The self-proclaimed “Special One” has managed giants all across the continent. As it became increasingly apparent the Portuguese manager was set to take the reins of England’s most financially capable club, many expected Mourinho to spend excessively and win effortlessly.
In truth, Mourinho’s Manchester United are still very much in the transition phase of the project constructed by the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan manager.
Despite only being defeated nine times in United’s 64 games in all competitions and the celebration of three trophies, on the surface Mourinho looks to have had a very successful debut campaign at Old Trafford. However, scratch under the surface of United’s team and you find struggles, particularly at home.
Mourinho’s unveiling in the North West led to expectations being proliferated. Following a high spending summer which included the arrival of world record signing Paul Pogba, many pundits and fans believed United would be sit at the summit of what was anticipated to be a very competitive Premier League.
Quite simply, if Manchester United hadn’t of drawn 15 games this season, they would have been challenging for the title.
If we delve into the statistics, they make for interesting reading. United conceded the second least amount of goals (29) in the Premier League. Only Tottenham conceded less (26). Manchester United conceded 12 of these goals at home, and whilst they conceded more goals away from home, more draws were played out at home.
Nine of the 15 draws United suffered were at Old Trafford, which is remarkable when considering how the season had the potential to play out if one or two more goals were scored. With an average of 55% possession, its clear Mourinho encouraged an offensively, possession based brand of football which stems from a defensive solidarity.
It’s intriguing when investigating the source of United’s conceded goals. Despite a possession based philosophy, United didn’t concede a single goal in a responsive counter attack. Set pieces and open play goals were a regular thorn in United’s game.
What’s more intriguing is when you compare these defensive frailties with Mourinho’s Premier League winning Chelsea side only two years previous. Goals conceded from set pieces exactly emulate the number of goals Chelsea conceded in their title winning season. However, unlike United, Chelsea conceded more goals from open play and won the division. Quite staggering.
“So, is this a question of Manchester United being unlucky?”
Well, Manchester spent significantly higher than Mourinho’s title winners down south. There are direct similarities in respect to the footballing philosophy deployed and goals conceded. However, 54 goals scored is considerably less than any other team in the top six this term. Under Mourinho, United have average 1.64 goals a game. Interestingly, United scored more goals, on average, under David Moyes…
When you throw into the equation the high calibre of signings brought to the club by Mourinho, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic and Pogba, the blunt attacking force becomes unimaginable. These players should, quite simply, be scoring goals. In Ibrahimovic’s defence, he has converted 17 of United’s 54 league goals. For a player of 35, that’s incredible going.
Maybe it’s a case of the Red Devils being heavily reliant on the Swedish international for constant goals. Contrastingly, the expense and quality visible in players such as Mata, Rooney and Martial to name only three, should be a consistent source of chances and goals. This year, Mourinho hasn’t found a system or philosophy to aid the offensive quality of the aforementioned quality.
It’s often stated that Jose Mourinho’s sides are undoubtedly successful in the second season of his reign. No matter where he has coached, he has, usually, delivered a title in the second season. With the correct additions and a sharpened attacking threat, there is no reason United couldn’t challenge the top two.
As Pep Guardiola looks to revolutionise English football, Mourinho is an example who has adapted his teams to suit the physical nature of the division. Cast back to his two love affairs with Chelsea and tough tackling, ball winning midfielders such as Claude Makelele and, most recently, Nemanja Matic were key to Mourinho’s side.
Mourinho believes in possession beginning with the goalkeeper, however, he wants a goalkeeper who, primarily, is better with his hands than his feet. Mourinho enjoys regressive centre backs with this being epitomised by John Terry in his Chelsea period and Pepe at Real Madrid.
What we’ve seen this year is Mourinho beginning to enjoy football again. Winning the Europa League and the pressure Mourinho placed on his players was like Mourinho of old. Not a ranting, raving and mind game playing coach, but a coach who had a game plan and clear objective to achieve, fundamentally, what was on his remit. To win trophies.
Let’s not forget, it was Van Gaal’s United who were in the Europa League and Mourinho won it. Proving United should be back in the executive stage of European football. This side and Mourinho’s rein is seemingly in its infancy and is being educated by an industrious master.
To summarise, Mourinho is orchestrating a side who knows its identity. After all, Louis van Gaal’s style and tempo of play was always going too hard to convert into a more potent, quicker style of play. It’s about patience. Three trophies is a remarkable opening season for any manager, the league position wasn’t good enough, simple as that.
But as the Champions League returns to Old Trafford next season, it will be followed by new, expensive signings. Mourinho’s pulling power and United’s legacy upon world football will mean the good times will, albeit eventually, return to the red half of Manchester.