Cautious Mourinho leaves United counting the cost of European elimination
In case anyone has forgotten - Manchester United were eliminated in the Champions League Round of 16 by Sevilla, after substitute Ben Yedder scored a quickfire brace to send them packing despite the fact that they got a goal back through the in-form Lukaku. The goal came a little too late.
They had entered the game with only one caveat - win and go through - and after the spirit lifting 2-1 win over arch-rivalsLiverpool, getting a win against the Andalusian side was seen as a by-the-way, something that wouldn't take much fuss to accomplish.
Unfortunately for them, Vincenzo Montella and Wissam Ben Yedder had other ideas at the Theatre of Dreams.
Mourinho had taken his United side to the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan three weeks earlier and secured a goalless draw; but with the advent of the away goal rule, getting a goalless draw away from home is not a result that fills the team with confidence. Even a goal-filled draw in the next leg might be enough to send the home team tumbling out of Europe.
Manchester United weren't even able to secure a draw on the night, as they only began to show what they were truly capable of when the reality of elimination dawned on them.
For someone of Mourinho's tactical acumen, the cautiousness his team displayed over 180 minutes, and particularly in Spain, was baffling. His style of play, pragmatic as it may seem, is one that has always been seen as perfect for the knock-outs in the Champions League.
Of late, that style has become archaic - as teams have had to show greater level of attacking intents and aspirations to secure success in Europe. Manchester United have not qualified for the quarter finals of the Champions League since 2013/14 and if that seems like a lifetime ago, Jose Mourinho has not qualified any of his teams for the quarterfinals since then either.
For a club of United’s stature and a manager of José's stature, that's nowhere neear good enough, despite José's claims to the contrary after the loss.
The Portuguese tactician said that Round of 16 exits should not be seen as something new for the club, seeing they were eliminated by him in the same round when he brought other clubs visiting in times past. How the mighty have fallen!
Nevertheless, the United hierarchy have appointed him and will want more for their money's worth and rightly so. As for all of their expensive refurbishment of the squad, they still look a long way off the pace set by local rivals - Manchester City.
They were supposed to go neck and neck for the title, but the admission by early January that the title race was over wouldn't have sounded nice to those who feel they deserve more. They lag behind, not only in England, but in Europe as well.
Their elimination at the hands of Sevilla, as shocking as it may look, should not really come as a surprise as the Red Devils were never really in the running for the trophy; they always looked like getting eliminated if they faced off against any of the big boys.
José's tactics might have worked for him in the past but as was seen against Liverpool, when José's teams are drilled to a tee, every man knows his work and the attackers are off the cuff, they can be capable of brilliance and nullifying their opponents.
But when Jose reverts to his default cautious type, they can be capable of extreme turgidity. These two ends of the coin were seen in the space of 72 hours as Mou replaced Mata’s inventiveness with Lingard's industry, replaced McTominay’s calm on the ball with Fellaini’s aerial ability - that it backfired spectacularly shouldn't come as a surprise
As the world has long moved away from cautiousness, as Vicenzo Montella showed - bringing on Ben Yedder for the ineffective Luis Muriel as he went in search of a goal, rather than attempt to see out the tie 0-0 in the hope of dragging it for as long as possible.
However, seeing that José Mourinho just signed a new deal keeping him at the club till 2020 provided he fulfills his contract, there's going to be a marriage of sorts and a middle ground must be reached.
The handbrakes put on the attackers must come off more often; the players should no longer have to rely on Eric Bailly's defensive heroics or David de Gea’s superhuman abilities to see them through.
They have more than enough players that they have to be winning games with the panache they've come to be associated with under legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. If United are going to get more return for their money, José's cautiousness must be a thing of the past.