Jose Mourinho Felix: What He Must Do to Improve Manchester United
Forget about all the talk of money, all the mind games, and all the press conferences, let's delve into the football system of Manchester Utd under Jose.
Football, as with most things in life is ever changing. The rate of change may vary from time to time, and only those at the forefront of it ( the Innovators and the adaptors ) will remain at the top. Jose Mourinho came to our attention in 2003, and 2004 for a lot of people. Winning the European Cup with FC Porto and then going to Chelsea. 99% of teams in England then played the straightforward 4-4-2 ( 2 central midfielders ), Jose came in with his 4-3-3; strong defense, extra man in midfield, fast and skillful wide men, and a strong centre forward. The extra man in midfield was the game changer and gave him so many advantages in England. He was the innovator then and pretty much won everything at a super rate, but it has slowed down of late, why?
There are certain tenets that successful modern teams have incorporated into their games that have elevated them in many ways ( to be much more better than "smaller" teams and give yourself the best chance to win against "bigger" teams ), and I will touch on a few;
1- A cohesive/organized team pressing: The defensive organization with regards winning the ball back at Manchester Utd is mostly a soft press till the opponent is closer to goal. This needs to change/improve. Manchester Utd are amongst the least runners in the whole division and the laid back defensive approach contributes to the numerous amount of chances created by opponents against Utd (De Gea rescues most times but this isn't ideal).
Modern football features teams working/pressing in zones whenever the opposition has the ball so they can be denied time and space to be useful with the ball, and Manchester Utd can benefit from this if implemented. Good ball players suffer when pressed intensely, how much more the majority of teams in England that don't have good ball players spread across the team?
2- Seek to dominate possession more: Yes I know Jose's style and it isn't possession based, but some of the possession we allow teams against us is atrocious. Number 1 above will help with this, but an attacking organization that seeks to control the ball more ( majority of the time ) is super important. Players need to be closer in proximity to each other so that progressive passes can be made.
Let me give an example, Ashley Young has the ball at right back; his only options are a long pass into the channel for Lukaku to chase, a back pass to one of the center backs, or a pass to the middle to one of the CM's. In all, only 1 player is close enough for a short progressive pass ( The CM ). This is poor. So many other examples in all the different zones of the pitch. Manchester Utd needs to improve on player proximity with regards moving the ball and passing interplays, and this leads me to my 3rd and most important point;
3- Manchester Utd needs to increase its number of chance creation dynamics ( not 90% fullbacks crossing or wide forward cutting in to cross). This team needs a variation in attacking approach. I wrote about the Barcelona of 2011 here,
and that team had at least 8, this Manchester Utd team has 4 in the predominantly 4-2-3-1 formation played;
1- Wide forward ( e.g Mata ) drifting infield leaving space for fullback ( e.g Young or Valencia ) to attack. Fullback gets the ball and crosses.
2- Same as 1 but from the opposite wing.
3- Wide forward stays wide, gets the ball, then cuts in and crosses.
4- Same as above but from the other side
5- ( Bonus )- Counter attack taking advantages of spaces left behind when opposition attacks
Now 4 in itself is not bad ( Man Utd has created 198 chances this season ) but there are 3 problems.
1- The quality of the crossers: Ashley Young is the best fullback crosser, says a lot. The rest are poor at it. So even if they get in a good position, the end product isn't good enough.
2- Lack of dynamism: The wide forwards ALL cut in and cross ( most of them can cross though, unlike the fullbacks ), but ALL of them cut in. No one can beat his man out wide and cross. Fullbacks too aren't dynamic enough.
3- Numbers in the box: Most times when the crosses come in, either no one is really attacking the ball or Lukaku is the only option. Better synchronized movement to receive these crosses are needed.
For a system that depends so much on crossing, this is like shooting yourself in the foot and I think it's lazy from Jose that he continues to do this, as opposed to thinking about other ways. Combination of 1 and 2 above makes it all very predictable, and even when it works, that end product final ball is lacking quality (especially from fullbacks).
