United boss Jose Mourinho needs Sevilla success in Champions League clash

Author: JONATHAN WILSONID: 1520884984663298800Tue, 2018-03-13 02:00LONDON: Jose Mourinho was too canny to answer the question directly. Had he targeted Dejan Lovren in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool on Saturday? Romelu Lukaku had “fancied his chances” against the Croatian defender, he eventually conceded. Of course he had.
What powerful central striker would not? And Liverpool, perhaps because of how they push high up the pitch, seemed unable to support Lovren and deal with the second ball once he had won the flick-on. Two long straight balls and two headers won brought two goals.
“I’m not the kind of mechanic coach that says A pass to B, B pass to C, and C to D,” Mourinho said. “I’m much more a supporter of ‘prepare the players to decide well and feel the game.’” This has been a consistent line of thought throughout his career. Last season, Eden Hazard said that the main tactical difference between Antonio Conte and Mourinho was that the present Chelsea manager has his side practice “automizations.” Mourinho does not work on preprogrammed passing sequences, which was one of the major criticisms his Real Madrid players had of him. They felt they were always being asked to improvise and that that was creating difficulties when they came up against massed defenses, as they habitually did.
When those sequences go well, the effect can be devastating. The counter-attacking games of Conte’s Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Joachim Low’s Germany, for example, benefit from players knowing exactly how they should break. They already know where to run, where the pass should be played, speeding up the whole process.
Mourinho, though, believes that football is too random for such automizations to always be effective. He prefers to instil in his players the right mentality, an understanding of the game such that, rather than reaching for a pre-packaged move, they create their own solution to any given problem on the pitch. Perhaps that means that they at times lack the pace or fluency of their rivals but it should also make them less predictable, less easy to stop, more able to react to circumstance.
United will not always play long to Lukaku, but they can do so should the circumstances demand it. Mourinho’s sides will always set up to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness. That is central to his way of doing things. After United had beaten Ajax to win the Europa League last season, that was central to his post-match narrative-making. He had been “humble;” he had adapted to “the strengths of the opponent.”
The problem is that while that may bring success, it is not necessarily the sort of success that is relished by fans of the biggest clubs. In an era in which other managers have a clear philosophy, Mourinho’s is an anti-philosophy; he defines himself and his team in opposition to his opponent. He is a master of exposing vulnerability, but Madrid or United perhaps feel they should rather be accentuating their own strength.
Even on Saturday, amid what should have been the joy of a win over their biggest rivals, a victory that all but assures United of second place in the league, there were two revealing moments of grumbling from the Old Trafford crowd: When Marcus Rashford was substituted and when Scott McTominay, on a counter, checked back rather than risk losing possession. McTominay did a fine job of protecting his back four, but it says much for his style of play that only four of his 42 touches on Saturday came more than 10 yards inside the Liverpool half and so he became the focus of wider concerns. United may have won, but they only had 32 percent possession in a home game.
Most will accept the reactive approach so long as it is successful, but it does place an even greater premium than usual on victory, and that is why today’s Champions League tie against Sevilla is so vital.
With the league gone, the Champions League is what may give this season meaning for United. This tie has become a microcosm of Mourinho’s approach. They should prevail, but if they do not, the biggest question will be why United were so cautious, why they accepted a 0-0 in the away leg against a side that has such obvious defensive weaknesses.
Main category: SportsTags: soccerfootballManchester UnitedSevillaPremier leagueUEFA Champions LeagueEuropeEnglandSpainrelated_nodes: “I don’t care what people say”: Jose Mourinho blasts critics after United beat LiverpoolLike him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho just keeps finding a way to deliver when it mattersAlexis Sanchez yet to shine at Manchester United, admits Jose Mourinho

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