Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United squad finds itself in second place in the English Premier League table, well off Manchester City’s lead and in no position to mount a challenge. The squad was ultimately eliminated from the League Cup and its only chance for silverware is the FA Cup where the Red Devils are a semi finalist.
So where did it go wrong for United this season?
The short answer is that City is just that much better than the rest of the league. However, if you delve into the numbers, there are some tactical issues that are holding the squad back. Although it was doubtful they’d be much closer in the league table, bowing out of Europe to a Sevilla squad with less talent, losing a League Cup tie with Bristol City, and several other poor losses in the league season to teams like Huddersfield and Newcastle, leave the United supporter scratching his or her head.
United, despite having talent like Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku in attack, have garnered just 58 goals in the regular season. They managed just 1 goal in the loss to Bristol City and most shockingly, just 1 goal across two legs against Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16.
It is no secret that Mourinho’s tactics are defensive oriented – United knew what they signed for from the start.
His style relies on brilliant counter-attacking football and a very orchestrated attack that has failed the Red Devils far too many times.
The issue for me really isn’t tactics. Everyone wants to blame Mourinho for the goals not going in as if Mourinho says to his players “don’t score”. It isn’t the case at all in most games.
In certain instances, particularly against Sevilla, it was fair to criticize the gaffer. In those games, the Red Devils employed a very defensive mindset especially at Sevilla in the first leg, but even in the second game as well at Old Trafford. It seemed like Mourinho played for the 0-0 on the road, something he does in Europe consistently to a lot of success, but not this year for United. He seemed to have his wing backs sit back and defend even at Old Tafford in that loss. They only pushed forward after allowing a crucial away goal and had to chase the game.
For the most part this season however, the team has played with an offensive mindset with the wing backs firing forward and defensive mids Matic and McTominay venturing forward in attack. This was successful in a roaring comeback against Crystal Palace, but too often has resulted in frustration in the final third.
On the road, Mourinho employs the counterattacking style. It worked to perfection against Aresnal and when he employed it at home against Chelsea. However, it was most egregiously bad at Tottenham a game in which United appeared to be playing for the 0-0 and eventually lost, and a terrible performance at Liverpool resulting in a lucky 0-0 draw.
Under Mourinho, the results have been mixed. This season has been frustrating, and a lack of a title charge is painful for a United fan to endure. However, you can’t argue with last year’s (I guess you can call) treble (Europa League, Community Shield and League Cup) with the victory in Europa leading to a return to the Champions League. We are also likely to return to Champions League football in 2018-19 with a top 4 finish.
What is hard to ignore however, is the regression in attacking players. Rashford looks far better in an England shirt than he does wearing a Red Devils kit and you have to wonder why? Alexis Sanchez came to United with deserved fanfare and found himself benched for a portion of his time with his new squad – and this is a world class player. We have’t even mentioned the Pogba drama.
Is Mourinho’s firm style making it difficult for attacking players to play with confidence? It very well could be. Tactically, for the most part, United has been attack minded, it remains to be seen however if he can get the best out of his talent and that may ultimately be his undoing.