From his words to his football, Jose is focused on disruption. The biggest issue with this is that he also disrupts the clubs he leaves more often than not. Long balls to Marouane Fellaini is not a tactic befitting of Manchester United. It’s more akin to relegation strugglers. The amount of disconnect between the midfield and forwards against Sevilla was appalling. That level of separation completely gives away the strategy, is easy to defend against, leads to a lot of wasted possession and unsuccessful dribbles, and puts the blame at the feet of players when such attempts at brilliance fail. It’s quite ingenious. Watching Sanchez or Rashford attempt to beat two or three to create a connection to Lukaku and Fellaini who were under instruction to wait for nice, loopy long balls was quite the sight.
It was quite the embarrassing sight, as a matter of fact, and is a disservice to Lukaku especially who has worked tremendously hard all season for scraps. It’s no statistical anomaly that he has had the least clear cut chances of all the top strikers or that his shot count is so low. The football simply does not allow anything else.
Why do lesser teams resort to such tactics as the long ball or get it wide and cross? Why is possession through the middle not a priority? It is simply because a ball in the air levels the playing field with top clubs. Hooking it up in the air that often plays to the strengths of a taller player and is an answer when you’re outgunned at playing actual football.
Manchester United rank sixth in possession and passing accuracy amongst the Premier league teams. There are no prizes to guess who tops this. Antonio Conte’s, or Mourinho 2.0‘s Chelsea, fares better at fifth and second, respectively. In shots taken per game, United again rank sixth, a concerning four shots less than Manchester City and Liverpool. In aerials won, only Arsenal from the top six win more. Of the top six teams, United play the highest proportion of long balls per game by a fair distance. Only five teams, including Tottenham who lead, attempt more crosses.
Not only do United concede more shots than all the top six (almost twice as much as Manchester City), but they also concede more than Huddersfield and Watford. They commit the third most fouls in the league and yet they win less tackles than all but Bournemouth.
Mourinho will have those loyal to him. He’ll have the support of those who value winning and like his antics and banter that are undoubtedly world class. What is also true is that those supporters are willing to ignore that football is also entertainment. On that front, he fails miserably. Football has always been about reinvention, from the days of dribbling first, pass last resort to the 2-3-5 pyramid to catenaccio to total football to cross heavy football to tiki-taka to the present day of inside forwards and midfield control. Jose Mourinho was once a manager near the top of the game. He is no longer worthy of such an accolade. Until he accepts that he too must reinvent and improve on what he has to offer then that will slip further from his grasp.
Perhaps all those notes he takes during the game are explanations, pretexts and excuses for when his difference makers don’t come through. Jose Mourinho…the specialist in excuses.