Anticipating crowd on the stadium and millions of people with their faces glued to TV screens were left rather disappointed with the uneventful and utterly underwhelming match between England’s biggest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester United.
It was a game of few chances at Anfield with the hosts largely subdued by United’s defensive approach.
Jose Mourinho resorted to his old, proven methods in order to achieve his goal of emerging unbeaten, causing a barrage of criticism for Manchester United’s apparent lack of willingness to play with desire, courage and bravery.
The Portuguese tactician was quick to defend his methods by putting the blame of Liverpool. His defensive approach is up for an ever-lasting debate however as another question surfaces – Is Mou’s way a demonstration of pragmatism or sheer lack of courage?
Much to the similarity of a widely accepted definition of the term “Anti-football” which describes it as a lethargic passing style relying solely on extremely defensive, aggressive physical, robust style of play, Jose Mourinho’s teams have a tendency to play accordingly, trying their best to kill the game rather than winning it themselves.
Monday night was not exactly the first time Mourinho was accused of deploying defensive tactics and parking the bus in front of his own goal for the sake of not losing the game.
The Portuguese specialised in shutting games down and it is something he is better at than anybody else. He climbed on the European throne with Porto following the similar pattern, but Jose Mourinho refuses to give up on his methods even when he has got the best players in the world at his disposal.
The means justify the ends – in footballing terms three points is what this beautiful game is all about.
Contrary to his last night’s opponent Jurgen Klopp, who shows little to no regard for clean sheets as long as his team are playing fun, open-style, free-flowing football everyone can enjoy in, Jose Mourinho is following a pattern paying no attention to style and flair.
“People talk about style and flair but what is that?”, he asked once.
Jose Mourinho refuses to adopt an idealistic approach to his football. He is neither a revolutionist not an artist, but merely a soldier who enters a battle looking to win it. Or at least not to lose it.
Same venue, two years ago. Jose Mourinho deployed the same tactics in 2014, frustrating Liverpool to a 2-0 defeat at Anfield which effectively cost them the title.
It was a match notoriously remembered for Steven Gerrard’s slip which prolonged Liverpool’s Premier League title wait to 26 years now, but much has changed since then. At least when it comes to the Reds.
Liverpool have become a team with strong identity under Jurgen Klopp, which can’t be said for Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, or Chelsea before that, for that matter.
Both Chelsea and Manchester United put in a stifling, mediocre performance which do have a tendency to conceal the entire picture however.
Behind Mourinho’s boring Monday night football there was a reasonably thought of system which revolved around sending long balls to physically dominant players – Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – preventing Klopp’s side from playing their recognisable counter-pressing.
With six players lined up in a perfectly organised defensive wall Mourinho’s Manchester United at Anfield was the furthest it can possibly be from attack-oriented theme paying in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era.
And while David Moyes and Louis van Gaal would have surely been victimised for a similar approach, Jose Mourinho is still lauded for his result-driven approach.
Mourinho is (not) a coward
Despite Jose Mourinho’s claims that Manchester United had over 40% possession, the Red Devils officially ended the game with 35% ball to their feet which is their lowest figure since it became important enough of a statistical data to be measured in the first place.
United played a functional way, justified by the fact Mourinho picked a point where plenty would leave empty-handed this season.
Star-studded team is expected to be on the constant lookout for intense play, attack-oriented style which will accommodate the demanding fans eager to see their club’s investments pay off in style. But Mourinho knows better and is unwilling to fall in a familiar trap.
World-record signing Paul Pogba was cut off for the most part of the game, but it was the same player who created the best chance – and the only one – for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Mourinho is not a coward – it is just that he knows just what to do and when to do it.
Next up for his current side is his former one, similarly organised and defensively-oriented in its core. After their Fenerbahce clash in the UEFA Europa League, Red Devils are making a trip to Stamford Bridge. Mourinho is goig head to head with another tactical mastermind Antonio Conte, whose widely applauded tactical approach earned his a remarkable 3-0 win over champions Leicester City last time out.
Manchester United are standing at the betting odds of 5/2 to grab all three points at Stamford Bridge, but I would be more interesting to see what will the odds be on Jose Mourinho taking a different approach to the one that was on display at Anfield.
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