Mourinho justifies defensive style with results, that will continue at Chelsea
Manchester United take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this Sunday and it will be interesting to see if the overreaction to the tactics Jose Mourinho will employ will match what was said following United's 0-0 draw against Liverpool. It was as if Mourinho was a manager no one had ever heard of before, whose tactics were completely alien, and that taking a point away from Anfield was United's worst ever result.
The reality is that Mourinho was always going to set up his team the way he did against Liverpool, as this is what he always does in big games, and in Sir Alex Ferguson's final six trips to Anfield in all competitions he won one, drew one, and lost four.
In 2008, United came racing out of the blocks and Carlos Tevez put the visitors ahead after three minutes. Ferguson opted to start a forward line including the Argentinian, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, much to the delight of United fans ahead of kickoff. Ferguson's side had 46 percent possession, considerably more than Mourinho's United teams did in either of their appearances there, yet lost 2-1.
"It's boring though!" people cry. Not as boring as it became turning up at Anfield and expecting defeat, which is how it felt for several years as a United fan under Ferguson.
On the back of that goalless draw, all the occasions where United had scored four goals, which was six times in the 10 games they had played at that point, were suddenly forgotten.
Some people argue they would rather see their team lose and go for the win than settle for a draw with the hope of stealing a win. This is a truly baffling outlook.
For all of Jurgen Klopp's claims that this approach wouldn't be accepted at Liverpool, you have to remind yourself of the purpose of playing. Of course the fans want to be entertained but then they also don't want to face a rival and lose. Ask the Liverpool supporters how they felt on the back of the 5-0 away drubbing against Manchester City and 4-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur. Is getting thrashed by teams you're supposedly competing with for the title accepted at Liverpool?
If Mourinho went in to every game with the intention of stifling the opposition and hoping to pounce on the counter, that would not be tolerated, but that quite obviously hasn't been the case. In the Premier League, only City have scored more goals than United, and in the Champions League United have scored more goals than the best teams in Spain, Germany and Italy, outscoring the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Napoli.
Yet whatever the score on Sunday, when United take on Chelsea, expect similar reactions of faux outrage and surprise. Let's save any time wondering what will happen and remind ourselves that Mourinho will certainly play a defensive lineup. He will be happy to see United surrender possession and create just one or two clear-cut opportunities over the 90 minutes.
Following the humiliating 4-0 defeat he suffered during his first return to Stamford Bridge last season, Mourinho wised up when United travelled there for the FA Cup in March.
Had Ander Herrera not been wrongly sent off with an hour to play, maybe Mourinho's tactics would have worked. Chelsea only managed a 1-0 win at home against United's 10 men, with the Spaniard a key player in the manager's plan.
When Antonio Conte's team came to Old Trafford a couple of months later, Mourinho had it sussed. United won 2-0 and stopped Chelsea from having a single shot on target for the first time in a decade.
The managers will likely relish the opportunity to pit their wits against each other again. Mourinho has enjoyed the better start to the season and will sit above Chelsea in the league come Monday morning whatever the result.
Interestingly, it may well be Nemanja Matic who plays a key role. Conte has repeatedly voiced his frustration over Chelsea allowing the midfielder to leave for United and those complaints were well founded, given how well Matic has played for his new club so far this season.
Tiemoue Bakayoko has been a poor man's Matic when being asked to play during N'Golo Kante's time out injured and the pressure will be on him to prove his worth on Sunday.
Mourinho is another who will want to prove himself, even if he claims he has no emotional attachment to the match. Like he reminded their supporters last time, "Judas" is their No. 1 and he will be keen to show the damage his tactics can cause, even if that is merely a 1-0 win. The three points are all that matter and if he leaves Stamford Bridge with them he won't care one jot about claims he parked the bus.
Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.