Mourinho’s pragmatism reaping rewards for United
Accustomed to winning trophies with prolific scoring more than by cagey, safety-first displays, Manchester United fans may have to get used to Jose Mourinho’s preferred strategy if a dour 1-0 Champions League win over Benfica is anything to go by.
The result left United on the verge of reaching the Champions League knockout stages and the Portuguese manager was happy.
“I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively,” he told BT Sport.
“Sometimes I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results. We are one point from qualifying and one victory away from winning the group with two games at home to play.”
Bereft of cutting edge up front or creativity in midfield without the injured Paul Pogba, United won thanks to a freak Marcus Rashford goal and a solid defensive display.
Still unbeaten in either the Champions League or in domestic competitions, United, who are two points behind local rivals City in the Premier League, are in position to challenge for their first league title since 2013.
Having netted four goals in wins over West Ham United, Swansea City, Everton, Burton Albion, CSKA Moscow and Crystal Palace, United’s last two games against Liverpool and Benfica made those performances look like flat-track bullying.
Romelu Lukaku, the club’s only out-and-out striker with Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured, made a dream start to his United career by scoring 11 goals in his first 10 games after arriving from Everton.
But the Belgian looked toothless in a dour 0-0 draw at Liverpool followed by the narrow win at Benfica.
Injuries to midfielders Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick have hampered Mourinho but his back line has held firm.
“Without any pressure, we knew the goal would arrive,” Mourinho said after the Benfica game which was settled by a dreadful error by the Portuguese side’s 18-year-old keeper.
“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out,” Mourinho said.
The wily Portuguese knows goals like Marcus Rashford’s freak effort against 18-year old novice Mile Svilar, the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history, will be difficult to come by against stronger rivals.
But with a rock-solid rearguard he also knows United will usually be in with a chance of winning those games.
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