Since we don't have new players, he has to devise a system to optimize the current. Cut out/reduce the crosses(since there is no quality) and focus more on other chance creation schemes. If the fullbacks cannot cross, then crossing from fullbacks should be very low on the list of how we create chances.
We have good passers ( Pogba, Mata, etc ), we have good ball runners and dribblers ( Martial, Lingard, Mkhi on his day ), why don't we get majority of our chances created from these guys using their characteristics and reduce crossing from the fullbacks?( Lean production- cut out the waste, optimize resources ).
Why don't we have chance creation dynamics through the middle more often? Even when a wide forward like Mata gets the ball in his zone, we should be able to have passing combinations between him, Pogba, etc and create a chance for Lukaku with a progressive pass that is not a cross. These schemes can be trained and practiced, and there are lots of passing combo options.
Why don't we see consistent passing relationships and connections between groups of players on the pitch(remember what I said about players being too far apart during ball circulation and build up)?
Why are we 95% of the time playing a 4-2-3-1 formation? Is it the best? Will a change of formation contribute to eliminating these problems ( Utd has actually done well when using 3-5-2 with Martial and Lukaku linking up and one of the CM's joining them ).
At Porto he played a 4-4-2 diamond, first time at Chelsea he played a 4-3-3, at Inter he played a 4-3-1-2, at Real Madrid he played a 4-2-3-1, and back at Chelsea he played a 4-2-3-1. Since Real Madrid, he has predominantly settled on a 4-2-3-1 (after showing variation according to the qualities of players he had early on in his career).
What is the difference now? Is he telling me that the players at 3 clubs in his last 3 jobs ( Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man Utd ) are suited best for 4-2-3-1?, or has he chosen this as his preferred predominant formation and refused to properly analyze and explore more options?
These are questions Jose needs to be asking himself. Is he optimizing the qualities of this team and its players? I know the answer, and it is NO.
At the end of the day, maybe Jose doesn't want to change his style and introduce a more intense organized press without the ball, maybe Jose doesn't want to control more possession, maybe Jose still wants to play his transition based reactive football, maybe Jose wants to stick with playing 4-2-3-1 95% of the time; nothing wrong with this.
But he cannot escape number 3 on the things I listed earlier; a variation in type and an increase in the number of our broad chance creation dynamics, cutting down on approaches that mostly use crosses (since we are weak at this), making more use of approaches that optimize our quality characteristics (passers, dribblers, runners, movers), well synchronized build ups, ball circulation/passes and chance creation, and pretty much a more organized system ON A CONSISTENT BASIS.
Summary is that the team needs a playing identity that is effective, well thought out, and well implemented. There is always the other option of magically making our fullbacks cross better and our wide forwards being able to beat a man out wide ( * chants Harry Potter lines ).
In addition to all I've written, there are a couple more things;
1- He must be braver in those 5 games away to the top 5.
2- Set piece marking has to improve.
3- Make use of best attacking players better ( as I mentioned earlier, devise schemes to take advantage of their attacking qualities as best as possible ).
4- Play players in their best positions
Now that I've touched on how to make the current resources more optimal, let's look ahead to the next transfer windows and what is needed;
A wide forward that can beat a man out wide and cross in addition to cutting in and crossing or dribbling( which is why I think he wanted Perisic ), a back up striker, a right back, 2 CM's ( 1 must be a high quality creative CM good at both phases of the game ), and maybe a left back.
The league looks like it's far gone, but the team must still give it's best and try to improve. There is also the Champions League; I don't expect us to win it ( unless by a miracle ) , but a strong run there would be good too, in addition to the FA Cup. Things may be looking bleak right now in this bad slump, but Utd can still end the season on a positive note.
As for Jose, I'm 100% #JoseIn and I back him to hopefully get us playing better on a more consistent basis. Let's not forget he won the league in 2015 ( until a few hours ago this was 2 years ago. Haha ). He has the mentality, experience, and ability to get Manchester Utd fully back on the right track.
Thanks for reading this, I wish you a happy new year. GGMU.