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The new United way?

Friday 21st October 2016
35% possession. 20 fouls. 1 shot on target. 1 corner. 1 Marouane Fellaini. 0 goals. Those numbers - with the exception of the latter - will be banded about a lot in the build up to Jose Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge.

For the first time this season, Manchester United went into a game with a coherent and easily identifiable gameplan or “philoshsophee” as a certain maligned Dutchman would say. It was physical, pragmatic and more than a little cynical. It was vintage Mourinho.

The question is this: Has “The United Way” been re-written?

Plenty think it has.Liverpool fans, fuelled by some misguided, self-righteous anger about United not allowing them to walk the ball into the net for an easy 6-0 win. I have about as much sympathy for them as I do for moronic, Brexit voters now suffering buyer's guilt. Worry about your own team you big bloody whingers!

It's also a little unfair to Mourinho to tarnish him with the brush that has been slowly redecorating the place for more than a decade and a half. You have to roll things back to April 19th 2000 for that. That was when Real Madrid came to Old Trafford and defeated United 3-2, killing their defence of the trophy, stone dead. The one goal margin obscured the clear superiority of Real that night and Ferguson decided the classic 4-4-2 he built on an attack that simply overwhelmed opposition, had had its day. United changed to a more patient, possession focussed football from there on in, signalled by the signing of Juan Sebastian Veron .

His successor David Moyes , wrote a nine-month professional suicide note in a spell that was as incompetent as it was tragic. The one after the next one, Louis Van Gaal , arrived with a plan, which quickly dissolved in its second season, once it became apparent the great man's powers had waned.

That brings us to Monday night. United had been inconsistent and Mourinho indecisive on what he wanted to do. The build-up had seen United written off and it was expected – especially from a large number of Liverpool fans themselves - Liverpool would walk over them and humiliate two enemies in one go. The stage was set for Mourinho to do what he does best: Smother the game and antagonise damn near every in Anfield.

He did exactly that. United spent the entire game making sure a football match never took place. Tactical fouls, time-wasting and £89 million pound attacking midfielder Paul Pogba reduced to a rugby union openside flanker. This was the same playbook Mourinho has used in countless big games through his career and it has worked, although the returns have diminished as time has gone on. This was Liverpool 0 -2 Chelsea , just without Liverpool's comical blunders.

The matter of his style of play was never really broached in his introductory press conference. Small wonder as its starting to look obvious that United fans are going to have to take their dosage of Mourinho medicine. His carefully crafted cult of personality is being imposed onto the club and with it a style of football that some would consider savoury.

Monday night was billed as “Red Monday.” Bored Monday would have been more accurate. United's football was, at times so cynical it bordered on nihilistic. A footballing version of Realpolitik taken to its extreme. There is some sad irony in the fact that a fabulous little footballer such as Ander Herrera was given man of the match for a protracted impersonation of legendary dirty b*****d, Gennaro Gattuso .

This result can be sugarcoated by tribal loyalties and the marketing juggernaut of the Premier League all it damn well likes. However, this doesn't change the fact that its incredibly sad that some United fans are craving success so badly they are happy to take this medicine, especially as its very likely we will see more of the same at Stamford Bridge. You can put lipstick on a pig people, but it is still a pig.

Nobody asked United to go gung-ho and leave themselves wide open to repeated Liverpool counter attacks but more invention than this season's Apprentice candidates would have been nice. Nevertheless, Mourinho has always been an arch-pragmatist and won't abandon what he knows and works now.

United may have a new way and its Jose's way, however unattractive it might be.
Mike Knight
Writer, maker, candlestick baker. Pens articles on Football, film and politics.

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