By Felix Law.
Jose Mourinho might have returned to Chelsea on Sunday with optimism having beaten his former club in the Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010. Mourinho clearly had a point to prove not only to Manchester United club board of directors and fans but also to his former club (Chelsea) after his dismissal in December having won three Premier League titles (Chelsea’s first in 50 years), an FA Cup and two League Cups in two spells at the club making him the club’s most successful manager.
Fast forward to the end of the game against the Blues, Manchester United were completely blown away by the London side conceding within 30 seconds of kick-off and with a further three to complete the routing. However, bettors with betbind who placed their money on United were already counting their losses. Though this was embarrassing, it wasn’t surprising as the signs have all been there since the start of the season considering their below average form after their first three games of the season.
One thing Mourinho must do to ensure United do not continue with the rot is to ensure his team are fit and strong to go. Against Chelsea, United lost 50-50 physical duels, as well as looking like a team suffering a hang over, unable to react or chase the ball as N’Golo Kante, Pedro and Matic ran them haggard. This is not the first time United appear tired and unable to outpace their opponents as this was the same case against Manchester City in the 2-1 loss in September. Against Liverpool in the first half, United controlled proceedings, controlling the tempo of the game and restricting agile Liverpool to their final third but this quickly changed in the second half as Liverpool took back the initiative as United dropped deep content to sit back and defend. To become more agile and aggressive , Jose Mourinho must drop the likes of Maroune Felliani and Jesse Lingard for Ashley Young and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who are not only creative but also can stretch defences.
The second point to be noted is that Mourinho must change his style and tactics to become more adventitious and attacking. Having spent an excess of £150 million on attacking players like Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly (ball playing and attack minded defender) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free transfer) it is shocking that Mourinho continues to play cautious football despite the abundance of attacking players at his disposal. Paul Pogba might have flopped in his time at the club, having an above average game just twice (Southampton and Leicester City) in his eight games in the league and flopping massively against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea but it must be noted that the Frenchman thrives when he is relieved of defensive responsibilities.
At Juventus, Pogba played deep but had the freedom to roam forward with the likes of Clausio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo beside him doing more of the tackling and defending. Pogba isn’t a fast explosive player nor he is one that hassles and tackles opposition players, hence his pairing either with Ander Herrera or Fellaini deep in central midfield is unlikely to produce the much needed result.
To get the best out of the Frenchman, United need to play high with at least two fast and agile players in central midfield to help out with the defensive work required. Hence the reason for a change to a 4-3-3 formation that will see Rojo replace Chris Smalling in central defence partnering Eric Bailly when he returns from injury with Antonio Valencia and Danny Blind retaining their place in defence.
The likes of Herrera and Pogba can play deep in central midfield allowing Mkhitaryan to play behind the main striker while Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young or Juan Mata play out on the wings depending on the opposition while Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be retained in attack as the front man. Though this style is a bit similar to United’s present 4-2-3-1 formation, it will allow them to play higher up the pitch where the likes of Rashford, Pogba and Mkhitaryan are more dangerous.
Also, the 4-3-3 will give them the needed pace in midfield which was clearly lacking in the game against Chelsea where Rashford and Young will stretch opposition defence while Pogba and Mkhitaryan provide the much needed chances for less mobile Ibrahimovic.
For now, Jose Mourinho will surely feel betrayed by his players who were abysmal on Sunday as he suffered his worst defeat as a Premier League manager against his former side but one thing he must realise is that his greatest problem isn’t with the players but rather with his style and tactics as his present players are unsuitable to his present style.