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After the extensive hype surrounding Manchester United’s encounter with Liverpool, the match itself turned out to be a disappointment.
Liverpool failed to break down a stubborn United side, set up by Jose Mourinho to be resilient and shut out the attacking threat of the opposition.
Since the goalless draw at Anfield, the debate has been whether or not Mourinho’s tactics were negative or a success. There are cases for both points but the real question remains; is this the style that can win United the league?
Astute in nullifying his opposition
As we have seen in the past Mourinho is tactically astute when it comes to setting up a side against dangerous opposition. Monday night was no different, with United only mustering one shot on target and, incredibly, having only 34% possession.
Based on those stats, Mourinho intended to make it very difficult for Liverpool to score and succeeded in doing so
“That was the game we planned,” the United boss revealed to Sky Sports. And despite United’s lack of attacking threat Mourinho believed his side had Liverpool “completely under control”. “Thy are not the next wonder of the world that you like to say they are.”
Mourinho has earned a reputation for these types of performances, a system that has earned him several league titles as a result.
“I don’t think there’s anyone better in world football as a manager at nullifying the opposition,” said Sky pundit Jamie Carragher.
Change of approach against his former club?
A draw against such an in-form Liverpool side was by no means a bad result. However, looking forward Mourinho’s next big encounter against his former club, Chelsea, a change of approach may be needed.
Admittedly, a draw at Stamford Bridge would be seen as a good outcome for any side considering Chelsea’s mini-revival in their last two games.
However, United, who are seventh in the league and already five points off the top, need wins and fast if they are to keep up with the pace set by leaders Manchester City and Arsenal.
“The game plan is good, but you’ve got to be able to counter-attack off of it,” believed Sky pundit Neville. “That’s the next step to really be able to cause problems, but they didn’t have the quality or the pace to be able to counter-attack. United did exactly what Jose Mourinho wanted but he said they fell a little bit short in the attacking third.”
United certainly have the attacking players to complement their solidarity at the back.
Creative chief Juan Mata was not used at all at Anfield, while frontman Zlatan Ibrahimovic received little support from wingers Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young.
In addition, Paul Pogba, who was deployed just behind Ibrahimovic, also created few chances.
Yet United’s 4-1 win against champions Leicester was a stark contrast. Pogba played in a deeper midfield role where he could dictate play, while Mata was used in central attacking midfield. The results were positive.
In addition to their respective goals, Pogba completed 26 attacking third passes, with Mata second on 19. Also, Pogba created three clear-cut chances – the most in the game – as he delivered a Man of the Match display from his more favoured position.
Whether Mourinho employs the same tactics against Chelsea this Sunday is anyone’s guess.
More attacking intent is wanted
Chelsea’s new 3-5-2 system under Antonio Conte will bring its own challenges but United’s fans will be anxious about the gap developing between themselves and the leaders and will therefore hope for a performance of more intent at Stamford Bridge.
“It all comes down to results,” United legend Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports. “If you have 35 per cent of the ball and you win, then everybody is happy. But if you’re getting draws continuously and not winning, that’s when the supporters won’t be happy.”
Ahead of another big encounter against Chelsea this Sunday, Mourinho could go one of two ways.
He could decide to shut up shop as he did against Liverpool, or he could play a more attacking lineup in order to deliver three desperately needed points for his side.
It may be early in the season, but it’s a gamble that could signal how serious United’s title intentions are.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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