One of the biggest games in English football took place on a Monday night of a Champions League week this season. Think about that for a moment.
That fact sums up how far Manchester United and Liverpool have fallen and why both teams cancelled each other out on the night. José Mourinho followed tradition and parked the bus, frustrating Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool – but nobody sets up his team not to lose quite like the former Chelsea boss.
Manchester United fans must surely forget the ‘United way’ and get used to the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson has departed. The club are on to their third manager since the Scot’s departure in 2013, and the grieving process must now end. The media, too, must stop turning the camera to capture Ferguson at every game they play, as they have done so for the past three seasons. History has recorded his achievements, and a new man is trying to find his way forward.
A point away at Anfield is a good result no matter how little possession the team had. Liverpool lost to Burnley with over 80% possession. The media are too focused on statistics such as the most tackles won, the most interceptions, who ran the farthest? However, at the end of the day all that matters is getting the three points.
While United fans may never agree with the tactics of Mourinho, the guy is a proven winner and given time he will bring success to Manchester United. There is no reason to believe he won’t.
Perhaps the media building the game up to something it was never going to be was part of the disappointment in the football we witnessed. Mourinho has spoilt the party so many times in big games, why were we surprised Monday night was any different? It was never going to be a goal fest.
Nobody gave United a chance against a high-flying Liverpool side that put four past Arsenal and three past Chelsea. Mourinho used his experience to nullify their threat and left with a share of the spoils.
There won’t be any DVDs made of ‘Red Monday’, but what did come from the game is a clear sign that Mourinho is finding out more about his players. They all played the game he demanded, even if Paul Pogba – yet again – found it difficult to quite adjust to his manager’s tactics. But for a bad miss from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the visitors could have stolen all three points.
The departure of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs are a massive loss to any team, let alone a team who also arguably lost the world’s greatest football manager in Sir Alex. Wayne Rooney’s loss of form is another blow to Mourinho at a time when he needs characters like his captain to step up and lead from the front. The club, to me, are lacking the characters needed to bring success, at least in the short term.
The United squad is unbalanced with Mourinho still searching for the right formation. Klopp has found his at Liverpool but he has also had a year to run the rule over his squad. His counterpart used his experience to stop Klopp executing his own plan on Monday night, while ensuring his side did not leave empty handed.
The performances of Eric Bailly, Ander Herrera and David de Gea shows the signs are good and that Mourinho actually has players playing out of their skin for him. The Portuguese has only been at the helm for one transfer window to date; he knows who he wants, who is surplus to requirements and, no doubt, what he must do to get the key personnel in place. The omission of Rooney in arguably United’s biggest game of the season so far suggests the latter’s days at the club could be numbered. The next two transfer windows (more so next summer) will see United truly turning into Mourinho’s United.
Supporters demand success, of course, and Mourinho will need time to get it right on the pitch. This season will not be pretty and we can expect more of the same when Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and no doubt throughout the season.
The bigger picture suggests the 53-year-old will get it right at Old Trafford. If he were to get three points on Sunday, four points from two tough away fixtures would be a decent return as they prepare to face another tough game in Manchester City in the EFL Cup the following Wednesday.
While first place is where Manchester United want to be, a top four finish and a return to Champions League football is a must for Mourinho who can then press on with his job and further strengthen his squad in the coming months and years.
Negative tactics may not win you many plaudits yet true United fans will take long-term, sustained success over getting one over on their rivals any day. Points win you leagues, not bragging rights.
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena
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