Paul Merson has pointed out that Manchester United players look “petrified” of Jose Mourinho whenever they attack.
Man United were a blunt instrument once again during a 0-0 stalemate on Thursday night, with Luke Shaw going closest in the first half when his shot was pawed onto the post by keeper Adrian.
The result ensured United finished second with an FA Cup final to look forward to, but concerns continue to be raised regarding their lack of attacking zeal under Mourinho.
Speaking on Sky Sports after the game, Merson made note of the culture of fear surrounding attacking engendered by Mourinho at United.
“Every time a Manchester United player misses a chance they always run back and look at Mourinho in the dugout – they look petrified,” he said.
“You watch Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool play – and sometimes Arsenal – and you can see the patterns of their attacking play.
“It looks like there is a plan. It’s different at Manchester United – everyone is standing still, everyone just passes the ball – there is no movement. I think the players are petrified.”
“If a player gets sold in summer, they wouldn’t leave Manchester United crying. A lot of them look like they don’t enjoy their football.”
The other members of the top six can all claim to espouse a particular attacking structure. There is, in other words, a kind of collective idea behind how to break opponents down.
Under Mourinho, this has never been the case. In Spain they call it ‘Individualismo’ – the belief that players can take it upon themselves to intuitively build attacks with their teammates without following any specific rule.
And when players aren’t firing, especially Pogba, the whole attack can look stultified, nonexistent. Decision making becomes a far more important aspect due to the lack of a particular method of attacking teams.
And this, above anything, is what promulgates this ‘culture of fear’, so to speak. It is why Henrikh Mkhitaryan was sold while Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have all spent time on the bench this term. Their decision making in the attacking third, in the eyes of Mourinho, has not been consistently good enough, which in turn makes players more mindful of making mistakes.
Needless to say, this can have a suffocating effect on United’s attacking players.