The Telegraph exposed how Jose Mourinho and Man U were torn apart by Chelsea. JJ Bull wrote: “When you come with a strategy you can’t concede after 30 seconds,” said Jose Mourinho, suggesting he intended to come away from Stamford Bridge having frustrated everyone with a tough fought, low scoring draw. Maybe even a win. We should be so lucky!
Until Pedro spoiled the plan within 27 seconds of kick-off, everyone expected this to be one of those games you wish you could instantly forget. Man Utd were competing against an in-form title rival at a ground Mourinho once made a fortress against a team he should know inside out – parking the bus seemed inevitable. Instead, United were absolutely destroyed, looked devoid of energy and were easily torn apart.
How did it happen?
Antonio Conte has found a perfect balance in his team with a 3-4-3, a system that gets the best out of his best players. Eden Hazard has freedom upfront and isn’t made to focus on defending, Diego Costa has allies in attack to deflect attention away from only him, and the three centre-backs work really well as a unit – particularly when David Luiz or Gary Cahill venture forward into midfield.
Mourinho, by contrast, has done nothing to adopt his system to suit the Man Utd players at his disposal and instead seems determined not to accept that his marriage to a 4-2-3-1 is going through something of a rocky patch.
United should have been totally up for this, ready for a battle and switched on from the first whistle. Nobody in a red shirt even touched the ball before Pedro made it 1-0. Paul Pogba, the £89million man, looked lost throughout. Never quite sure whether to be a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder or whatever it is Paul Pogba is best at.
Below he is in the holding midfield role while Marouane Fellaini, who is supposed to be the holding midfielder, is off on the right wing half heartedly trying to tackle Nemanja Matic.
Daley Blind is worried about how fast Pedro is and doesn’t step up level with the defence, who are supposed to stand in a straight line to deal with the exact kind of pass Matic makes.
Pedro is onside, clearly, and Chris Smalling cannot believe what has happened.
He gestures with his arms, running at full speed towards the scene, to imply that Blind might not be doing the best defending of his career at this exact moment.
De Gea comes out, Pedro goes round him, Mourinho’s plan to sit, frustrate and go from there has been blown into smithereens.
Getting the basics right
United weren’t so much rattled by this early goal as not bothered and continued making stupid defensive errors throughout. Rather than players being lazy, it seems more that they just don’t read danger signs as they are presented.
In the 13th minute, Chelsea gave them a scare from a corner. Three players sat at the edge of the box, United marked zonally. In theory, if these three players run into the box to attack the ball, there would be a defender in the right space to head it away.
Nobody is looking after Eden Hazard here. Not one player thinks it might be an idea to specifically look after one of the best attackers on the pitch, whether by Mourinho instruction, fear or naivety.
United’s players, except Smalling, don’t react with anger. They stand still, lean back and seem to collectively sigh as they watch Chelsea run off celebrating. Mourinho looks at them with resignation and a look that suggests he’d rather not be their friend – there is a lack of intensity and fight about United that has been present for far too long and Mourinho hasn’t managed to have any effect on it at all so far.
A lack of intensity
Past Mourinho teams have been disciplined, a little dirty and battled until the result was secured. United simply don’t seem to have that dynamism, bite or energy they need to take games to opposition.
United have covered 945.8km as a team so far – the lowest in the entire Premier League. Liverpool, who have run the most, have covered 1045.1km.
Of all the teams above United in the actual league table, only Everton have made fewer sprints. Even Swansea sprint more and they’re not even very good.
If you consider United’s starting XI in this game, only Valencia, Rashford and Lingard are really what you’d consider quick. Mourinho’s favoured tactic is to have his team win the ball back and quickly get it forward to take advantage of a team being disorganised in transition yet we aren’t seeing this at all. Other teams are much better at winning the ball back, work much harder to do so and have quicker players to take advantage of this.
With nobody in midfield really breaking up play besides Herrera, Rashford played out of position and Ibrahimovic expected to lead the line while entirely isolated, United can’t counter-attack. When they go forward, one mistake leaves them heavily outnumbered on the counter and so to avoid either of these situations, they play rigid defensive football to try and grind out wins from opposition mistakes.
A bit like Sunderland.
Expecting attacking players to defend
The third goal was an example of terrible defending by players who aren’t defenders. Valencia, a right winger made to play right-back, is caught way too far away from his nearest centre-back as Chelsea build up the play outside the box. His first priority as a full-back must be to close that space and keep the back line tight, not look for the chance to counter-attack as his starting position suggests he is doing.
It looks increasingly more like Mourinho doesn’t know how to get the best out of Pogba and that it might cost rather a lot more in player recruitment to fix that problem.
He’s a great player in a great team but looks distinctly average in this average team. Pogba has been on the periphery of some decent United play but has served only to make them weaker in a key area of the pitch while his attacking skills are under utilised due to the system and quality of teammates.
Lack of balance
This is Mourinho’s biggest challenge. The current United XI has no balance – on paper the players fit his defensive 4-2-3-1 but in practice they don’t suit it.
Rashford is a goal poaching striker made to be ineffective on the wing, Mata is a number 10 played everywhere but number 10, Herrera is a tidy midfielder but not one to dominate a game, nobody knows what a Fellaini is but should know he is not a Champions League standard midfield destroyer, Valencia is a winger, Lingard is the most medium footballer ever and Pogba can’t play at his best when there are so many weaker players alongside him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic hasn’t scored in five Premier League games but he is clearly brilliant and needs support – the lack of balance throughout United’s team isn’t conducive to creating chances nor defending well and at times Zlatan, frustrated by how little of the ball he sees, drops into the number 10 role simply to get involved.
When he does this he is far more effective than Pogba, takes charge of the play and links passes but leaves a striker sized hole up front. Rashford can’t run into that space because he’s supposed to be on the left, blocking the full-back and maybe putting a cross in if he gets the chance.