Like him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho just keeps finding a way to deliver when it matters

Author: DUNCAN CASTLESSat, 2018-03-10 20:55ID: 1520701837934185100LONDON: If you ask Jose Mourinho which match brought him the most satisfaction in his second stint as Chelsea manager, he will tell you it was the day he went to Liverpool with “a second team” and stopped their title celebrations.
There were parallels at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Liverpool arrived in Manchester crowing of their attacking football, buoyed by a run of 25 points from 10 games, just one defeat in 20, and a confidence that a win here would take them ahead of their great rivals in the table.
Progress to the Champions League quarterfinals had supporters talking of Jurgen Klopp winning the thing. Virgil van Dijk and Loris Karius were being lauded as the answer to long-standing defensive problems. A campaign was gathering pace for leading scorer Mohamed Salah to be named England’s player of the year.
Then the Reds ran into Mourinho.
As for October’s draw at Anfield, the Portuguese had to structure a midfield without his club’s most expensive investment. Injured in training on Friday, Paul Pogba was replaced by Juan Mata; Mourinho citing his “capacity to move into areas where he can connect our game.”
United’s recent 4-1-2-3 changed to a system where Mata, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford operated in a line of three behind Romelu Lukaku. Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay shielding a defense instructed to cede Liverpool neither space nor time on the ball near the home penalty area.
Mourinho then took out Liverpool’s high press by having balls struck long to Lukaku; the center forward happily taking on Dejan Lovren to win aerial delivery and redistribute it to his fellow attackers. Inside 24 minutes this method produced two goals.
Riding a wave of fine form, Lukaku was monstering Lovren, a center back whose ability to defend long balls was ridiculed by his own coach earlier this season. For United’s first, the bearish Belgian flicked a header into the channel behind a somnolent Trent Alexander-Arnold. Marcus Rashford sprinted away from the defender, chopped back as the right back lunged to block, then rifled past Karius.
Ten minutes later, the same goal kick from David de Gea, another easy aerial triumph for Lukaku, and Mata’s shot cannons off a scrambling Virgil van Dijk. Unmonitored on the left again, Rashford beats Karius’ dive again. Had Mata converted his overhead when left in glorious isolation a quarter of an hour later, the game would have been stone dead before the break.
Instead Liverpool were granted hope by an uncharacteristic Eric Bailly error, the returning center back turning a cross past his own goalkeeper. Klopp, as is his wont, berated the referee for awarding fouls against his team, and for not awarding a penalty when Marouane Fellaini challenged Sadio Mane near the end.
As for Salah, the Egypt international was all but taken out of the game by makeshift left back Ashley Young. His sole shot a wild blaze over the bar deep in injury time.
The week, like most weeks since Mourinho was appointed United manager, saw criticism of his team’s style of play. Two Liverpool regulars were drawn into what often seems like a moral crusade over how coaches should go about winning football matches.
Lovren said he expected United to “defend really deep” and attempt to “win ugly.” “For them it will be maybe a good point but for us, we never play for a point,” he declared. Mane said he preferred Liverpool’s way of playing as “an attacking team,” arguing that “if they defend deep it can be good for us.”
That Liverpool, with just one outside chance of lifting silverware this season, seek superiority in aesthetics says much about their record at the business end of campaigns. This is a club that last won the English title 28 years ago and last won significant silverware of any sort in 2012.
The point scoring over their relative strength in attack, ignores the fact that the last manager to bring a European trophy to Anfield was the uber-pragmatic Rafael Benitez. It also draws attention away from Klopp’s October 2015 assertion that “when I’m sat here in four years I think we won one title in this time.”
Klopp subsequently made it known that by “title,” he merely meant a trophy. Perhaps the German will traverse that lower bar before next year is out. Perhaps he won’t. Either way Mourinho will carry on finding ways to win when it matters.
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