Red Thoughts: Parking the bus at Anfield: Is the fans’ criticism of Mourinho deserved?

by Red Debate

Despite maintaining United’s unbeaten record with a hard fought point against Liverpool last Saturday, a lot of fans have condemned José Mourinho’s tactics in the game as too negative. But is the criticism fair?

REX: I try to see this from both sides. Where there were some who were angry because we weren’t good (fact), some were OK with a point despite the performance. But if people analysed the tactical side of it and what Mourinho and a few level headed pundits said, they would come to the realisation that it wasn’t the end of the world or anti football, as all the trigger happy clowns called it. It’s just two systems cancelling each other out. Neither manager risked it at the end, including that media darling Klopp, who pretends he is going to save football with his play, but guess what? That’s no wins in 7 games! Gegenpress that shit!!!

So for me, people need to sit and analyse the game as a single entity. Regardless of form, Livepool always turn up at Anfield, especially against United. Playing open football would have just played right into their hands, with that crowd behind them; it could have easily been a disastrous game for us. But we left with our undefeated record in tact, clean sheet and a point. They are down to 8th, we’re second and two points behind a team that EVERYONE has as favourites. So, not bad.

BETS: It was horrible to watch and I wish we had gone for it a little more. But I imagine José would have expected us to be better on the counter. Mkhitaryan’s form is an issue right now. He was supposed to be the link between defence and attack and he did nothing. The other player who you’d expect to provide transition from defence to attack is Herrera, who is also off form. We really missed Pogba. José’s come in for a lot of stick but honestly, if, when a Liverpool attack broke down, those two players had been at their best, we’d have been pinging it up to Lukaku or down the wing to Martial … sucker punch and everyone would be happy.

The other thing people forget was that we were missing 2/3 of the Bailly – Pogba – Lukaku spine of the team, and with Carrick and Fellaini injured, we had no options in CM. So I think José set his stall out in a very compact way. Yes it was ugly but smart, and it’s those two players, for me, that made it look worse than it was.

REX:​ There was a journalist on the Sunday Supplement who had it spot on. The problem with our tactics started up front. Lukaku (for all his prowess) could not hold the ball up. When we’re at full speed and galloping, he’s a demon, but his hold up play needs a bit of work. It was a Zlatan game. A big man up top who doesn’t need to run. Just hold and release. Mkhitaryan was on fire at the start of the season, so the dip in form is to be expected. But then again, there was no time on the ball, as they swarmed us. So once more, hold up play was key. We’re going to need Pogba or Zlatan back soon if this is the game plan for big away games. They are the only two who can hold it and release our attack, otherwise we’re like deer in headlights in tight spaces.

BETS: I agree Lukaku didn’t do a very good job of holding it up but honestly, the ball rarely even got to him in the first place.

REX: True. Our forward passing was absolutely dire.

HEMOR: I don’t agree with the problem being up front. The problem is obviously the midfield, did anybody even have up to 50% passing accuracy? Every time we had the ball, the midfielders and wingers ended up playing a stupid inaccurate long pass as if they were scared to hold the ball and pass properly. Lukaku was always battling 2 or 3 defenders with little support, so there’s nothing he could have done. We created only one meaningful chance all game, or maybe two if you count Lukaku’s pass to the second post, where he added too much force. Lukaku could have done better both times, but he tried. If our midfielders and wingers had created more chances, he would have probably scored. We can’t have one shot on target and expect to win, I’m surprised Liverpool didn’t win to be honest.

I’d like to just blame that poor performance on the international break instead of the players or the manager’s tactics, but we can’t continue to keep putting in poor performances after international breaks.

DAN: I think José has been unfairly criticised for the Liverpool game and Neil Custis from the Sun hit the nail on the head when he said both managers failed to take risks; both sides had one major chance and failed to take it. We all knew exactly how Mourinho was going to set up in a game like Liverpool away and that’s to first and foremost get something out the game. To sit deep and attempt to hit Liverpool on the counter attack. It wasn’t Mourinho’s fault that Lukaku couldn’t hold the ball up or that Mhikitaryan had a bad game. Klopp wasn’t exactly brave either, he was happy to not get beaten. The frustration for me is that we didn’t play well going forward, we defended well, but with Liverpool’s defensive record this season we should have caused them more problems than we did.

