The look of contentment that crossed Jose Mourinho face after the game at Anfield concluded, was nullified by a sense of achievement- that he had got what he came for. His comments after the game suggested both, apart from how the new Manchester United manager had turned the tables around when people were counting the Red Devils out before a ball was kicked.
The game was a tactical one, as both sides afforded too much respect to each other. Jurgen Klopp’s men, who are known to be a side filled with flair going forward, were kept quiet by a resilient and determined United side for most periods of the game.
Liverpool never got their usual attacking swagger back at a time when United did just what Jose Mourinho wanted to do- prove that Klopp’s side isn’t the ‘last wonder of the world’. And against a side that had scored thirteen goals in the last four games, the effort was certainly commendable.
The manner in which United eked out a deserved point has drawn criticism from fans, with the main reason being that the style was drab. The amount of focus that was laid on defending and disrupting Liverpool’s play was immense and the focus on doing one’s own bit going forward was considerably less. But it all comes down the fact that most had expected Mourinho’s United to play this way, apart from some. If Louis van Gaal’s side and style was boring, then the word ‘boring’ was the same way in which yesterday’s performance was described as. But it was coming. Its Jose Mourinho we’re talking about.
The inclusion of Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young in the line-up clearly suggested the approach Mourinho will apply to the game, as United had the lowest percentage of possession they’ve had since 2003. Young is someone who is defensively sound and Fellaini happens to be arguably one of the best in the Premier League for disrupting opposition’s play, by hook or by crook. And a majority of United fans seemed disillusioned by the team that had been put out, giving a feeling that the game had ended much before it had started. And against a side that was flying, in terms of goal-scoring, the trademark was a way of Mourinho saying that “No matter how many times you score against other sides, you can’t score against Manchester United. Not even once.”
It was coming really, in one game or another. A manager as renowned as Jose Mourinho would never shed his identity and what has made him what he is today. And this being his so-called ‘dream job’, he’ll certainly show what he’s capable of. Liverpool, who have now earned a reputation for a forward-passing side, who makes runs off the ball really well, were blunted out soundly. They made only four key passes throughout the game and played more back and side passes than forward passes, which is extremely rare for a Jurgen Klopp unit, that thrives on playing football at breakneck pace.
But the degree of acceptance that the style has received from United faithfuls is low, considering the amount of harking back to the Sir Alex times takes place. What is demanded out of a United side everytime they take to the pitch is that they must play entertaining football, not pragmatic football. And the pragmatic approach is what Mourinho took, which is his own way of doing things. And one would be a fool if one didn’t know the Mourinho style of winning things, before hailing him as a savior for a struggling club.
Critics were doubting Mourinho and how he has lost his old charm and style. And some of the previous results were being used as a indicator for the erosion of his abilities. But there was Mourinho, with a whole plan to prove those detractors, wrong up his sleeve. And he well and truly proved that he still is the Jose Mourinho that thrives on the criticism he garners.
United had the duo of Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan out with injuries, which could’ve convinced Mourinho further into applying his trademark ‘park the bus’ rule. And the presence of even a single one, since both have come close to acting as a scourge for Liverpool in the past, could’ve aided United a lot. They have the pace on the break to threaten any defense in the world and they’ve already shown glimpses of changing games for United. In attack, United did look slightly disappointing but could’ve scored one through Zlatan Ibrahimovic, if they Swede had got his header off a Paul Pogba cross on target.
The defensive part of United’s play looked sorted. Although, the attacking part lacked a bit of venom but everything in life is a process, much like how a football team has to function according to the manager’s whims and fancies. The process has reached a stage where Mourinho is edging close to working his magic. A majority of United fans may not laud it, much like last night but every manager has his own, unique way of winning things.
People had counted United out. But Mourinho helped prove those people wrong. With his own tactics. They were albeit, structured and defensive, but United fans and the club must’ve been careful about what to wish for by roping in someone like him in the first place. We’ve seen the real face of Jose Mourinho at other clubs, but not at United.
And it was long overdue. This wasn’t the end. This was just the beginning.