goes into effect against opposition that are either better than or almost as capable as his team; defending is the first priority, and attacking is the second.
It was evident in the way Manchester United set out to play Liverpool. Ander Herrera was instrumental in the Red Devils’ game of keep-ball, which frustrated and took out the sting out of Liverpool. It more or less took out the desire of the footballers from either team to actually play football. United’s players were blindly following Mourinho’s orders, Liverpool’s players were battered to their limits. Creativity becomes scarce once you fail time and again, but the Reds have to pick up part of the blame for failing to go at it all out. Backward passes were frequently played in hopes of keeping possession, and combined with the hesitancy of the new incoming goalie, Loris Karius, playing out from the back was often risky.
But, even though the Reds were poor in creating clear cut chances—mostly down to United’s hard work and organization on the defensive end—Mourinho’s team weren’t faring much better either when gifted possession. Pogba and Ibrahimovic looked to be on an island of their own when United won the ball back, with nobody making the runs to threaten Liverpool’s backline. Rashford and Young were sucked in too far back doing defensive duties while Fellaini and Herrera aren’t exactly the most mobile of midfielders. It would’ve worked out alright had Pogba not been put in the no. 10 role, then he would’ve made those darting runs forward and Herrera could’ve easily found him.
A lack of pace is clearly existent in this Manchester United team, especially down the middle, where guys like Ibrahimovic, Fellaini, and Rooney, as well as Mata, are critical players for this team and yet terrible in terms of the mobility that they can offer. Mourinho’s greatest teams have been hailed for their understanding of where space is and utilizing it to the greatest effect. Chelsea’s title winning team of 2014-15 were brilliant in making runs off the ball. United have to start doing it too if they want to mastermind victories against opponents of Liverpool’s quality. The defensive aspect isn’t the only one, even though it’s a good starting point.
Statistics via WhoScored.com