After a mixed start to life under José Mourinho, this week the Red Thoughts team discusses philosophy and educational psychology. Wait … it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds …
COREY: What exactly is the team philosophy? What exactly is Mourinho trying to get his players to do? And have poor results this season been a result of players failing to adapt, or Mourinho failing to adapt?
I feel like Mourinho wants us to play fast counter attacking football, that’s the way he has always played, but I feel it doesn’t work for one of two reasons. Either teams sit deep against us and we end up with all the possession anyway, or the teams that do hold onto possession are usually good enough to punish us with that possession.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we defended really well against Liverpool, but we were carved open a couple of times, and in the end Liverpool had the better chances and forced some brilliant saves out of De Gea. But once again we failed to create significant chances … whether we have all the possession like in the first half and don’t know what to do with it, or we struggle with fluidity like in the second half, I felt once again we failed to really test the keeper.
Is our lack of creativity a result of LVG’s influence lingering in the locker room? What then can be said of the new boys Zlatan, Pogba, and Mkhitaryan? Why are we still struggling to score goals and create chances?
BETS: I never want to hear the word “philosophy” again when talking about United! I never heard it before LVG and his philosophy proved to be some sort of sickness that erased all creativity from the side.
Mourinho has said himself that it will take time to de-program the players from LVG’s philosophy, which I’m sure is true. In pressers, LVG talked about changing players from “unconsciously incompetent” (not sure he used the word incompetent but that’s what he was referring to) to “unconsciously competent”. It’s an old educational psychology theory about training people. The final stage is to make what you’ve taught them so automatic that they don’t have to think about it. In this way, LVG got them doing something HE THOUGHT was the right thing, automatically, unconsciously. That was his aim. And that thing is essentially NOT taking risks, NOT pushing forward, NOT being creative. He did succeed, and so it will take Mou time to undo this programming.
I’m not sure Mou has a philosophy in the same way. I think he has preferences in terms of formations, tactics and player types. I think he is very aware that to succeed at United he has to play attractive football, so I don’t think there’s any danger of him reverting to the “parking the bus” style and purely counter-attacking football he played at Chelsea. The Leicester game showed what he wants from us, at least against some teams.
The loss against City was down to bad decisions – in team selection and tactics. Then we started to wobble, the Rooney debate became water cooler conversation around the world and shadows of LVG’s old negativity kicked in. It was bound to happen at some point.
Against Liverpool, Mou clearly wanted to play a physically strong team and be solid defensively. The choice of Young at LW was shrewd as he effectively played a lot of the game as a WB, allowing Blind to come inside beside Smalling and Bailly to create an extra CB and shut down space. It worked. Pushing Pogba up front was to allow the extra muscle of Fellaini but also so he could drop back as an extra physical presence in midfield. Personally I think that was Mou’s mistake yesterday – it worked defensively but I don’t like Pogba as a no. 10, especially on current form. Mata should have kept his place and Pogba should have stayed in CM alongside Herrera (or, if Mou fancied Fellaini there instead, drop Pogba). We were lucky I think that Herrera played so brilliantly, because I think his creativity disguised the fact that no-one else had any (except the odd bit of trickery from Rashford, and some from Valencia). So we almost set our stall out for a 0-0.
RICK: I feel Mourinho set us up for a no lose policy against Liverpool, which I feel is still a good result away from home against a team that is firing and full of confidence. Yes, we didn’t create much and that is why I feel Fellaini should not have played. Herrera’s place is pretty much guaranteed right now because of his performances.
As for our game plan, it changes according to the opposition, as it should do. However, I also feel that there is still some LVG negativity lingering in the team. Mourinho seems to still be trying to keep certain players happy with game time, as he doesn’t want to lose the dressing room.
FAB: I don’t think that we have ever used the word “philosophy” in the right way as a club. It was LVG who first introduced it and the way he wanted the players to embrace it was completely wrong. I could go on all day and night to saying what’s wrong with LVG and I am loving how things are going under Mourinho so far. Why would a manager try to establish something that a player will never “get”?
Ander Herrera is the perfect example of how a player was forced to embrace and instil in his game something that he just didn’t get. Herrera, like most of us, seemed clueless as to why he never got a real chance under LVG. The Dutchman never seemed to trust him. He would shine in one game, but always got benched for inexplicable reasons. Apparently, according to the media, the problem Herrera had under LVG was that the player was having a really hard time trying to forget about all the philosophy he was trying to learn.
BETS: So you’re saying LVG was not successful in getting Herrera to fully absorb his philosophy? If that’s true, maybe it’s been easier for Herrera than for others to ignore the brainwashing (because it was unsuccessful in him) and return to his more natural style of play?
FAB: Exactly. I have to say that against Liverpool, Herrera had one of the best games of his entire career. Not just because of his tackles, interceptions or aerial duels, it was all about his emotions, he “felt” the game from the start, he was passionate and reacted well to every situation.
What I’m saying about Ander Herrera shows what Mourinho is trying to transmit to his players – the passion and intensity he wants to see from them in every game. Mourinho is trying to get the team to adapt to his style of play rather than trying to change their philosophy of thinking about how to construct the game. For me, that’s the big difference between Mou and LVG.
BETS: The other frustration at the moment is Ibra’s form has taken a dip. That may just be that – a dip – or worst case scenario, he may be struggling to adapt to the EPL despite a promising start. I guess that’s something Mou wasn’t expecting and Rooney is hardly seeming like a good alternative right now. We need to get Martial, Mkhitaryan and Memphis firing so we have Rashford back as an option at CF (or indeed Martial).
RICK: I feel Ibra should be rested in our next game, as I think he’s feeling the intensity of the Premier League and just needs a bit of time to recharge his batteries.
Our problem is still the centre of the pitch as far as I’m concerned, but Mourinho seems to be chopping and changing in each game, which is not ideal. I would much rather Schneiderlin played over Fellaini, as he can move the ball a lot quicker if Mourinho wants a solid CM in there. If not, then Mata should be at no. 10.
But all in all, I think expectations are too high. The league is not won in two games. There are 38 games to go. We’re only 6 points off the top with the vast majority of the season to go. How many times have we been behind before and clawed our way back to win the league? And in case everyone has forgotten, United really turn it on after Christmas and seem to find their feet and win games then. So everyone should just chill out.
FAB: I think that the problem and issues we have are caused by the pressure the media and practically the whole world puts on us. In a media discussion I was watching about Mourinho, so-called football experts were saying that Jose teaches his players something wrong that never works in football: “It’s us (United), against the world”. Are they all saying that inspiring your players is wrong? And in any case, what he’s saying is absolutely true. Can someone tell me a single time that the media has stepped up and actually protected us, just once? Never!
Guardiola was in the same situation as Mourinho in September, but did anyone crucify him like they did Mourinho? Well, of course not. How can they criticise Mr.Nice Guy?
I think that the fact that we have spent so much on certain players has affected them badly. Pogba has started doing better now because he’s started to forget about the stuff people are saying, but he will continue to draw criticism. As for Zlatan, can we just be patient with him? I know that he is an experienced striker, but things like that happen and everyone should just calm down.
So for me, it’s just a matter of time before we start producing what Mou is trying to instil in the team. A draw against Liverpool? I was really happy. When did Anfield become an easy place to get a result from? A lot of things should change and the first should be the fans’ mentality. We have to be patient.