Jose Mourinho reveals his Manchester United tactical masterplan that beat Ajax in the Europa League final

Forensic video analysis, a midfield triangle and some very specific instructions for Chris Smalling meant Mourinho knew he had his opponents beaten within 10 minutes

Evan Bartlett
Wednesday 14 June 2017 13:20 BST
United's triumph in Stockhold secured a fourth European trophy for Jose Mourinho
United's triumph in Stockhold secured a fourth European trophy for Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has revealed the tactical masterplan that saw his Manchester United side ease to victory over Ajax in last month's Europa League final.

A lot was riding on the game for the Portuguese manager. His side had finished sixth despite being one of the favourites for the Premier League title at the start of the season and one of the division's biggest spenders.

United were relying on victory in order to qualify for the lucrative Champions League and to retain Mourinho's reputation as one of Europe's best coaches.

But if there were any nerves in the dugout, then Mourinho certainly wasn't showing them.

After just 10 minutes of the Stockholm final, the 54-year-old turned to his assistant Rui Faria and said "We already have them in our pockets," according to Tribuna Expresso.

The United coach knew he had his opponents beaten.

During a lecture at the University of Lisbon last week, Mourinho explained to postgraduate students the methods he used to thwart his Dutch opponents and help United stroll to a 2-0 win.

First and foremost, Mourinho ensured each of his players were given five-minute videos detailing the opponents they were most likely to come up against in their position.

"The goal is to get to know the direct adversary better," he said.

Mourinho, who has always been known for his forensic attention to detail when it comes to assessing opposing teams, revealed that he watched Ajax eight times before the final.

"In England I see only two or three, because I already know the opponent, but not in European competitions," he explained.

"For me, the analysis of the opponent is very important, because I play against the opponent and I define the training in relation to that."

Mourinho, who let his side cede 69 per cent of possession in the final, was comfortable letting Ajax play out from the back but ensured their young centre-half Matthijs de Ligt was given less time on the ball than the less technically accomplished Davinson Sanchez.

There were also specific instructions for his own centre-back Chris Smalling.

"With these feet we're not going to play short," he said.

Instead, Mourinho told Smalling to bypass the midfield and aim long balls to Marouane Fellaini.

In part that was to stop United's opponents pinching the ball from the midfield, but also because the Portuguese coach appears less confident in his defender's ability on the ball.

"I think that's where we won the game," he said.

"In the first phase of construction, we never played from our midfield powerhouses because [Ajax] were too dangerous if they catch balls high.

"They did not win a single ball in our midfield like that. If the ball is not there, what will they press?"

While Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were not expected to help build United's attacking phases, Mourinho gave them big defensive responsibilities.

The triangle Mourinho used in the middle of the park helped to thwart Ajax's free-flowing midfield and force them into long balls where he knew his side was stronger.

The coach told his two holding midfielders to forget creativity and to maintain discipline at all times. They should only vacate the central areas in "emergency situations", he said.

"In a final there is a different tension and, regardless of the experience of the players, they will think less, so someone already has to have thought for them before to feel freer," Mourinho added.

"What matters is the team staying comfortable.

"We prepare for the game better when we know our own weaknesses."

The game may not have been the most memorable, or the most exciting for the neutral, but ultimately United's name will forever remain engraved on the trophy.

"Everyone said that Ajax was pretty, and that it matters a lot about the beauty of the game, and blah blah blah," Mourinho added.

"It is beautiful for me not to give the opponent what he wants."

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