I was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live on the way back from Anfield at the weekend. If ever proof was needed to support the phrase; “a game of two halves” then Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Huddersfield was it. A real Jekyll and Hyde performance from the reds and the less said about the first half, the better.
On the show, there was an in-depth debate regarding Manchester Utd and the way they have been playing this season with Jose Mourinho in particular coming under scrutiny.
They had just beaten Tottenham at home and some callers were phoning in stating their displeasure at the style of football being played and the boring nature of the games involving their beloved Red Devils this season. This all seemed very odd to me. Bar the Huddersfield result, Manchester Utd have been unbeaten and sit second in the league. I found it really surprising that some Utd fans were actually complaining.
One caller stated that Manchester United must play in a particular way purely because they are Manchester United and made reference to the great teams managed by Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson. Whilst these teams were obviously very formidable and did produce some dominant scorelines (Fergie’s teams beating Roma 7-0 and Arsenal 8-2 being stand out examples). I’ve lost count of the number of times under Ferguson, that Utd scored a goal in the last 10 minutes to win a game 1-0.
What’s the difference between those 1-0’s and the 1-0’s under Jose?
As a Liverpool fan, I would 100% take consistent 1-0 wins over the odd 4-0 rout subsequently followed by draws and defeats any day of the week. A prime example is earlier in the season when Liverpool thrashed Arsenal 4-0 and then lost 5-0 to Man City, drew at home to Sevilla and Burnley and then lost again, this time, away to Leicester. During the same period, Manchester Utd won 3 and drew once scoring 11 goals.
Mourinho is no idiot. He knows what he is doing. He’s won things everywhere he’s been because he knows how to get results when it really matters. He knows that United, at the moment, would not have been able to outplay Liverpool at Anfield so he set up the team to get a point and that’s exactly what he got. It was the same against Spurs at Old Trafford. Even without star striker Harry Kane, Tottenham are more of an attacking threat than Utd and so Jose again set up his team defensively. The only difference being that on this occasion, Utd won the game 1-0.
Mourinho masterminding results is nothing new. He’s been doing it for years. Another point made on 5 Live was regarding the Liverpool v Chelsea game back in 2014. Liverpool needed only a draw to keep themselves in the title race but ended up losing the game. The caller was placing the blame on the then Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers saying he should have changed his tactics for that game to be more defensive in their approach.
Whilst I can certainly see where he was coming from, I for one am inclined to disagree. Why risk changing a winning formula that had won the previous 11 games? During those 11 games, Liverpool had beaten Arsenal 5-1, Everton 4-0, Manchester Utd 3-0, Tottenham 4-0, and Man City 3-2 playing this way. So why shouldn’t they have believed that they could have done the same against a weakened Chelsea team (Chelsea had a Champions League Semi Final against Atletico in their next game).
The reason for the loss in that game was the unfortunate slip by Steven Gerrard. Not Liverpool’s tactics. I still believe that had that slip not happened, Chelsea would never have scored in that game. This, added to the antics both on the touchline by Mourinho, and his players on the pitch, ultimately made it an impossible task.
Winning a game ugly is still winning and I don’t think any other manager in the league would have been able to set a team up to get a result, away at Anfield during that run of results, other than Jose Mourinho.
A big reason why this topic has become so dominant in football discussions this season may well be due to the fact that there is another club in Manchester that have also been winning games whilst at the same time, scoring for fun and this has been used, in my opinion, as an unfair comparison.
Manchester City have some of the best attacking players in the league as well as strength in numbers in these attacking areas. So much so that £43.6m summer signing Bernardo Silva, who was so instrumental in Monaco’s title winning team of last season, has made only a handful of appearances this season and even fewer starts.
Manchester City have Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bryune to name but a few of their attacking options. Compare that to Man Utd who, bar Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford can only really call upon Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.
However, that being said, football fans have short memories. Manchester United have not been playing this so called “boring football” every game this season. More so only in the games in which Mourinho knows Utd won’t be able to run away with. It’s called game management.
At the start of the season Manchester United beat West Ham, Swansea, Everton and Crystal Palace 4-0 and currently find themselves second in both the league table and the table of most goals scored this season sitting behind Manchester City in both.
Hardly boring is it?
At the end of the day, Manchester United have played Liverpool at Anfield and Tottenham at home in recent weeks, arguably their two toughest league fixtures so far, and have come away with four points. Who cares that it wasn’t edge of your seat football? Football by its very nature is a results business and the score line at the end of the game is more important than number of shots or how much possession you had.
Those four points could be huge come the end of the campaign. Results win you trophies (United won 3 in Mourinho’s first season at the club) and that’s what football is all about.
Manchester United’s next Premier League fixture is away at Chelsea and I wonder what United fans would prefer to happen. Another uninspiring game where they hold on to a draw (maybe even nick a win like the Spurs game) or that United open up and play the expansive football their fans seem to crave which would likely play into Chelsea’s hands and end in a defeat?
I know which scenario I’d pick.