Jose Is Overrating His Defence – His Away Game Strategy Needs To Change

Jose Mourinho has made Old Trafford somewhat of a fortress in in the past 2 seasons, setting a new record of 38 games unbeaten with an impressive 27 wins. This season, Manchester United have not conceded a single Premier League goal at Old Trafford, in fact The Red Devils have only conceded 1 goal at home in all competitions – a 91st minute consolation goal against Burton Albion. Having a phenomenal home record is a Jose Mourinho trait seen in all the clubs he has managed, however, with not a single victory against the big six away from home in his tenure as Manchester United manager, something isn’t quite working and maybe a change in approach is necessary. Jose Mourinho is overestimating his defence and must channel his Real Madrid days and not his Inter days to be successful at United.

What’s The Difference In Setup Between Home & Away?

7 games played, 0 wins, 3 draws and 4 losses is a terrible record. Now 5 of those games were from last season – a team in transition, a team that the manager was still getting to know, finding out who he can trust but it’s still a dreadful record. This season, there have only been 2 games – a draw at Anfield which isn’t a bad result and a defeat by a single goal at Stamford Bridge. Although there isn’t a need to panic, fundamentally there is something not working because in the total of 7 games, Mourinho’s side have only registered 1 goal! Something needs to change moving forward because the way Manchester City are playing and winning away from home means that it is imperative that wins are obtained away against rivals.

The approach at Old Trafford is, and never will be, gung-ho against rivals, however, there is clearly more goal threat at home. The full backs are encouraged to attack, the wingers are free to roam and the defence will, at times, push up the field to maintain sustained pressure. Without the ball, the team quickly gets back into a structured shape allowing no gaps for the opposition so it is a good balance. Of course it is dependent on the opposition because Mourinho sees these big games as a game of chess and will look to exploit weaknesses.

Last season’s game at home to Chelsea was a tactical masterclass, the Portuguese manager played a formation that is still hard to write down. Was it a back 3 or a back 4? Was Darmian a left back or a 3rd centre back as he was instructed to pay close attention to Pedro. Herrera man marked Eden Hazard in a performance as impressive as Ji-Sung Park’s man marking job against Andrea Pirlo in the San Siro. Fellaini and Pogba were set up against Matic and Kante, while Rashford and Lingard were put as a front 2.

The way United pressed, the way the ball was quickly put into the channels either side of the Chelsea back 3 completely bamboozled Antonio Conte as United ran out 2-0 winners. In contrast, this season’s match against Tottenham was a polar opposite as Mauricio Pochettino’s side do not have any noticeable weaknesses in the way they play and they have, what Mourinho calls, the “best defence in Europe”. Although both sides struggled to penetrate, Mourinho’s men still managed to have the slightly better chances. Away from home, that game would have ended up 0-0 or a 1-0 for Tottenham because United simply do not get enough bodies forward into goal scoring positions. Games at home involve stopping the opposition but still attacking to win. Games away from home have become obsessively about stopping the opposition rather than getting the opportunities to win.

Going to Anfield is Manchester United’s most difficult game of the season. How many Manchester United players have consistently played well there? Rooney – no. Ronaldo – no. Van Nistelrooy – no. The pitch is not small but the crowd is on top of you, Liverpool harass you and the centre of the pitch is incredible congested making it difficult. The game last season was one where there was a lot of pressure on United and Mourinho did what he had to do and “parked the bus”. Going into the game this season there was a sense of optimism. United fans knew it would be pragmatic but still expected some chances to be created. Mourinho was right in what he said post-match –it was up to Klopp to sacrifice one of his solid 3 man midfield and move Coutinho in there and add a striker, so if he wasn’t willing to risk it then why should Mourinho open the gates for them to score? Having said that, United should have at least had some chances but there was no intent to move forwards which was disappointing.

The game against Chelsea, similarly, resulted in very few real chances being created. Having a low block is ok at times in the game, however, there needs to be some invention. Leicester City won the league by playing deep and counter attacking, but this United side do not offer any threat in attack. Manchester United need to stop worrying obsessively about the opposition and let the opposition worry about the pace of Rashford and Martial or the power of Lukaku – who is often cut a lonely figure on his own. All being said, the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan need to wake up and stop being anonymous in big games and the return of Paul Pogba will also be huge.

Jose Needs To Understand This Team Is Different

Jose Mourinho has had some fantastic teams in the past but this is a different challenge to anything he has faced. He is in charge of a team that is still not entirely his team and contains more youth and inexperience than any of his other sides.

