Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher debate Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Man United

by Leo Nieboer

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have reacted to Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Manchester United this season, with both criticising the Portuguese for adopting an overly defensive approach against other top six sides.

The 54-year-old attracted criticism following Man United’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal for his side’s inability to score a single goal away from home against the top six this season.

United have only claimed two wins in total against their closest rivals this season and, as a result, remain four points behind fourth placed Manchester City with three games remaining.

And Carragher, speaking on Sky Sports, noted that Mourinho needs to improve when it comes to claiming results against the sides around him.

“It’s not right for a club like Manchester United not to score in those games [away against the top six],” he said.

“It’s not right for any team not to score in four or five games, but for Manchester United with the manager they have, the players they have on the pitch and the money they’ve spent it’s embarrassing really that they can’t score a goal. It comes from Mourinho and the way he sets up his teams.

“I’m not going to go from one week saying it’s a Mourinho masterclass when he gets the job done to saying it’s an absolute disgrace. You’ve either got to back him in the way he manages or be totally against him no matter what the result is. But when you play like that you have to win.

“You see the outrage of people today, but it’s not a shock to me. He’s done this for 10 or 15 years. That’s what he does in big games and I don’t care who he manages, I don’t think it will ever change because he’s had success doing it.”

Neville, on the other hand, placed emphasis on the importance of seeing Mourinho make more additions to the squad before fully judging his managerial style at Old Trafford.

“At the moment he has found a formula that’s getting him through big games, but this season has not been an acceptable one in the Premier League by any stretch. I agree with Jamie in a certain sense that when he’s got an inferior team to the opposition he will try and nullify completely.

“What I would say is there’s a variation on a theme there. If you take United [against Arsenal] there’s no doubt they were a back six with Mkhitaryan and Mata – and for me that has to be adapted, moving forward. In his best teams, Mourinho has never been as defensive as that.

“He’s only signed four players for Manchester United. Once he’s signed eight or 10 and is a year further forward I would be asking a question if he was playing a back six in all these big away games.

“Historically, this is an absolute freak for Jose Mourinho. He’s always been second or first in terms of goalscoring and he’s always been second or first in goalscoring against the top six. This season is the freak – and is probably the worst-performing team he has managed in the last 10 or 15 years.”

Mourinho wouldn’t ever openly admit this, but you sense that those overly defensive displays away at the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool this season have been founded upon a belief that he doesn’t have the players capable of carrying out his methods on the big stage. The formula is undoubtedly there: a 25 game unbeaten run, an unyielding capacity for creating chances, a League Cup and a potential Europa League trophy all point towards the groundwork being there.

What the Portuguese lacks, however, is a sense of ruthlessness going forward: players like Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial have all enjoyed promising moments over the past nine months, but none have managed to apply constant pressure, especially against bigger sides, often faltering in front of goal when Mourinho needs them most. Such an area will, no doubt, be on the top of Mourinho’s list of things to address ahead of next season.

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