Sunday October 7, 2018
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The players that Mourinho scapegoats willed Manchester United to a victory by playing the style they’ve been begging him to implement.
Manchester United was so bad in the opening 15 minutes of their match against Newcastle, it was easy to wonder if the players were trying to get Jose Mourinho fired. But they stormed back to life in the second half, pulling off a brilliant 3-2 comeback victory, and likely saving Mourinho’s job.
But Mourinho shouldn’t get any credit for the comeback, even if he was the one responsible for tweaking the strategy in the second half. United won the game playing in a manner that was completely antithetical to Mourinho’s professed style, and it was the players who he’s criticized most harshly that got the job done.
The best player in the second half was Paul Pogba. Once United switched to an all-out attacking tactic with very little structure, Pogba started driving the team forward. He led all players in touches, completed passes, and shots. Most of his passing was positive, and he had an assist.
Last season, Pogba was inexplicably dropped in favor of Scott McTominay, the prototype of a replacement-level player, so Mourinho could make a point about attitude or following instructions or something along those lines. Unsurprisingly, United didn’t get any better as a result of this change.
Pogba has been at the center of most Mourinho-related controversy over the past two years. Most of it is centered on him wanting to play a more creative role within a more attack-minded team than Mourinho is willing to field.
An excellent performance at the World Cup had fans hopeful that Pogba would finally have a big year at United, but his relationship with Mourinho appears to be getting worse, not better.
Pogba recently offered up a public criticism of Mourinho’s tactics, saying, “when we’re at home we should attack, attack, attack. That’s Old Trafford. We’re here to attack.” He added, “we should move better. We should move more.” Shortly afterwards, Pogba was banned from speaking with journalists. This happened just a few days after Mourinho and Pogba were filmed having a fight on the training ground, after which Pogba was reportedly told he would never wear the captain’s armband under Mourinho again.
The first goal was scored by Juan Mata, a player that Mourinho scapegoated for poor results at Chelsea in 2013.
While their relationship has been better at United, it’s notable that Mata is perhaps the player Mourinho has been meanest to in the past. Mourinho went so far as to say that Mata was not a hard worker.
The second goal was scored by Anthony Martial. He did this, in combination with a free-roaming and creative Pogba.
Martial has only made 18 starts and played around 1500 minutes in each of United’s last two seasons even though he’s probably the team’s best attacker. Mourinho’s refusal to give Martial a big role is inexplicable. Mourinho also weirdly criticized Martial for taking two days off for the birth of his child.
Saturday’s game-winning goal was scored by Alexis Sanchez.
Alexis was recently dropped from the squad after reportedly being yelled at in front of all of his teammates. When asked about the decision to not even include Alexis in the 18-man squad for a recent game, Mourinho said, “look for how many months are people asking for Martial, Martial, Martial and saying how Alexis isn’t playing well enough. This week it was time to agree and leave Alexis out.”
United was dragged to a comeback victory by the players that Mourinho has criticized most harshly, and they did it by playing in a way that they’ve hinted at wanting to play for years, in complete opposition to Mourinho’s professed philosophy. It was as anti-Mourinho of a comeback as a team managed by Mourinho could have possibly put together. It was more a validation of Mourinho’s critics than it was of him.
If the Manchester United board had decided they’d fire Mourinho in the event of a poor result against Newcastle, they should still go ahead and do it anyway.