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14th Jun 2017

Mourinho’s instructions to Smalling for the Europa Final tell you exactly why the player is leaving

This is some going

Patrick McCarry

He read Ajax like a book.

José Mourinho went into last season’s Europa League final against the Dutch side with a damn impressive record in winner takes all matches.

Ahead of the game at Stockholm’s Friends Arena, Mourinho-led teams had won 11 of 13 finals. Manchester United handily did for Ajax, winning 2-0, and that record improved to 12 from 14.

Mourinho was back in his native Portugal earlier this week and revealed some insights into his management style during a seminar in Lisbon.

Here, as translated by Tribuna Expresso, is how Mourinho detailed his tactics against Ajax and how there were very clear instructions for his midfield triangle – Ander Herrara, Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini – and especially Chris Smalling.

The United boss said he watched eight Ajax matches are part of his analysis and final preparations because the way he wants his teams to train and play is often based on how the opposition play.

As many noted after the final, United isolated a weak link in the Dutch side’s chain. Mourinho said:

“We wanted to create instability.

“We would let them play out from the back while blocking De Ligt, their right centre-back, making them play through Davinson Sanchez who had more trouble.” 

If Mourinho was happy to allow Sanchez to have the ball and spray passes – good, bad and indifferent – he did not want his defenders doing likewise.

That meant calling Chris Smalling to one side for a chat. Mourinho added:

“Everyone said that Ajax played a beautiful game of football and the beauty of football matters and blah, blah, blah.

“I told my players that, for me, beautiful is not giving our opponents what they want.

“I even joked with Smalling, ‘With your feet, we’re for sure not playing out from the back’.”

That might seem harsh on Smalling but Mourinho had noted how Ajax liked to press high to steal back possession. United cut out this strength by bypassing centre midfield with their first half trusts up-field before going ultra defensive after going 2-0 up.

There were also specific instructions for Paul Pogba to stay in his centre midfield holding role – and not chase playmaker Davy Klaasen – while Ander Herrera [pictured above] was tasked with teaming up with United’s full backs to harry Ajax players when play came down the flanks.

All very detailed. All very successful.

United fans must wish Mourinho, and his players, treated every single game like a cup game.