- Can Mourinho get the same level of performance out of his side when there isn’t a vendetta involved?
Manchester United’s performance against Chelsea was terrific. There was a clear plan, everyone had a specific job and all executed it to perfection. But this was no ordinary game. Motivated (Moutivated?) by Chelsea fans’ labelling of him as a Judas amongst other things, Jose set out to spoil his ex’s game and title bid, and this was Mourinho at his seething, calculating best. We’ll call it Vendetta Mou, when he has something to prove, and someone else’s night to ruin. Remember the 2-0 victory for Chelsea over Liverpool that derailed the Reds’ title bid? Gerrard’s slip, Demba Ba’s goal…this was the next act. The question remains – can Mourinho get this level of performance from his team when there’s nothing to rail against? Will we see reactive United or proactive United for the rest of the season?
2. Was Manchester United’s 3-5-2 a template for the future?
The system suited his players well, even though it left no space for the creativity of Mata or Mkhitaryan. The solid block of three in the middle in theory allows Pogba room to operate, and the front two of Rashford and Lingard were nippy and exciting. Lingard won’t get that role permanently of course, but if the club were to buy Griezmann, for example, you could see him and Rashford playing off of each other beautifully in a front two.
3. Can Conte adapt when things aren’t going well?
Though Chelsea lost against Crystal Palace, it was more of a fluke result than any failure of Conte’s system. The only other game that has tested the much-heralded 3-4-3 was Spurs’ resounding defeat of Chelsea in January, and even then Conte felt secure enough not to change how the team played, despite being one and then two-nil down. Mourinho’s custom-fit plan to cramp Chelsea’s style worked so well yesterday that Conte was finally forced to change systems, moving to a 4-2-3-1 and eventually 4-2-4 when desperation hit. However, it took the Italian far too long to adapt to a problematic situation that became evident early on and got no better throughout the game. Allowing Hazard and Pedro to remain man-marked out of the game felt negligent after a while.
4. Has Diego Costa lost it?
Old Diego returned yesterday. Evil Diego. The Diego that cares more about personal battles than the game itself, that is easily distracted by petty nonsense, and who contributes very little to the team beyond theatrical snarling. Conte has worked hard to exorcise this crippling aspect of Costa’s personality and will be upset that it returned at such a crucial moment. A natural parting of the ways feels imminent.
5. What exactly is Pogba’s role?
To return to United for a minute, what exactly is Pogba’s role? Even in this meticulously planned defensive masterclass in which each player performed a specific job off the ball, Pogba’s role remained a little unclear. He covered ground, yes, filled gaps, but on the ball he was again wasteful and lacked the poise of a player of his calibre. It will be fascinating to see how he progresses next season, once Mourinho has more of his own pieces in place.
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