Old boys accept Mourinho tactics through gritted teeth
Former Manchester United players have queued up to pass judgment on their old team under Jose Mourinho, whose negative game plan in a disappointing 0-0 draw at Liverpool on Monday night sparked a lively debate over the club’s direction.
While Gary Neville predicted that United would not win the league this season, Ryan Giggs said he would accept the manner of Monday’s performance in which they had just 35 per cent possession, the lowest in any of their games since statistics were first collected in 2003.
Although, bizarrely, Mourinho disputed that figure – insisting United had in fact enjoyed 42 per cent possession at Anfield – he also said it reflected his masterplan to control the game.
Mourinho may find it harder to explain away another new low, however, because United’s tally of 14 points from eight games represents the Portuguese coach’s worst start to a campaign in 15 years.
That total is also two points worse than United managed under Louis van Gaal at the same stage last year and is probably not what the club had in mind when they spent £145 million on his recommendations in the summer.
Another former United player, Ray Wilkins, said the pressure of expectation on Mourinho is relentless.
“He has to keep winning while changing the side,” Wilkins told Sky Sports. “It is not always easy when you are trying to establish yourself at a huge club. But he will be delighted by that point.”
Mourinho has not been helped by the limited impact made by record signing Paul Pogba, who had another quiet game at Anfield, and Henrikh Mikhitar-yan, who once again did not make the team as Mourinho opted for the strength and solidity of Marouane Fellaini.
Apart from one half against Leicester City, in which he scored his only goal for United, Pogba has struggled to justify his world-record fee, and Mourinho still seems unsure how to employ him.
On Monday it was another United midfielder, Ander Herrera, who won man of the match for a killjoy performance that saw him prevent a far more talented player, Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, from exerting more of an influence.
That says much about how far United have fallen since the derring-do days of Alex Ferguson, whose attacking intent often led to late United winners in high-profile games.
For now, United’s old guard in the media are sticking with the current manager as he seeks to shape his new team.
“There is no reason not to trust Jose Mourinho as a Manchester United fan,” said Gary Neville.
“If he said we won’t win the title this season, but next, which I think is what he said at Chelsea, I think most United fans would accept that... as long as he does win it next season.”
But judgments are increasingly instant in football and, for United, the big games keep coming.
On Thursday they play Fenerbahce in the Europa League at Old Trafford, followed by a difficult Premier League trip to Mourinho’s former side, Chelsea, on Sunday.
“He will get a rapturous round of applause,” said Wilkins, in reference to the Chelsea fans.
■ The English FA has asked Jose Mourinho to explain comments he made about referee Anthony Taylor before Manchester United’s goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield on Monday.
Mourinho said it would be “difficult” for Taylor, who is from the Greater Manchester area, to have “a very good performance” after being put in charge of the game between two fierce rivals.
FA rules prohibit managers and players from making comments about officials which could be viewed as intimidatory or influential before games.
Mourinho has until Friday to respond.