The Hard Tackle analyses as to how people saw the Jose Mourinho of old as Manchester United earned a hard-fought 2-1 win over Chelsea on Sunday.
Manchester United fans had reasons to be pessimistic ahead of Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford on Sunday. United had not seem to be their usual selves in recent times, seldom showcasing their true attacking prowess and pedigree along with a rather predictable style of football. Romelu Lukaku’s woeful record against top six sides was an added worry.
Add to that the fact the recent rumours brewing of a rift between Mourinho and Pogba, with the manager benching the Frenchman in the last few games, and it was no wonder why even the noisy Old Trafford seemed a bit light on volume in the start.
The matters were not helped as Chelsea were the better team out the gates, with Morata hitting the crossbar in the first few minutes of the game. Manchester United slowly grew into the game and just when it looked like the Red Devils had gotten a grip of things.
Willian struck a dagger straight past David De Gea into the hearts of Manchester United fans worldwide and into the little momentum that United had managed to gather in the last few minutes.
But, this game was a bit different and we soon saw that as a brilliant move initiated by Alexis Sanchez saw Anthony Martial tee up Romelu Lukaku for the equalizer. The Belgian’s first touch, for once, did not disappoint him and he put it safely into the bottom corner.
But, things soon changed as Eden Hazard was brought off by Chelsea and Jose Mourinho chose to bring on Jesse Lingard. The United academy graduate’s movement was sure to trouble Chelsea. It sure did.
Romelu Lukaku turned provider with a great cross for Lingard, who finished with aplomb to give United the lead and ultimately, the win. Alvaro Morata did have a goal ruled out offside, despite replays showing he was being played on by Victor Lindelof, but the three points went to the hosts.
And Jose Mourinho won more than just the points. He put on a spectacle for the fans, showing that he still has his old charisma and winning charm within him. He topped it all off by handing his game notes to a young fan after the final whistle. Let us take a glance at a few things that signified that Mourinho was in his elements on the touchline on Sunday.
Positive Selection and Tactics
For once, Mourinho pleased almost the entirety of the fan base with his starting eleven, barring perhaps, the selection of Ashley Young and Chris Smalling.
Scott McTominay bossed the holding midfield area alongside Nemanja Matic and the young Scot went about his job with swagger, neutralising Eden Hazard to the extent that Conte had to bring the Belgian off, perhaps with the Barcelona game in mind. But, McTominay was the winner of the selection.
Pogba was not tipped to start by many, in line with Mourinho’s recent preferences. Not only did the Portuguese start Pogba, but the Frenchman delivered what was, arguably, his best performance in a Manchester United shirt this season.
Moving on to tactics, the decision to deploy Scott McTominay to mark Eden Hazard worked wonders, especially, with Alexis Sanchez being directed to take up the space left by McTominay in the midfield, at times.
Managers can often not help matters from the touchline. Regardless of whatever the instructions are, the football is entirely dependent on the players. But, what managers can do to make a difference is to bring on/ take off a player that changes the game.
While Lingard coming may not have seemed to be that brilliant of a move, once Hazard went off, it was the Jesse Lingard show. With United dominating proceedings thereafter, Valencia occupied much of the space out wide allowing Lingard to move freely, which caused havoc within the Chelsea backline and ultimately handed the hosts the winner.
The Bigger Man
Mourinho can often be very mean in his feud with other managers. But, even before the match started, he had iterated his desire to bury the hatchet with Conte and while the two shared an awkward handshake before the match, he ended the feud in style with a few light words and a smile with the Chelsea manager on the touchline during the game.
— United Xtra (@utdxtra) February 25, 2018
While this isn’t the usual Mourinho, it was heartening to see the Portuguese not be bitter on the touchline and actually enjoy the game after a considerable time.
Sunday saw swagger return to Old Trafford and in full force as Jose Mourinho played most of his cards right. Hopefully, this will be a platform for success in the matches to come in what is a crucial stretch of the season.