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Manchester United's performance at Anfield and its ramifications

After Manchester United's defensive display against Liverpool, is the criticism of Jose Mourinho justified?

CONTRIBUTOR
20 Oct 2017, 15:31 IST
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After 3 consecutive wins in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester United sit on top of Group A.

The Red Devils secured a hard-fought win in Portugal and progress to the 2nd round is almost certain
The Red Devils secured a hard-fought win in Portugal and progress to the 2nd round is almost certain

With two away wins in Moscow and Lisbon, United are just one win short of guaranteeing their place in the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier competition.

To put into context how much the Red Devils have improved, one only needs to go back to last season, where United lost two of its 6 group games in the Europa League, arguably a weaker competition.

So why is there such an uproar against Mourinho, the supposed killer of football?

The answer is rather straightforward and lies in the perception of current happenings at the noisy neighbours.

Pep Guardiola’s free-flowing Manchester City are currently the darlings of English football, scoring goals for fun and playing a brand of football that has rarely been seen in the Premier League.

Winning at Chelsea was a huge statement of intent and The Citizens' form has seen them being tipped for the title by many pundits.

Pep's men have been rampant this season; scoring for fun and blowing opponents away
Pep's men have been rampant this season; scoring for fun and blowing opponents away

Then there is Mourinho, whose United team is built in his image.

Defensively sound, quick in attack, physical and powerful, the team started the season brilliantly, scoring goals for fun and it felt like Mourinho had turned a new leaf and had chosen to embrace positive, attacking football.

So when United decided to go for a defensive set-up at Anfield against a Liverpool team that had won just once in its previous four Premier League games, questions were bound to come up and accusations levelled against the Portuguese.

But was it justified?

Mourinho, the arch-pragmatist, has always been known for his tactical acumen.

With United missing two important central midfielders in Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, as well as centre-back Eric Bailly, not losing was always going to be Mourinho’s first priority.

The serial winner, who has won league titles 8 times in his career was never going to change what he sees as his winning formula.

He will argue that by going toe-to-toe, he would have given Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool the advantage.

Considering the vociferous atmosphere Anfield conjures up for United’s visits, he has argued that it was a point well earned.

The arch-pragmatist; Mourinho has been widely criticized for his
The arch-pragmatist; Mourinho has been widely criticized for his "bus parking" tactics at Anfield

However, for supporters, this seemed like a huge opportunity lost.

Liverpool was there for the taking and a victory would have been a sign of things to come.

This school of thought also believes that it was imperative to take advantage of the good run if United wish to win the title.

Momentum is something that can be difficult to generate and quite easy to lose, the narrow win over Benfica in the Champions League a testament to this.

So what would have happened if United had gone all out at Anfield? We will never know, but with the way the league is panning out, it seems like head-to-head results among the top 6 sides may determine the course of the title.

United have to take the initiative if they want to win their first title since 2013 as City, for all the right reasons, looks like the team to beat this season.

However, expect Mourinho, the pragmatist-supreme will have his say.

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