Jose Mourinho has again come in for criticism this week for his perceived “negative” tactics in Monday night’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool.
The Manchester United manager set his team up defensively to combat a Liverpool side that had scored 18 goals in their opening seven games.
While United managed to grab a point, Mourinho was lambasted by spectators for “parking the bus” after his side reportedly only managed 35% possession (although the Portuguese was quick to dispute the figure).
Rather than comparing him to Jurgen Klopp’s free-scoring side however, people should compare Mourinho to his predecessor.
Despite losing the eighth game of the season, Louis van Gaal still had a better record than Mourinho at this point. Van Gaal’s side were third with 16 points even after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal – this season United have two points fewer and are down in seventh.
At the start of the season it looked like United were back to their formidable, imposing selves. They looked in good shape, had a blank cheque book and a manager exuding enough confidence in his method to attract big players.
With the likes of Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the exciting Marcus Rashford behind the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it also looked as though they would get their attacking swagger back after the uninspiring football played under the Dutchman.
Things certainly started that way this season as United beat champions Leicester City before comfortably seeing off Bournemouth and Southampton in the league. They then overcame a defensively-resilient Hull City courtesy of a late Rashford winner to make it three wins out of three.
Alarm bells then began to ring over the next few games, though. They were first outclassed by their city rivals in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford before losing to Feyenoord in Europe and Watford again in the league.
United have found their form since then, with Mourinho making some tactical changes resulting in a commanding win at home to Leicester. Since then the only real blip has been a 1-1 draw to Stoke with came courtesy of an outstanding performance from the Potters’ Lee Grant in goal and a David de Gea mistake.
The draw at Anfield is hardly a disaster – if anything shutting out Jurgen Klopp’s side should be commended – and it fits Mourinho’s policy of making sure he doesn’t lose against the big teams.
But you have to question if United are really moving forward, particularly as Van Gaal managed four league wins in a row against the Reds.
Mourinho’s appointment wasn’t met with unanimous joy from United fans for two main reasons: his negative brand of football and poor track record in bringing through youth players.
Van Gaal was criticised for favouring controlling possession above all else. Mourinho is almost the antithesis of this, relinquishing possession in order to remain disciplined and solid. One thing both managers shared is that neither approach seems to be yielding goals.
One area that the Dutchman certainly has the Portuguese beaten on is youth development. Van Gaal handed a host of young players their debuts including Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Timothy Fosu-Mensah among many others.
While Lingard has clocked up minutes from the off, Rashford had to settle for substitute appearances until Mourinho couldn’t ignore his form, but the highly-regarded Fosu-Mensah hasn’t played a single league minute.
In Mourinho’s defence, he has been at the club only a few months, a period in which Van Gaal struggled.
But you do get the feeling the purpose of hiring Mourinho – who many saw as the opposite of ‘The United Way’ – was to get results, and get them fast. The higher-ups were almost making a deal with the devil by hiring a man with a track record of trophies and chaos, having never lasted longer than three full seasons.
They also pledged £150m to challenge for a title, not the top-four.
Ferguson was very rarely known for parking the bus; in fact, he’d have thrown everything forward in the last 15 minutes after holding Liverpool off to try and steal a late win, something Mourinho never looked like doing.
If the Portuguese isn’t going to favour youth or attractive football he needs to start getting three points rather than one, especially as people begin to remember the good things his predecessor did.
Until he does that, criticism will continue to follow him around.