Van Gaal’s arrival at the club in 2014 precipitated the introduction of a notably unique style, placing emphasis on ball retention, patient passing, building from the back and dividing the pitch into thirds as a means of generating a formulaic attacking build-up.
Needless to say, such a system was deeply inconsistent with the speed and dynamism of English football, and van Gaal lost his job after two seasons.
Mourinho made it clear that he was moving his squad away from the harsh, misguided principles imposed by the Dutchman.
“The most stupid of all is to say I want to win every match, I want to win every competition. Impossible. Impossible,” he said.
“But it is a good way to establish targets with the players. We know we are not going to win every game, we know we are not going to win every competition – but let’s still establish that objective, and in the end of the season we will see.
“Speaking in a pragmatic way, we need to improve. To change, to transform a team that had certain qualities, certain principles. This takes time, but hopefully not too long because the competition is hard – if you need months and months to bring a team to a positive level, then you lose the first season. I think we are not in condition to lose completely this first season – we must get something.”
Van Gaal’s system precluded his side from fulfilling what it meant to be a United player. No freedom on the ball, no big characters, no enterprise. Just a complete subordination to the system. It was football in straitjackets.
Under Mourinho, however, there is an evident paradigm shift. Now there is expression, conviction and confidence pervading through the side. Stripped of all identity last season, this side is now discovering its verve, its attacking zeal. Most importantly, though, there is a real swagger, a firm conviction of superiority that was not allowed to exist last year.
As Mourinho’s men continue to develop as a unit, this newfound freedom and confidence threatens to inflict plenty of damage in the coming months.