Jose Mourinho has explained the tactical changes he made ahead of Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Premier League.
The 54-year-old deployed an unconventional 4-4-2 system against the league leaders, with Ander Herrera man-marking Eden Hazard on the right-hand side and Antonio Valencia moving slightly further forward as Marcus Rashford partnered Jesse Lingard up front.
Such a plan worked down to a tee: Hazard was reduced to a non-existent figure and Chelsea’s back four crumbled under the raw energy produced by Rashford
And Mourinho, speaking after the game, noted that the approach used today mirrored the one that fell apart at Stamford Bridge last month following Herrera’s red card.
“Maybe we didn’t ‘rest’ players ahead of Thursday, we just chose the team we thought was the best team,” he said.
“We went to Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup with same tactics, the game was totally controlled with 11 players, only the decision that made us play with 10 men for the second half and 10 minutes in the first half, gave Chelsea a chance to be dominant.
“We knew that playing this way would be very difficult for them.”
It is often forgotten that, during that FA Cup tie with Chelsea, Man United were successfully containing Antonio Conte’s men. They were struggling to create spaces and the threat of Rashford on the counter was very much alive in the minds of Chelsea’s back four. Everything changed, of course, once Herrera was controversially sent-off after 36 minutes.
Make no mistake: Conte has created an organised, well-regimented and indeed ruthless set-up at Stamford Bridge, but there are, of course, some loopholes.
And Mourinho exploited them with reckless abandon: using Herrera as Hazard’s own personal bully neutralised the Belgian’s – and subsequently the entire side’s – attacking influence at Old Trafford, and his decision to use the combined speed of Lingard and Rashford gave David Luiz and Gary Cahill constant problems.
Praise has rightly gone to Conte this season, whilst Mourinho has been largely received with derision. But the footballing world ought to admit that the latter tactically outsmarted the former on Sunday.