Soccer / managers

Apocalypse Mou
Post Anfield, there is nothing left, but an atomised world; the apneic air is thick and choking, and sticks like napalm to the skin, the last light swirls in a nuclear wind of dust motes and radiation, and the land, the land is broken and upturned in a smouldering Klopp shaped crater. After the Shaqiri led horsemen had cast their cold eyes upon the Earth, Mourinho's Manchester Utd survived only as a scuttling cockroach scavenging the ravaged wasteland like a terrestrial bottom-feeder, whose grouper-like mouth hungrily hoovered up toxicity and filtered out hope through its grim down-turned expression. As if following the depressed curve of Mourinho's frown, United's football had devolved further still, back to before the cockroach's defensive carapace had hardened, right into evolution's warm little ponds and into the pages of genesis. Here, at the dawn of life, at the very point of infinite possibility, while all around were rushing to complexity, "Mou-ball" stood like a simple stromatolite; content to wait, the long fated wait of living rocks; what we now recognise was the wait for the inevitable. The price of all this standing still was all too evident at Anfield. Liverpool, as you would expect from a team with the jaunt of tactical bipedalism and the opposable thumbs of teamwork, simply picked the game up and walked away with it. They left Utd to look like decrepit budgerigars who, no longer able to cling to their perch, would have to scratch around in the trampled dirt of Carabao consolation in search of the mealy crumbs of sustenance. With Liverpool stealing their wings, this point of flightless, undernourished ambition proved to be Mourinho's point of no return, and all things considered can he have many complaints? In terms of defensive alignment Utd came to resemble an undergrad experiment on the wind dispersal of invasive plant species. Randomly scattered across the pitch like a plight of rhododendron blanketing a Scottish moor, they were the product of outmoded thinking, out of place by at least 10,000 Kms, and moreover, became a problem which was impossible for Mourinho to solve. A defense is a fragile ecosystem, wherein in order to thrive, a delicate balance needs to be struck. By the end of Mourinho's tenure Utd's defensive disequilibrium resembled the disarray of when, post Mufasa's death (I'm sorry for going there) and Simba's exile, Scar and his band of nefarious hyenas annexed the pride-lands. While, a great back line should trip off the tongue as mellifluously as Panucci, Baresi, Costacurta, and Maldini, even a defense of more humble ambition needs to be, at minimum, predictable. Utd's was anything but. If Nostradamus had pinched Doc Brown's Delorean, set the date to 16/12/2018 and the GPS to Anfield, and parked on Mourinho's teamsheet, he still wouldn't have predicted a defense of Dalot, Darmian, Lindelof, Bailly, and Young. Though in fairness to the sooth saying charlatan, that defense reads less like a Manchester United back-line than it does a cryptic crossword clue typed by a chimpanzee cluelessly attempting to prove the infinite monkey theorem. Perhaps it was just that Mourinho was simply out of ideas. Increasingly, it was if he had been reduced to simply throwing names at the problem of defensive porosity in the desperate hope that some combination would stick. But ultimately the desperation was just too much, it seemed to undermine his self-assuredness and, via eccentric team selections, leech the confidence from the players. And, yet, for all that, there was a period when, through sheer weight of numbers and, funnily, no little desperation, Utd managed to frustrate Liverpool and to almost hoodwink them into playing their game of kicking the ball very long distances. That said, Mourinho's post-match comments repainting such deferential passivity as an example of tenacious obstinacy, were no better than the patter of a slippery salesman peddling snake oil as a new strand of antibiotic. Such words, though outwardly defiant, in truth were little more than the tired echoes of Mourinho's once glorious obstinacy. The difference this time was that even the hopeless and credulous had heard enough. In truth, while the white heat of the media spotlight has tended to wither the collective perception of Utd's rearguard, the midfield is, if anything, in even worse shape. If Man City's engine room can be said to reflect the ambition of Dubai's sky-scraping metropolis, then Utd's resembles Stonehenge; inanimate, monolithic and of uncertain purpose; though presumably it has something