Manchester United: Jose Mourinho's defensive discipline should be applauded not attacked

Manager was criticised by supporters for not playing the 'United Way' but that is not always possible

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho felt the need to re-enter the post-match press conference at Anfield on Monday night to make clear that his Manchester United team had had 42 per cent possession not the 35 per cent that had been mentioned moments earlier – by himself as well as a journalist. The Portuguese preferred to trust the higher figure presented by his in-house statistics team and disputed those put forward by Opta.

But it’s a moot point. What is not up for debate is that United sat deep with men behind the ball, determined not to concede against Liverpool and were happy with a draw. A point is a point is a point - especially when you are visiting a team that has scored nine goals in their previous two home games and who had been widely predicted to blow Mourinho’s team away.

This tactic - United were often in a 6-3-1 formation with Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young as deep as full-backs - has appalled some United supporters who remember Sir Matt Busby’s famous words to Sir Bobby Charlton: “All those lads you see going to the factory, they come to watch you on Saturday,” he said. “They have boring jobs, so you have to give them something they will enjoy.”

BBC’s Radio 5’s phone-in programme after the match was awash with United fans moaning that Monday’s performance was not the ‘United Way’. 

Ahhh…the ‘United Way’. Sean Bones, vice-chairman of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust, once explained to the BBC what he sees as the ‘United Way’. “We try to win games with style and flair,” he said. “If you want to pigeon-hole it, it is two wingers, overlapping full-backs and attacking midfielders.” There was not much overlapping happening on Monday night.

“But, really,” Bones added, “there is far more to it than that. It is almost a state of mind.”

Well, the state of mind on Monday night was to get a point. The ‘United Way’ is a luxury maybe the club cannot afford at the moment. On Sky Sports Ryan Giggs, an exponent of the ‘United Way’ if ever there was one, accepted that going to Anfield and leaving with a draw, having dug in and shown limited ambition, was an acceptable method in the current Old Trafford climate. Gary Neville agreed. 

Manchester United's Ashley Young takes the ball out of defence despite Jordan Henderson's efforts (Getty)

Giggs believes that it is acceptable as long as now United beat Fenerbahce and then Chelsea on Sunday. But while victory in the Europa League should be expected on Thursday another Mourinho defensive masterclass will surely be the order of the day at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. And another point will be a good return.

In October of last season, Louis Van Gaal’s United visited the Emirates. They played Juan Mata and Memphis Depay – neither renowned for the defensive discipline - out wide and were 3-0 down to Arsenal inside 20 minutes. Is that the ‘United Way’? Surely most right-minded supporters would rather take a point from a bore draw than a hammering at the hands of their rivals. The currency of defensive discipline is somewhat undervalued in modern football.

Earning a point away from home at your biggest rivals – Anfield, the Emirates, Stamford Bridge, the Etihad – is a good result. It is what winning league titles is built on. It’s how Mourinho won championships with Chelsea: draw away against your challengers, beat them at home. 

It is early days for Mourinho at United and he claimed afterwards that the attacking side of their game will come. He needs time to build a squad, his own squad, to instil his ideas into his players. For now it is first things first and the Portuguese’s first thing is building a solid base. 

United fans may have to swallow their pride. It was always going to be this way to begin with under Mourinho – and he should be applauded not attacked for that.