In United’s recent past, the ‘comeback kings’ moniker has been rightfully lost. Over the last few seasons, if United went a goal down a wave of fear would ripple through the support. Gone was that never say die attitude, gone were the late winners, we had to settle for David Moyes and his 81 crosses.
However, against Chelsea, United came from behind to win for the first time since they beat Newcastle in November. On Monday against Palace, they came back from 2-0 down to win for the first time since 2013. Maybe Mourinho has finally turned it around? Maybe he’s fostered that never say die attitude that the club has missed for so long? Or should questions be asked as to why United have found themselves behind in two games running?
In that game against Palace, United began as if they were half asleep and unprepared. There were so many misplaced passes, both short and long. Players kept dilly-dallying on the ball, looking as if they didn’t know the attack plan. This has been a feature of United’s poor performances against lesser teams this season. Huddersfield away, Newcastle away and those flurry of games across the winter period all featured this stunted, confused performance. The fact it has happened a lot cannot be mere coincidence.
So why does this keep happening? Personally, I think a major part is the atmosphere that Mourinho creates when he’s managing a club. His entire footballing ethos is about risk reduction. What better way to reduce risk than being safe in possession? So the players are drilled to be patient and only take risks when they absolutely have to. Hence why United look so cumbersome in attack.
Also, if you are a creative player, why would you attempt to defy the manager by being expressive? We’ve already seen what’s happened to the likes of Martial and Pogba when they didn’t follow the manager’s instructions. The fear of getting an absolute b*******g and potentially being dropped forces the flair players to play safe. Maybe it even makes them struggle to make the most simple of passes as well?
Another theory often bandied about is that Mourinho doesn’t spend enough time coaching the attackers. I find this very hard to believe, why would a manager hamstring themselves by not coaching half of the team in their specific roles? On the other hand, their attacking cohesion is often incredibly poor, so maybe those people are correct? If so, that is very troubling and needs to be sorted quickly.
Despite all the above, United have been able to come from behind to win. More than anything, this shows that the players care. So many of that squad could easily just take their pay cheque and phone it in. But they don’t, they always keep plugging away looking for that victory. Feel free to insert your own line about ‘pashun’ if you feel I haven’t hit the cliche quota.
I’ll admit, the original idea for this article when United were 2-0 down to Palace, was asking where the leaders are in this team. After the substitutions were made, Smalling was the longest serving United player on the field. He doesn’t strike you as leadership material, especially considering the ludicrous decisions he’s made in the recent past. But he scored the first United goal and then led by example by keeping Benteke at bay.
De Gea is often seen cheerleading from his penalty area, while I think Lukaku is rapidly becoming a stronger personality, driving forward from the front and imploring his teammates to keep going. And who can forget the influence of Jesse Lingard? So often popping up with the crucial goal or assist to get the win. There are several of this relatively young squad who are starting to show that they have the mentality of the Ferguson era sides.
The recent comebacks have also highlighted Mourinho’s ability to change games. Against Chelsea, he brought on Lingard who scored the winner. In Monday’s game, Rashford and Shaw came on to add attacking thrust down the left flank, while Mata dramatically improved United’s attacking play. Without Mourinho, United would not have won both games.
There, I’ve given him one compliment, I promise that will be the last one.
These results undoubtedly help this side grow as a team. They’ve proven to themselves that they can rescue a desperate situation and hopefully they’ll remember that next time it happens. But far more importantly, Mourinho needs to fix the problems that continually land United in this situation.
He seems to have finally settled on a team shape and a first eleven. He needs to spend the remainder of the season working on the attacking cohesion and maybe even relaxing the pressure he puts on the players, allowing them to express themselves. If he can do that, then spend the summer offloading the deadwood (his recent squads seem to suggest he’s all but already done this) and bringing in new players who can compliment the system, United will find themselves in a very good place.
Wait, was that a second compliment? I’m clearly going soft.