Jose Mourinho has explained why he utilised six defenders during the closing stages of Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Middlesbrough in the Premier League, noting that such a switch came as a response to the home side opting for a more direct route.
Man United begun the game with a back five of Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young, racing into a 2-0 lead through goals from Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard.
And the Portuguese, speaking after the game, explained the thought process lying behind Rojo’s introduction.
“The attitude, the desire and our way of thinking,” he said. “We don’t have A, B, C, D, E, F and G but we have L, M, N, S, O, P and these guys they give absolutely everything.
“I think we start the game really well, Valdes made three fantastic saves before our first goal. We controlled everything until our second goal and then they changed the play with Gestede and Negredo, they started hitting long balls into the box.
“We decide to defend with an extra defender, but I think the mistake we made was of letting them push us too much into our box and then it was a fighting 15 minutes where they didn’t have chances.
“But they were close to the dangerous areas so the game was alive until the last second.”
Mourinho, by throwing on Matteo Darmian in injury time, actually had seven defenders on the pitch at one point. Seven. This is anathema for the modern football hipster and, more crucially, for most Arsenal fans. The 54-year-old may find himself in fifth spot, but he tops the table in piss-boiling this season.
Then again, imagine the uproar if Mourinho had left on Mata and watched his side concede a late header. This was a decision founded by stone cold pragmatism, and it just about paid off.