JIM:  I’m sick of the hysteria around the result. Yes it was a boring draw, but it was at Anfield, where Liverpool have conceded only once all season and we had some major injury problems ourselves as well. People are making a mountain out of a molehill from what in my view is a solid result.

EHSAAN: On the occasional time José parks the bus, everyone comes out of their caves. All it takes is one goalless draw. Considering how many players we were missing, I’m happy with a draw. A draw at Anfield is always a good result. This is the same team that beat Arsenal 4 nil! City might have destroyed them, but Liverpool were a man short. It seems like everyone has a negative opinion about José.

DEAN: To walk away from Anfield with a point is always a good result, and to do it without a few key players in the team is even better. Fans look at good defending as a crime in today’s modern football, and just see it as parking the bus and boring football. United came away with another clean sheet and a important point to go along with it. The fans’ reaction to Mourinho is horrible to watch, it’s disrespectful and humiliating, to see one of the greatest tactical managers in football being targeted in this way.

BETS: Is it fair to lay the blame on Lukaku’s hold up play for the fact we didnt mount many counters? Isn’t Mikhitaryan’s form becoming a problem? He was very poor again against Benfica. We had a spell there around the half hour mark where Rashford switched to the RW, Mkhi to the left and Mata through the middle. We instantly seemed better and more balanced, but then we reverted back to the usual positions. For me, the no. 10 spot is too important to carry a player that’s off form.

CARL: There is no problem with Lukaku, he’s feeding on scraps. He’s had one shot in the last two games, there’s just been no service. We need Pogba back and although I’m not convinced by Young in a defensive sense, we need his deliveries to bring some creativity in from the left side. It’s not an immediate concern because I’m sure we’ll have enough to go to Huddersfield and win, hopefully anyway, but we need him back for those games against Spurs and Chelsea.

EHSAAN: I think we need to drop Mkhi for Mata in central attacking midfield in the next few matches, simply because Mkhi has been bad since Pogba’s injury and I’d like to see Mata in his natural role and see how he does. It might not work out, but we have to try it sooner or later if Mkhi keeps playing like this. But then this would mean either pushing Mkhi out to the wing, putting Rashford on the right wing or putting Lingard on. And I don’t really want any of those things. How amazing would it have been to have Perisic right now?

BETS: I’m with you on that. Mata wasn’t player of the year at Chelsea two years in a row playing centrally for no reason. His link up play is second to none, and that’s what’s missing at the moment, and what Mkhi isn’t doing well. Put Mkhi on the wing, where his individual skills can flourish. Or rest him, as you say, and put Martial on the LW and Rashford on the RW.

DEAN: United need a new left back and probably should try to see what’s on the market in January. Mkhitaryan needs a kick up the ass, because when on form, he’s a problem. Mkhitaryan hasn’t really done it for me since he has joined United, I’m not critical of him, but I remember that season with Dortmund when he ripped up teams for fun.

EHSAAN: Danny Rose would be fantastic at left-back.

HEMOR: Mkhi’s lack of form is becoming very worrying. I agree with Ehsaan​ that Pogba’s injury is the reason, so hopefully when Pogba is back he’ll also come back into form.

As for Lukaku’s lack of hold up play, I think his hold up is good. The problem is that we respect the opponent too much and we let them do whatever they want with the ball while we wait to counter attack, but sometimes (against Liverpool for example) our passing and movement on and off the ball is so poor that we end up losing the ball almost immediately then we go back to defending. Maybe passing and movement is something Mourinho needs to work on a lot during training because our defensive organisation is already very good (of course there’s always room for improvement).

EHSAAN: Mkhi plays much better with Pogba, he really compliments his game. Zlatan had his dip in form last season when the entire team was not up to scratch – that was the reason for his dip. Here, it’s just one player who is missing, and Mkhi’s struggling. It reminds me of how far downhill Depay’s form went after Shaw’s injury. I just don’t want that to happen again. Last season, when the team started playing well again, so did Zlatan. I think the sooner Pogba comes back, the sooner Mkhi will return to form.

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