With the Premier League season coming to an end, Manchester United clinched their spot in second place with 78 points. It’s the most points the Red Devils have earned since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Hats off to Mourinho for this accomplishment.
But if a casual football fan sat down and watched an entire United match this season, they’d surely be scratching their heads or falling asleep. At the very least, they’d wonder how they finished so high in the table.
It’s a straightforward query: How on earth did Manchester United finish in second place? Yes, they have a squad stocked with talent. But the eyeball test leaves something to be desired.
Playing not to lose
The reality is that Mourinho’s tactics completely revolve around defense. It’s about not conceding goals. Forget about winning. Let’s play not to lose.
Unfortunately, for the fans and players, this strategy restricts his more talented players from pushing forward and creating chances. This presents a problem. When Man United are in possession of the ball, it often appears as if they have no plan going forward.
No runs in behind, rarely any one-twos. Mostly, it’s talented players standing around. Every pass is either sideways or backwards to “find a gap.” But when no one is making runs, no gaps open up. The result: A lack of motion and scarcity of energy.
Each player is disciplined to their position. They’re almost fixed to a point where they’re not able to leave a particular area of the pitch. The forwards and wingers rarely make interchangeable, crossing runs to confuse the opposition’s defense because they’re fixated on what the lineup should look like on paper.
Playing under restraint means wins in the Premier League
To his credit, Mourinho has found a way to produce results. Remarkably, the Reds haven’t conceded more than two goals in the entirety of the season — in all competitions — and have only allowed 28 goals in the Premier League. Only one behind Manchester City.
Take Pogba, for example. Arguably the most creative player on the team, his primary concerns are his defensive duties rather than creating chances in the attacking third. Mourinho uses the Frenchman as a defensive midfielder, eliminating an avenue of opportunity.
They also lead the league in clean sheets with 18, thanks in great part to David De Gea.
The Spaniard has made an astounding 115 saves in the Premier League alone this season. The fifth most behind Jack Butland for Stoke (relegated), Lukasz Fabianski for Swansea (relegated), Jordan Pickford for Everton (8th), and Mat Ryan for Brighton (14th).