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13th Mar 2018

Jose Mourinho is to blame for Manchester United’s Champions League exit

Robert Redmond

Manchester United are out of the Champions League, and it’s Jose Mourinho’s fault.

Two goals from Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder secured the Spanish side a place in the quarter-finals, after United’s extremely cautious tactics backfired. Jose Mourinho treated a modest Sevilla team like they were Barcelona from 2011 and surrendered the initiative, waiting for his opponents to make a mistake that didn’t come until Romelu Lukaku scored to make it 2-1, but by then it was too late. This is the United manager’s main tactic, waiting for the game to “break.” Sometimes it works, like against Liverpool on Saturday, but on Tuesday evening it was shown to be reactive, limited and out of date.

Following the match, on BT Sport, host Gary Lineker did his best to bring the conversation on to Mourinho’s reactive tactics. However, the three pundits refused to bite. Steven Gerrard kept saying United lost because they didn’t have “desire”. Paul Scholes said United’s players had a poor “attitude” and Rio Ferdinand said United are a “work in progress.” It’s no wonder some United fans won’t criticise Mourinho, listening to this.

Yes, Alexis Sanchez was poor, again. United’s midfield was a complete non-entity and only Lukaku can hold his head high following the game. But to blame the players for United’s poor display is to ignore Mourinho’s tactics. They were following orders. They were playing in a straight-jacket from the first minute because he told them to and they played for a goalless draw in the first leg because of Mourinho’s instructions – showing how out of date with top-level football he has become. Back in the 1970s it was a good idea to play for a goalless draw away from home in the first-leg, not now.

No other top team plays like United. They’re the only reactive side in the top six of the Premier League, the only team who would camp on their 18-yard line with a back-six to protect a lead. No other manager would take the budget United have and produce football like this, with tactics like this. Not anymore. Maybe in 2004, when a turgid Greece team won the European Championships and Mourinho came to prominence. Tuesday’s loss to Sevilla was further evidence that the former Chelsea manager has arguably been left behind.

There’s no evidence of him coaching any discernible pattern of play at United, other than instructing his team to hide in their own half and hope for the opposition to slip-up. Everything produced by the United forwards against Sevilla was improvised and off the cuff, and even when they win they’re stodgy in attack.

His approach isn’t pragmatic because a pragmatic manager treats a game on its merits – if a match is there to be won, he’ll utilise the talents of his team to exploit a weakness in the opposition. Mourinho intentionally curbs the attacking talent of his team, hoping for an opposition mistake and then for his team to capitalise. This is what occurred against Sevilla and it dramatically backfired.

Some United fans will continue to make excuses for him. But the loss to Sevilla is just another sign that Mourinho will never lead the team to a Premier League title or win the Champions League. Which begs the question, if this won’t happen, why is he there? This is only going to end one way.