to do with ley lines, solstices, and druids. Altogether, Mourinho's midfield stank of a stale mouldy mix of decline, stagnant talent, and gigantism. Indeed by the end, so spectral and inclined to launching long balls had Utd become that their midfield had all the tangible influence of a disillusioned gang of ghosts manning a trebuchet. Ultimately, the result of such medieval tactics was that Utd's defense were left hopelessly exposed, that opposition pressure was unrelenting, and that in attack they were as impotent as octogenarians were prior to Viagra coming to market. If the frigidity of Utd's football was anything to go by Mourinho seemed to think of the attack as a superfluous appendage, and the sexy stuff of goal scoring as a defilement of the untouched virginity of the 0-0 draw. Among purists such a chaste approach made his presence at Old Trafford as incongruous as that of a nun at a Wiccan fertility ritual. Furthermore, with tolerance of his abstemiousness always predicated on success, this season's downward turn in form left the Portuguese more vulnerable than may otherwise have been the case; if he had been synonymous with nurturing young talent for example. An arrangement that had been hoped to deliver the impetus of an adrenaline shot had somewhere along the line deteriorated into the gentle decline of palliative care. Indeed, you could almost trace the club's descent in the dying arc of each long ball's flight as they, one by one, fell from the edge of space. This tactic proved so futile that it felt like Mourinho had wished upon space junk crashing to earth instead of shooting stars. Never was the redundancy of Mourinho's long ball obsession more obvious than against Liverpool. More often than not, Lukaku would lose the aerial duel to the imperious Virgil Van Dijk, after putting up about as much resistance as a little piggy's straw house in a hurricane. However, It wasn't this fact which was the most damning, it was that the very best that could be expected was for the ball to glance off the Belgian's head and travel just that little bit farther from the Utd goal. Utd's attacking ambition, in other words, had been reduced to little more than trying to keep the opposition at arm's length. The thing is that if Lukaku is given the opportunity to maneuver through a 45-point turn so he can face the opposition's goal, he becomes a much bigger threat. Utd's goal, which admittedly was mostly the product of Alisson dampening down the "better than De Gea" hype, owed something to the number 9's bullocking capacity for nuisance making. In some ways therefore Lukaku's, otherwise very peripheral, involvement was indicative of the underlying tension between Mourinho's design and the characteristics of his players. It was like the Portuguese had tried to engineer a tractor from the spare parts of a Ferrari. Or in other instances that he had mistaken a tractor for a Ferrari. In the first half of the Liverpool game Jessie Lingard, or JLingz as he likes to be called these days, was nominally operating - he only ever nominally operates - as Mourinho's derivative of a number 10. Ostensibly that should have seen him line up against Fabinho, but up until Mourinho's half time reshuffle the ex-Monaco man enjoyed 45 untroubled minutes and dictated the game as he saw fit. Into the second half, Lingard was re-positioned to nominally operate on the right side of Utd's attack, a move which brought him into direct competition with Andy, Andy, Andy, Andy Robertson. Again Lingard was nowhere to be seen, leaving Scotland's answer to the Duracell Bunny free to endlessly maraud up and down the flank. To conclude; either Lingard is a lazy beggar, or Mourinho had developed an untimely case of face blindness and confused him for Cristiano Ronaldo. As the final whistle blew and Mourinho trudged his way back to the dressing room, Klopp gamboled onto the pitch to greet his players with all the exaggerated warmth of a drunk uncle at Christmas. Except of course it wasn't exaggerated, for a Utd fan it was all too genuine. Ultimately the gap between the genial hugs and boisterous conviviality of Klopp's celebrations at Anfield and the premeditated antagonism of Mourinho's ear-cupping, spotlight hogging routine at Juventus is the space where things have gone wrong for Man Utd of late. At the end of the day tactics, recruitment, coaching etc etc... are nothing but the shiny strands of tinsel that hang on the Christmas tree of man management. Take the tree away and all you've got is an expensive mess for Mauricio Pochettino to clear up.

Celebrating Late Goals