It is perhaps an easy comparison to make, but the tactical masterclass delivered by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea on Tuesday evening once again highlighted the grave error that Manchester United made in failing to appoint the Portuguese instead of David Moyes last summer.
It had long been mooted that Mourinho was the natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. A born winner, Mourinho has been highly successful wherever he has been, and it was felt by many that he was the ideal man to take the helm at Old Trafford after British football’s most successful manager hung up his chalkboard.
As we all know, United decided against appointing Mourinho. It was felt by Sir Bobby Charlton that Mourinho was a “really good coach” but was ultimately not United material, and that the former Madrid manager “pontificates too much”. Instead of turning to Mourinho, the United board allowed Ferguson to handpick his successor. He opted for the manager of Everton and a fellow Scot, David Moyes.
With the United job no longer available, it was announced that Mourinho would be returning to Chelsea, the club he managed between 2004 and 2007. Since that appointment, the difference between the fortunes of Mourinho and Moyes has been very stark indeed.
Mourinho’s side have been very much in the title race, and with five games to go are still in the running. United, on the other hand, lie in seventh, seventeen points shy of the top of the league and seven points adrift of the top four. Considering Moyes took over the champions and has been able to spend almost £70 million on players, whilst Mourinho took over a side that had failed to finish in the top two for the previous two seasons, it seems obvious which manager has performed better.
If the league performances of both Chelsea and United weren’t enough to make the United board see that they have made a catastrophic error in appointing Moyes instead of Mourinho, this week’s Champions League fixtures will have drummed the point home in almost violent fashion.
The majority of the media have presented United’s Champions League campaign as the one shining light in their season. The reality is that aside from two games against Bayer Leverkusen and a second leg triumph against Olympiakos, United have been as limp, directionless and unimpressive as they have been in the league.
Nevertheless, United’s first-leg performance against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals gave plenty of United fans hope that their team had a chance of progressing to the semi-finals. Conversely, Mourinho’s Chelsea endured a poor first-leg, losing 3-1 away to PSG. The odds seemed firmly stacked against Chelsea to progress, whilst it was felt that if United could grab a goal at the Allianz Arena, they had more than a whisker of a chance of getting through.
The reality of course is that Chelsea progressed whilst United were sent packing. Whilst there is no shame in losing to the holders, there is a ready comparison between the performances of the two teams, and indeed the performances of the two managers in their respective second legs.
Following Demba Ba’s 87th minute goal that changed the entire complexion of Chelsea’s tie, it was clear that Mourinho had briefed his team for this exact eventuality. He raced down the touchline, not to celebrate with his players, but to deliver crucial tactical instructions for how to survive the next seven minutes. Following Ba’s goal, Chelsea appeared highly organised and in control of the tie, eventually going on to progress to the semifinal stage.
The comparison is blindingly obvious. After Patrice Evra’s 57th minute goal that pushed the scales back in United’s favour, there was no calm, cool approach from David Moyes. The Scot did make an effort to bawl some instructions into Darren Fletcher’s ear, but these instructions obviously did not have the necessary effect, with Bayern scoring from the resulting kick off without a United player touching the ball. Within 22 seconds, United’s dream, which had appeared so tangible and realistic following Evra’s bullet, looked uncertain once more.
It is not even as if Bayern’s onslaught would have been a surprise to the United players. In the first leg, it took Guardiola’s side only eight minutes to equalise after Nemanja Vidic had put United ahead, with United’s goal acting as a catalyst for Bayern to wake up and start playing some football. United would have known full well that the same thing would happen following Evra’s goal, and yet there was clearly no plan to deal with that eventuality.
Sadly this has been a key feature of Moyes’ tenure so far. It seems that his sides merely head out onto the pitch hoping to win, and seem completely incapable of dealing with the variable eventualities that can present themselves during a game of football. During their 10 losses in the Premier League this season, a lack of tactical awareness has been the key to almost every single one.
When we consider tactical awareness, the contrast between Mourinho and Moyes becomes most vast. In his post-match interview, John Terry revealed that the Portuguese had drilled his side on the training ground with plans for every possible eventuality: how they would play at 1-0, 1-1, 2-1 and so on. This preparation ended up being crucial for Chelsea as they were able to switch seamlessly from a system operating five forwards into a system where Demba Ba was shielding the two centre-backs and Fernando Torres was operating as an auxiliary fullback.
United, by contrast, had no answer to the Bayern onslaught. They simply allowed them to take the ball from the halfway line all the way down the pitch, cross the ball into the penalty box and head the ball into the goal. Following this, despite being very much in the game, United offered nothing, meekly accepting a 3-1 loss and an exit from the only competition that still held hope for them.
There have been plenty suggesting that because United were not embarrassed by Bayern, Moyes should be given more time to shape the team. This may well be a suggestion that comes to fruition, but the reality is that Bayern played as hard as they needed to, barely getting out of second gear, and still won the tie comfortably. This indicates just how far United have fallen under David Moyes, and illustrates perfectly why he should not be given a second season in which to try and rectify the mess that he has plunged the team into.
Whether United give Moyes more time or not, one thing is for sure: their opportunity to hire Mourinho has been and gone. It seems obvious that the United board will rue their arrogant choice to overlook Mourinho for the post that Moyes has made such a hash of so far. United are no longer dining at the top table, and their last opportunity of remaining there evaporated last night. Had Mourinho been in charge, it seems clear that the Portuguese would at least have given his team a fighting chance by providing them with the tactics required to have the best chance of defeating Bayern. United would do well to employ someone who can at least rival Mourinho’s tactical knowhow, as opposed to a man who sends out his side merely hoping to have a go.
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