Supreme tac­ti­cian Mourinho has plan to beat Liver­pool

Klopp’s Liver­pool will won­der what to ex­pect from arch-chameleon at An­field to­mor­row

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - James Ducker NORTH­ERN FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Manch­ester United travel to An­field to­mor­row, al­most ex­actly a year since their last visit, when they left with a point and Jose Mourinho rail­ing against the crit­i­cism heaped on his shoul­ders af­ter a goal­less draw.

Liver­pool mus­tered three shots on tar­get to United’s one that night, de­spite hav­ing 65 per cent of the ball, and Mourinho was be­mused that crit­ics were quick to con­demn a game-plan that had not only sti­fled Liver­pool’s Plan A but ex­posed his coun­ter­part Jur­gen Klopp’s lack of an an­swer to their op­po­nents’ ob­du­racy.

Those bleat­ing about a de­fen­sive mind­set had con­ve­niently over­looked the many oc­ca­sions when Sir Alex Fer­gu­son would rock up at An­field and es­chew “the United way” in favour of prag­ma­tism, such as Septem­ber 2005, when the Scot also left with a point af­ter a stale­mate.

John Terry, the for­mer Chelsea cap­tain, once re­marked that the big games are when Mourinho “comes into his own” and one of the rea­sons for the Por­tuguese’s suc­cess in them is be­cause no one can ever be quite sure what he is plan­ning next. He is foot­ball’s arch-chameleon in that re­spect. Even with­out the in­jured Sa­dio Mane, and with Adam Lal­lana still side­lined, Liver­pool fans will have a pretty good idea of how Klopp will try to tackle United. Mourinho? If he does opt for a sim­i­lar ap­proach to last time out at An­field, you can be sure it will have mod­i­fi­ca­tions that make it far from an iden­tikit sys­tem, and, if it is more ex­pan­sive, it will come in­evitably com­plete with the checks and bal­ances that help to ex­plain why his sides are so rarely hope­lessly ex­posed.

When it comes to those high­stakes fix­tures, in par­tic­u­lar, few man­agers tai­lor their tac­tics so stu­diously around the strengths and weak­nesses of op­po­nents – and aware­ness of his team’s own qual­i­ties and short­com­ings. “We pre­pare a game bet­ter when we’re aware of our own weak­nesses,” Mourinho says. “I tell my play­ers that, for me, beau­ti­ful is not giv­ing our op­po­nents what they want.”

The re­wards have been hand­some. In his 13 full sea­sons as a man­ager with Porto, Chelsea, In­ter Mi­lan, Real Madrid and United, Mourinho has won al­most 60 per cent of his 130 league matches against sides that fin­ished the cam­paign in the top six, los­ing just 17 of them – barely 13 per cent – and amass­ing an av­er­age of 2.04 points per match. There have been 60 clean sheets, and of those 17 de­feats, only six were by more than a one-goal mar­gin. Thirty wins and 20 draws from 65 away fix­tures un­der­line how suc­cess­ful he is on his trav­els, and although more than a quar­ter of all vic­to­ries were 1-0 wins, 42 were by at least a two-goal mar­gin and 18 by at least a three-goal mar­gin.

And that is the point about Mourinho: there are many strings to his bow. When In­ter beat Barcelona 3-1 in the Cham­pi­ons League in April 2010, Mourinho had his side press high and Wes­ley Snei­jder dic­tate the play, which caught their op­po­nents off guard. Against Ajax in the Europa League fi­nal last May, Mourinho ve­toed United’s cen­tre-halves from play­ing the ball to his mid­field­ers, va­cat­ing the area where Ajax would or­di­nar­ily re­cover pos­ses­sion by press­ing high.

By con­trast, in the Cham­pi­ons League with Chelsea in 2007, Mourinho flooded the mid­field against Liver­pool in the first half at Stam­ford Bridge and had his wide for­wards launch fre­quent aerial bom­bard­ments into their op­po­nents’ box. When Chelsea ended Manch­ester City’s 100 per cent home record in Fe­bru­ary 2014, Mourinho dropped his star player, Os­car, and ran­sacked Manuel Pel­le­grini’s side on the counter-at­tack, in much the same way as Real did to Barcelona in April 2012 en route to in­flict­ing the Cata­lan club’s first home de­feat in 55 matches.

Per­haps at An­field to­mor­row, Mourinho will look to do sim­i­lar, op­er­at­ing a low de­fen­sive block and then seek­ing to ex­ploit a frag­ile Liver­pool un­der­belly on the

‘I tell my play­ers that, for me, beau­ti­ful is not giv­ing op­po­nents what they want’

tran­si­tion. Or maybe An­der Her­rera, in the ab­sence of the in­jured Paul Pogba and Marouane Fel­laini, will be tasked with man-mark­ing Philippe Coutinho in the same way he so ef­fec­tively shad­owed Eden Hazard against Chelsea last sea­son. Mourinho cer­tainly sees beauty in col­lec­tive de­fen­sive rigour where other man­agers may only see neg­a­tiv­ity or cau­tion. United’s goal­less draw at An­field 12 months ago bore many of the traits of Chelsea’s 2-0 win

there in April 2014, a re­sult that dealt a huge blow to Liver­pool’s ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions and in­vited ac­cu­sa­tions that Mourinho had “killed foot­ball” with his team’s per­ceived time-wast­ing and overtly de­fen­sive set-up. The per­cep­tion of con­trol is con­tentious. Many re­gard hav­ing plenty of the ball as con­trol. But if pos­ses­sion fails to translate into chances, and the op­po­nents are un­trou­bled, can that be cat­e­gorised as con­trol? Mourinho stressed that point af­ter last year’s trip to An­field, when he said United “didn’t want to con­trol the game by hav­ing the ball all the time”.

One thing is cer­tain to­mor­row – Mourinho will have an­other care­fully crafted plan in place.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.