Following another disappointing result where Manchester United were unable to hold onto a lead, and headed inexorably to a draw, Jose Mourinho was miffed.
He was not miffed that his defence and midfield could not repel the massed talents of Anderlecht. Instead, he was frustrated with his strikers. But it’s not clear how much blame rests with Zlatan Ibrahimovic et al, and how much with Mourinho himself.
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) April 14, 2017
First, if we have a look at the substitution he made to kill the game, there are already questions. Marouane Fellaini is a perfectly disruptive influence if he is used higher up the pitch, but he has already shown this season that defensively he is too buffoonish.
It was Fellaini who allowed Leander Dendoncker to make the run into the box to equalise – that is not the fault of any attacker. Mourinho bears the blame because this was always possible, and Fellaini is responsible because he really should have figured out that he is meant to mark players. This is Football 101.
There is something risky about trying to win every game 1-0. Few teams can do it consistently, and that is probably why Mourinho is angry with his attack. Looking at the poor quality of his defensive players compared to the ability of those further forward, he can justifiably put the onus on winning the game on outscoring the opposition.
Indeed, perhaps when Mourinho was talking up the attacking traditions of United earlier in the season, he was doing so cynically – far better to aim to win 2-1 or 3-1 when you know your team are unable to defend for 90 minutes.
This all means that Mourinho plainly expects more goals. In the past, some of his outbursts against referees and conspiracies have been self-made spectacles placed in front of credulous journalists in order to get United’s poor form off the back page.
It’s boring, but it works, and so he will keep doing it when necessary. Mourinho has nothing to gain from starting beef against his forwards unless he really believes it take effect.
Just as Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been kept out of the side until they behaved in the manner he sees fit, this public criticism is currently constructive – it is nothing like the dark ramblings of his latter days at Chelsea.
There are some obvious reasons why United are struggling in front of goal. The first is that they have plenty of the ball but they don’t get in behind the defence often enough. When they try to open up a defence in front of them, they are bereft of creativity or skill. Only rarely is Ibrahimovic able to score as he did against Sunderland.