For a long time, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho was considered by many as one of the world’s best football tacticians.
He guided the likes of Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid to big trophies.
While considered a pragmatist, the Portuguese boss was still admired for his ability to set-up a team to nullify an opponent and win the big games. Love him or loathe him Mourinho had the tactical answers when it mattered.
For much of last season at Chelsea and some of this campaign at United, his tactical acumen seemed to have deserted him.
However, Manchester United’s 2-0 over league leaders and wannabe champions Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday proved he still had it.
Got his forward line right
I have to admit I was highly surprised by the fact that Mourinho decided to drop top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the substitute’s bench. Instead of the veteran Swede, Mourinho decided to field the pacey duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.
It turned out to be a masterstroke by the former Chelsea boss. Rashford open the scoring for the Red Devils and was a constant threat to the Blues defence. The England international has struggled to live up to his performances of last season in this campaign.
However, on Sunday he showed just why he is so highly-rated by so many in the game. Lingard also made a decent, if unspectacular contribution to proceedings.
No doubt the United forwards were helped by the fact that the Blues were without first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and left-wing back Marcos Alonso. However, credit should not be taken away from Mourinho or his players for the victory.
Ander Herrera needs to take Hazard out of his pocket
I would be highly surprised if Eden Hazard doesn’t put in a complaint to the police about his stalker Ander Herrera. Hazard was in the Spaniard’s back pocket for most of Sunday’s game. I bet he even followed him home after the game.
The Spaniard did a highly effective job of completely nullifying the threat of the Blues best attacking player. Hazard looked lost at times and wasn’t sure what to do for much of the game. He played into Herrera’s hands by staying in the area Herrera wanted him to.
However, Herrera did a superbly disciplined job on the Belgian international. Hazard was always going to be the biggest threat to the United goal, Herrera just never gave the playmaker any room to operate. That killed off most the Blues attacks.
Mourinho attempted the same tactic in the recent 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat against Chelsea, only for the Red Devils to go down to ten men, ironically Herrera being the United player being dismissed.
Herrera was the hero this time around, though. Not only did the Spanish international stop Hazard, he made two contributions up the other end of the field.
The former Athletic Bilbao star produced a fantastic through ball for Rashford to score the opening goal. The midfielder also scored the second goal, albeit via a hefty deflection.
United can still make the Champions League
The performance against Chelsea was the sort display that United have failed to produce in recent months, especially at home.
Winning the Europa League this season remains the Red Devils most obvious route to Champions League football, something Mourinho’s men are odds of 6/5 favourites to achieve this season.
However, the Red Devils are now just four points behind fourth-place Manchester City with a game in hand on the Citizens. They also have two games in hand on another arch-rival Liverpool, who are third place and six points ahead.
It is still conceivable that Manchester United can still finish in the Premier League’s top four this season, even if it is no longer the Red Devils priority for the campaign. Maybe the victory against Chelsea is a sign of things to come for Mourinho and United.
Mourinho’s tenure so far cannot be dressed up as highly successful. Maybe if the Portuguese boss had produced slightly more of his tactical acumen earlier in the season the Red Devils would be higher up the league.
However, the win over Chelsea proved that Mourinho does still have the tactical acumen to compete with the best managers in the league. This could be an ominous sign for United’s rivals for next season.
Have Manchester United progressed under Jose Mourinho?
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