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What Jose Mourinho Must Learn From Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United

Sam Curran
1.38K   //    23 Aug 2018, 16:38 IST

Jose Mourinho Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United
Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson have completely different styles as Manchester United managers

It is well known that Jose Mourinho is on borrowed time at Manchester United, especially with Manchester City playing so well and even Liverpool looking like they can mount a decent Premier League title challenge.

The fact that United are being written off with just two games of the season played and after just one defeat tells its own story. Mourinho was clearly given a vote of no confidence by the board in the transfer market and the players' dissent towards him (think of Paul Pogba's cryptic interview) shows things are not right at Old Trafford.

Of course, United fans are used to this. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013, it has all gone downhill. Countless articles have been written on what David Moyes and Louis van Gaal did wrong and, in some ways, Mourinho is repeating those mistakes.

He has alienated the players (particularly big-name stars) and creating a culture of fear and negativity among the players. Perhaps justifiably, Mourinho has come in for a lot of stick and criticism from the ex-players and pundits, though perhaps the answers to United's problems are actually a lot simpler than most people think.

All they have to do is to return to the tactics and strategies that served them so well in the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Whether Mourinho chooses to do this is a different matter, given how famously stubborn and rigid he can be.

Whereas Mourinho seems to create a culture of fear among the players, making them scared to attack and jittery in defence, Sir Alex created a culture of fear among the opposition. It's often been cited that before opponents played United (particularly at Old Trafford) that they were beaten before the game had even started.

It's no wonder when you were facing a team full of stars such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Rio Ferdinand. The names Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, and Romelu Lukaku don't command quite the same level of fear.

These days when a team plays United it seems that if they want it more then they will be victorious no matter how inferior they may be. This has certainly been the case with Brighton and, on many other occasions, during Mourinho's tenure (Sevilla, Huddersfield etc.).

What tactics can Mourinho employ?

The fear factor is just not there anymore. How can Mourinho restore that?


Again the answer is easy, go back towards what served the club so well in the past. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, from a purely tactical point of view, he would opt for a traditional 4-4-2 formation most times.

He was always a fan of at least two strikers up front. It's no wonder given some of the attacking partnerships he's had over the years - Rooney and Ronaldo, Cole and Yorke, Rooney and Van Persie, the list goes on.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United - Premier League
Romelu Lukaku needs forwards in attack alongside him, not midfielders

On other occasions, he would go for a 4-3-3, in particular during the 2007/08 season when he had Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez all firing goals in. That kind of forward line put fear into the opposition.

Conversely, Mourinho is more in favour of a solitary striker up front, often Lukaku. However, he has plenty of forwards to make reverting to a more old-school formation like 4-4-2 or an attacking 4-3-3 feasible and it would do a lot of good for United's morale and for the fans as well.

It would address a lot of United's issues, which are mainly in the attacking department. Last season, United were even outscored by a struggling, sixth-placed Arsenal in the Premier League which shows just how modest their goals return was.

Mourinho needs to approach games like Sir Alex

That covers the changes that need to be made from a purely tactical point of view, but there clearly also needs to be a change in approach. The biggest criticism of Mourinho when judging him against Sir Alex is that his brand of football is anathema to the club's traditions and that criticism may actually be warranted.

Under Sir Alex, the emphasis was on United to attack, which explains the number of comeback victories that they enjoyed. They would blow teams away and particularly enjoyed continued success against the smaller sides, simply because they could not cope with United's attacking resources.

United's attacking approach under Ferguson paid dividends and they often enjoyed extended unbeaten runs against sides - they went 11 years unbeaten against Spurs between 2001 and 2012. It's hard to imagine that sort of run ever happening against anyone these days, particularly against a team of the quality of Tottenham Hotspur.

Manchester United v West Ham United - Premier League
Sir Alex encouraged his teams to attack, especially at home

Even though he probably won't, Mourinho needs to go back to United's attacking principles and actually look to attack teams rather than sit on a one-goal lead and play with one striker up front. If he went for a more attacking approach, then perhaps that would give more confidence to his players, the majority of whom look like they are playing with very little confidence right now.

If Mourinho listened to this advice, it might actually be enjoyable to watch United again and it's been a long time since it was actually exciting to watch the Reds.

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Sam Curran
Huge Manchester United fan hoping the club will return to their former glory. I write a variety of articles about football including historical articles, my take on current football issues and lists (i.e. 5 players who regretted leaving Manchester United).
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