Mourinho v Fergie at United Pt 1: Big Games

Manchester City are dominating the Premier League this season but since the turn of the new year, many football fans have been talking about is Jose Mourinho. Firstly the ‘Special One’ stole the limelight from City by pipping them to their main transfer target Alexis Sanchez. Next, Jose Mourinho began a spat with star player, Paul Pogba. Now he’s engineered a defeat in the Champions League second round to Sevilla by parking even more buses than usual and he’s bullying Luke Shaw. Some fans have defended Jose saying Fergie played defensively in big games as well towards the end, and that he bullied players as well. So, we decided to have a look at the stats and public records to see if they have a point.

Performance in big games

The most important thing for fans of any club is to get one over on their fiercest rivals and they don’t care how it’s done…until they lose. So let’s look at how Fergie performed in his last six years as United manager vs. Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. We really don’t care for David Moyes’ tenure.

Possession: This stat is thrown around as possession is linked to a side’s desire to “play the right way.” So how do the managers stack up?

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It’s quite clear that Van Gaal is way ahead here, however his reign was met with derision as United fans felt as though the ball was retained without attacking purpose. Mourinho believes that it’s better to let the opponent have the ball as they will make more mistakes, while Ferguson approached big games in a balanced way.

Shots: If you don’t shoot you don’t score, unless you have Lewis Dunk and Richard Dunne on the opposing side and they’ll do it for you. Shots taken and shots on target is the easiest way to determine if a team is ‘having a go’. Football is a lot more complex than just shots (any time I’m playing online in FIFA and I see my shot stats are low I shoot from half way but don’t tell anyone). Anyway let’s see where the managers rank here.

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As we can see, Ferguson’s team definitely had more attempts and as a result, more on target. What’s interesting is that many will say Mourinho’s men have been more attacking than Van Gaal’s. However, though only marginal, LVG’s team gave opposition keepers more to deal with. This stat could change dramatically however, as Jose has two big games left this season with one being Arsenal at Old Trafford.

Let’s also note that under Ferguson, Manchester United saw a dip in shots when Cristiano Ronaldo left. However, his departure didn’t change their shots on target number, much. In fact United recorded an average of 6.6 shots on target per game in the 2011-2012 season, when Manchester City won the league so dramatically. The following season Van Persie was purchased to score more goals but United had their lowest tallies in front of goal in this 6 year period.

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The most important statistic is the final result. Did your team win or not? Mourinho made a big deal about United’s lack of recent football heritage in the Champions League. So what about football heritage in the Premier League’s biggest matches?

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 11.21.12 PMThere we have it. Ferguson and Van Gaal won just about half of the 10 games played against the 5 other big clubs in England. Where the two vary is that Ferguson had fewer draws while Van Gaal minimized losses. Mourinho lags behind both suffering a higher average loss and lower average win number. He can improve his ratio by beating Arsenal and Man City this season but there’s no guarantee of that.

So, that’s it for part 1. As we can see Sir Alex has deployed more defensive tactics when required but even in doing so, his sides have consistently had more shots, more possession and won more big games than Mourinho’s Man United. The myth of Mourinho and Ferguson doing similar things in big games can be put to rest.

Many have said that the quality of opposition and the quality of the United teams cannot be compared. Well, in part 2 we will do just that and the results may just surprise you.


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