A bigger club, a bigger bus? Mourinho is taking tactics to the extreme

A tough week of fixtures produced a mixed bag for Jose Mourino's Manchester United, but his big game tactics are not for the purist - and need to be re-evaluated.

A bigger club, a bigger bus? Mourinho is taking tactics to the extreme
Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge ended in disaster | Photo via Getty Images

The term 'parking the bus' was coined by Jose Mourinho after a particular game where the opposition deployed defensive tactics to try and stop his Chelsea. Yet Mourinho is pragmatic, and it is something he has done himself on numerous occasions throughout his career in order to squeeze out a result.

There is nothing wrong with this approach, especially when one team is clearly inferior to another. Mourinho's teams rarely fall into the 'inferior' category, but sometimes - especially in high-profile away games - he err's on the side of caution. A stout rearguard performance has often reaped full rewards, as his teams have struck on the counter attack.

Mourinho does things his way

So the performance at Anfield last week should have left few people surprised. When he took over at Manchester United, it was a question that kept popping up. Would Mourinho change his style to fall in line with the 'United Way'? Well, he bought some exciting players, but it has never been in Mourinho's makeup to bow to other people's wishes, so he continues to park the bus when he wants.

Except that at Anfield, there were signs that he is getting a bigger bus. He lined up with what looked like a similar formation to what had gone before, but he must have given explicit instructions to the wide men Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford that under no circumstances should the Liverpool full-backs get beyond them. Both United men stuck to their task, and had excellent games.

For an hour, United were actually on the front foot, but the wide men especially were in deep defensive positions whenever Liverpool threatened to get forward. Rashford was given the task of keeping James Milner quiet, and he did so to good effect. His pace was a big factor, with Milner reluctant to commit himself too far forward, knowing he would be destroyed in a race.

Anfield point was hard earned

When Rashford was substituted, Wayne Rooney replaced him. For five minutes, before Milner himself was substituted, Milner got in behind United's back line twice as Rooney failed to deploy the same limpet like instructions. United held on for a hard earned point, and as far as Mourinho was concerned it was job done.

There was some outcry about his tactics, but it was to be expected and if there was a criticism, it was that United's wide men didn't get forward enough. They were so consumed with their defensive duties, that they rarely threatened in the areas they specialise in. United did their jobs, but only created one real chance of note.

The Fenerbahce game was different. United were at home, and as such played with a lot more attacking intent. The opposition were not a force, and United controlled the game as they wished. Same formation, but different mentality and with Michael Carrick pulling the strings, United were able to take the game to the Turks and did so to good effect.

Minor changes could have played a part

As expected, United would revert back to the tactics that ground out a result against Liverpool when they faced Mourinho's former club, Chelsea. This time there would be no hard earned point. There was no happy home coming. Aside from the tactics, there were three things different from Anfield that possibly contributed to the humiliating defeat.

Jesse Lingard replaced Young. Lingard did alright, he worked hard as usual and did what was required, tracking Victor Moses when required. Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini switched roles. At Anfield, Pogba was in the advanced position and Fellaini along side Ander Herrera. They both played reasonably well at Anfield, Fellaini breaking up play, and Pogba created the best chance of the game.

With the roles reversed they both looked like fishes out of water. Pogba was anonymous, and Fellaini plain awful.

The third difference from Anfield was the catastrophe that occurred 30 seconds into the game when David De Gea and his central defenders had a total mix up. De Gea shouldn't have come and United were chasing the game. That is, United should have been chasing the game. Yet, the negative tactics never changed. In fact, they were even crazier.

Mourinho has invented new positions. Lingard and Rashford played the 'Outside full back' roles, whilst Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia were occupying the 'Inside full back' roles. On more than one occasion in the first half United had six players in a line around the edge of their penalty area. It beggared belief.

A goal down is nothing, especially so early, so there was no need for panic. Yet this  was not deploying the same tactics, this was a lack of trust in the whole team. To make the two wide players, two of United's supposed attacking threat, play so deep was just not on. With Chelsea playing three at the back, there were gaping holes where the full back's would have been, yet neither Lingard or Rashford could get near that space.

Another poor goal conceded, and Mourinho finally changed things. The horse had bolted. United were by far the better team in the second half, playing pretty much a 4-4-2, but such is United's defensive frailty it wasn't such a shock when they got picked off on the counter-attack. The second half Chelsea played Mourinho at his own game.

Had Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored at Anfield, and had the first-minute madness not have happened at Stamford Bridge then it could have been a different story. It wasn't. Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis in their pomp wouldn't have made a difference in either game, and Mourinho needs to have a hard look at himself when United next come up against elite opposition.

United weren't always gung-ho under Sir Alex Ferguson, despite it being a popular myth. United squeezed out results with some dogged and attritional performances. It wasn't always pretty. Players were asked to defend on occasions, and defend properly, but they were not set up defensively. They were always sent out with some ambition. There in lies the difference.

Mourinho needs to save the bus for the way home.