Manchester United scoring late goals to follow history under Jose Mourinho
Sir Alex Ferguson would often say that scoring late goals was part of Manchester United's history. It was his opinion it was not evidence of a weakness -- being in that position in the first place -- rather a sign of superior mental strength. He believed the ability to keep attacking, keep going, was central to the mentality of the club.
Ferguson will have been impressed, then, with how Jose Mourinho's United side have started the new season. No dramatic comebacks that become a hallmark of Ferguson's reign, but still lots of late goals.
United have scored 20 goals this season, with 10 coming in the 80th minute or later. Against Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday there were three: Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the 83rd minute, Romelu Lukaku in the 89th and Anthony Martial's stoppage time penalty put the gloss on a 4-0 result that had, in truth, been in the balance for a large portion of the game.
It is the goals rather than the timings of them that will please Mourinho the most. As he battles a perception that he is a cautious manager, it will have hurt that United only managed 54 in the league last season -- the lowest total of the Premier League's top seven and one fewer than Bournemouth.
He is acutely aware that United's traditions are based around playing adventurous football. So much so in fact that, at times, it has driven him to make decisions that perhaps go against his instinct.
Leading 1-0 at Everton in December last season, Mourinho replaced Mkhitaryan with Marouane Fellaini to help close out the game. It backfired, and Fellaini gave away the penalty that led to the equaliser.
A goal up against Tottenham the following weekend, he replaced Mkhitaryan and Ander Herrera with Fellaini and another defender, Eric Bailly. The game finished 1-0. Later the same month, leading 2-0 at West Ham, Herrera and Wayne Rooney were swapped for Fellaini and Chris Smalling. The game finished 2-0.
But leading 2-0 against Everton on Sunday, Mourinho made an attacking change. Martial came on for Mkhitaryan and scored the fourth, albeit from the penalty spot.
After seven games in all competitions so far this season, United substitutes have contributed six goals. At the same stage last season, just one goal had come from the bench.
Mourinho insists United's flurry of late goals is a consequence of the Premier League's shift towards a back three. It is his opinion that it has made teams more defensive, and when managers try to chase games in the closing stages, they lose their shape.
"I think the Premier League is becoming very defensive," he said at Old Trafford on Sunday. "I think many teams try to play with five in the back plus two or three in the middle, some teams four, and in some matches the two teams try to match each other and play the same system.
"Sometimes when you have a little bit more space you try, so in the last part of the game they were losing 1-0 and then 2-0 and they tried to come more, so I think this is it."
United legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, meanwhile, believes United have benefitted from being patient.
"There's a bit of a pattern building in terms of getting in front and then being patient," he told Sky Sports. "The other team gets desperate and United score goals late on in the game. It has happened two or three times now this season, I think Jose is renowned as being a patient coach and his team look like they have the maturity to be able to handle it."
It has helped United score half the number of late goals they managed in the entire last campaign already: Mourinho's team scored 20 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches over the course of 64 games in 2016-17.
Even during the treble season in 1998-99, Ferguson's side managed 21 late goals in 63 games, although two from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won them the Champions League against Bayern Munich.
"I've always believed that it is part of Manchester United that if you're down with 10 minutes to go, gamble. Risk has got to be part of the club," Ferguson said after his retirement. It's always worth risking. Some of the greatest moments during my time at United came in the last 10 minutes without question."
United's greatest manager seems to have passed that particular baton on to Mourinho.
Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.