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18th Oct 2017

Paul Scholes has changed his tune on Manchester United using negative tactics

You weren't saying that before

Robert Redmond

Paul Scholes seems to now accept Manchester United playing negative football.

Scholes was Louis van Gaal’s harshest critic during the Dutchman’s two-year spell as United manager. He regularly labelled the possession-based football played by Van Gaal’s team as “boring” and suggested it went against the traditions of the club. Scholes had a point, because United struggled under Van Gaal at home to teams they would have been expected to beat and many fans were disgruntled.

“I want to sit here and see United blast teams away,” Scholes said.

“…(With) brilliant attacking football, have players with creativity, have players who get you on the edge of your seat. I want to see that from Manchester United but it’s not been happening.”

However, Scholes doesn’t seem to have any issue with Van Gaal’s successor playing negative football.

On Wednesday night, the former United midfielder was a guest on BT Sport’s coverage of United’s Champions League win over Benfica, and the subject of the away side’s performance against Liverpool came up.

The bitter rivals played out a goalless draw at Anfield on Saturday, and it was a match completely devoid of any notable incidents or attacking intent from the away team. Liverpool played with the handbrake on, wary of United’s counter-attack, and Jose Mourinho set up United get a point. The former Chelsea manager treated the opposition as though they were Barcelona at their very best, rather than a team leaking goals, with the third worst defensive record in the Premier League.

Yet, Scholes was very impressed with Mourinho’s approach, and said that it left the team in a good position at the top of the table, despite the fact United dropped two points on Manchester City.

“I’m not saying they are in a position to win the league now, it’s very early, but to go to Anfield is very difficult,” Scholes said.

“If you go toe to toe with a team like Liverpool at their place, you know they’re a good team, you could get hurt. You could win the game, don’t get me wrong, you could score goals, but I think that was a typical Man United performance really. He got everything organised and defended brilliantly well and got the point they needed.”

Scholes’ claim that it was a “typical Man United performance” is very difficult to understand. It’s hard to remember United ever playing that way at Anfield under Alex Ferguson, who never ignored the strengths of his own team in order to negate the opposition’s qualities like Mourinho did. This isn’t saying Van Gaal was a better manager for United than Mourinho is, but it’s peculiar that Scholes can criticise one for a perceived negative approach and praise the other.

He criticised Van Gaal’s use of Ashley Young as a full-back, but has no issue with Mourinho using the player as an auxiliary full-back. He asked whether Van Gaal has a “problem with forward players”, but said nothing about Mourinho starting Marcus Rashford on the bench and refusing to bring on Juan Mata at Anfield.

United are undoubtedly better to watch now than during the final few months under Van Gaal. However, it’s not fair for Scholes to criticise one manager for a negative approach and praise another when he instructs his team not to cross the half-way line.