Porto: a team he compiled with tremendous team spirit, a solid defence, a team of players at the right age and they were always underdogs playing without any pressure.
Chelsea (1): a spine full of tall powerful players, they hardly conceded and they had ruthless players in attack with Robben, Lampard and Drogba.
Inter: a side consisted of a team with an abundance of experience with the Italian “know-how” with the creativity of Wesley Sneijder and the finishing of Samuel Eto’o and Diego Millito.
Madrid: a side without a “Jose Mourinho defence” but had stardust in attack with players like Ozil, Kaka, Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain.
Chelsea (2): a different team to his first stint as he bought back John Terry to solidify the defence but had the flair of Fabregas, Hazard and Costa in attack.

So how does this United side compare? Well it doesn’t… yet! Mourinho has publically stated that after his 3rd summer transfer window, he believes that his rebuilding process would have been complete and the United side will be capable of competing with the top sides in Europe.

“I have said three (summer) transfer windows is what I need to have the team I want to have. The team I think can bring Manchester United to the top of English football and to close the gap to the top of European football again.” Jose Mourinho (Sept 2017)

Mourinho is doing a very good job with limited quality in defence. The issue here is that when United play deep with a low block away against the top sides, chances are still created (and taken). A prime example was the defeat at Chelsea where defences were on top but Alvaro Morata still scored despite Mourinho warning his defenders of deep crosses to the penalty area. Are these defenders capable of executing orders and not making mistakes? Remember Danny Welbeck’s free header in a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal where Chris Smalling allowed him 4 yards of space – are the likes of Jones, Rojo, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Darmian worthy of being Manchester United or Jose Mourinho first team defenders?

With a defence like this, where 100% trust cannot be obtained, is it wise for Mourinho to play like his first Chelsea side or Inter side played? Is this team capable of doing what Inter did at the Nou Camp with 10 men in the Semi Final of the Champions League? Or is Mourinho giving them too much respect thinking they can?

Is it better for the Portuguese manager to adopt a style, although not identical, but similar to the one at Real Madrid where defence was a team job and the focus was to ensure the attack was good enough to win games. Real Madrid demands attacking football and Mourinho delivered that by becoming the first La Liga side to score over 100 goals. Mourinho feels more comfortable in the Chelsea and Inter approaches that achieved him unprecedented success but, although he didn’t win the Champions League with Real Madrid, he actually should consider the success he had by defeating Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side to the League just as important – and this was done in style with attack!

Having said that, do United have the same ruthless attack? No they don’t! They have an attack without a genuine right winger, a number 10 that goes missing, a phenomenal young English attacker who misses chances, a young French winger who is inconsistent and a young striker who is still finding his feet at a big club. Investment needs to be made in attack with the acquisition of proven world stars.

Draws Are Not Enough & Utd Need To Back Jose

Given how impressive Manchester City have been and the display at Chelsea, draws against your nearest rivals may now not be good enough. No longer can you settle for draws and then look to defeat the smaller teams –this new City side are breaking down those mind sets and forcing rivals to change their strategy if they want to win the League.

With the rumours of PSG wanting Mourinho and the Portuguese’s unhappiness at United failing to match his ambitions in the transfer market it seems that Mourinho is aware of being left behind and he is 100% correct. With how PSG have spent and the way the “Noisy Neighbours” are willing to back their manager with whoever he wants, United must follow suit. Mourinho has a proven track record in the transfer market and the club should have signed Ivan Perisic in the summer, who is having a wonderful season in Italy. United need to back the manager in the coming transfer windows and do their utmost best to acquire players in the top bracket of world football or risk being left behind.

In the interim, Jose Mourinho needs to understand that a change is required in this philosophy away from home as the gap between the two Manchester clubs at the top of the table continues to increase.

Harpinder Powar
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Harpinder Powar

Born and raised Red Devil, proud father of 2 more little devils. Work as a Pre Sales Technical Consultant in the IT industry, although my whole world revolves around Manchester United. Keen footballer and I like to think that I should be on Monday Night Football with Gary Neville instead of scouser Jamie Carragher (we wouldn't even need Ed Chamberlain either, so get rid of him also!)@hspowar
Harpinder Powar
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harpinder-powar

Born and raised Red Devil, proud father of 2 more little devils. Work as a Pre Sales Technical Consultant in the IT industry, although my whole world revolves around Manchester United. Keen footballer and I like to think that I should be on Monday Night Football with Gary Neville instead of scouser Jamie Carragher (we wouldn't even need Ed Chamberlain either, so get rid of him also!) @hspowar