THE return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea with his club Manchester United was always going to attract comment, especially given the typical friction between the self-styled “Special One” and his successor, Antonio Conte.
Mourinho rarely looks happy when he’s happy, but his persona these days looks a little sad, even though he’s manager of United and has won a couple of trophies in his short time at the club. The fact is, it is unlikely that United will win the Premier this season, especially after their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea. Paul Wilson of the Observer said that “enjoyment seems to be eluding Mourinho this season”, a reflection of the sour-faced post-match mask, akin to a hormonal teenager, that he now adopts.
Tottenham and Manchester City are getting praise for their football, but Mourinho said: “The way Tottenham played against Real Madrid? I think I recently saw a team play exactly that way and the reaction was negative.” Instead of looking on in wonder, Mourinho sticks to his own ethos: “There are lots of poets in football, but poets don’t win many titles.”
So after losing 1-0, the media was quick to write-off Mourinho’s team. Amy Lawrence said his “tried and tested formula looks dated”, harking back to the day when his “cool” ground-out results in big games. But as Lawrence pointed out, in 10 games against top six teams away from home, Mourinho’s teams have scored only once. “Until Mourinho can rediscover the clinical edge he used to instil in his teams for big away games, it is hard to see how he can pick a more equal fight with Pep Guardiola,” noted Lawrence. And therein lies part of the problem, the reason that Mourinho looks unhappy despite a decent start to 2017-18 – City, across the way, are playing the best football seen in England for some years.
Jonathan Wilson described Mourinho’s tactics as “stubbornly dogmatic” and suggested they are taking their toll on United. Wilson, one of the best analysts of form and function, talked of Mourinho’s pragmatic style, but reminded us that, “football generally has a tendency to use pragmatic as a synonym for defensive”.
Comparisons between United’s meek display at Stamford Bridge and Manchester City’s 1-0 win at the same stadium are inevitable, and also underline the size of the task for Mourinho to maintain his record of winning the title in his second season with a club. “There was never a thought of taking the game to Chelsea as Guardiola had.”
Wilson is also mildly critical of Mourinho’s use of Marouane Fellaini as a creative outlet, calling the midfielder a “Belgian bag of elbows”. Admittedly, United were without Paul Pogba, which may have changed the game, but in the absence of the tall Frenchman, Mourinho’s team appears to lack any element of fantasy.
Sources: The Observer, The Guardian