Mourinho proves a point at Liverpool

Can a leopard change its stripes? Can a tiger change its spots? Can Mourinho have a plan B in big away matches?

Apparently not.

Ever since he burst on the scene, announcing himself as “the special one”, Mourinho has used a defense first tactic against teams he perceives as his equal. And last night, against a Liverpool side who have already beaten Arsenal, Leicester, and Chelsea this season, Mourinho did what Mourinho does and had his team shut up shop.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

As a fan of the game, I would prefer to see an open, end-to-end football match, an 8 goal thriller, each goal the product of a moment of brilliance from a previously unknown player.  But logically, I know that’s highly unlikely. And so does Mourinho. That’s why he deploys this tactic.

The logic is simple. Mourinho has an expensive team of top level athletes. He knows that those players can virtually guarantee a draw if they stay organized and focused for the full 90 minutes. He also knows that they are good enough that they could win the game off one or two chances. And he knows that if things go wrong he has players on the bench he can call upon to change the game. So, he has his team play a simple game and forces his opponent to break him down. This tactic has a name, coined by Mourinho himself, “parking the bus.”

The question isn’t what Mourinho is going to do it’s when will a manager comprehensively beat his approach? He will lose a few one-off games but I mean comprehensively defeat this bus parking and expose the flaws in the tactic.

It isn’t as much a tactic as it’s just a fact of life. When you have 11 of the best people in their field you can usually guarantee that they will be capable of producing a mediocre result. It’s not how brilliant people want to live their lives and eventually his teams revolt against him but before they grow tired of his bus parking, this tactic produces results. Mourinho has won in every league he has ever managed and won multiple titles in England. This tactic has even been deployed by Leicester City to win the League last season, though they used a variant and that difference is important.

Leicester City played defense first but they didn’t look to nullify the opposition in the way that Mourinho did against Liverpool last night. Leicester also deployed Mahrez and Vardy as part of a lightning fast counter attacking unit which simply overran most opposition defenses.

Against Liverpool, Mourinho didn’t have the players available to play that speedy counter attacking system. He did play Rashford, the young whippet-like Englishman, on the right but with Mkhitaryan, the counter attacking genius signed from Borussia Dortmund this summer, still recovering from injury and with Wayne Rooney well past his sell by date, Manchester United simply didn’t have the players to play a run and gun system. So, Mourinho played his biggest lineup, preferring to go for power instead of pace.

Mourinho played Pogba in the #10 role instead of the diminutive Juan Mata and backed him with the hard-working Ander Herrera and his snarling Belgian Malinois Marouane Fellaini. Up front, Mou had Zlatan who will win nearly every header, can create for Rashford or Pogba, and is a goal threat off any free kicks, corners, or crosses.

Liverpool this season have become known for their work rate and the speed of their counters. They are also a pressing team and try to take the ball away from the opposition high up the pitch. When they come up against a team like Arsenal, who like to build from the back, they press those builders and try to take the ball away from them. This doesn’t mean Liverpool don’t want possession, it means they win back possession often and frustrate their opposition in attack.

Mourinho deployed a variant of the Liverpool press against them. He actually had Pogba and Zlatan, not pressing and tackling, but instead stifling space and not allowing Liverpool to build their attack. The result was nearly perfect in that it didn’t allow Liverpool to get the ball in to their danger men in dangerous areas.

That said, the Mourinho system requires that his players all put in a 90 minute shift of tirelessly running after the ball and controlling space with their movement. It also requires his men to be perfect and mistake free.

Twice Liverpool found cracks in the Mourinho wall. Once when Emre Can accidentally dribbled in the United 18 yard box and got a free shot off, that shot was saved brilliantly by David de Gea. And then once when Coutinho found a yard of space and nearly curled home a brilliant shot from outside the box. Again de Gea came to the rescue.

In attack Paul Pogba looked like a very poor return on United’s investment. United supporters may not like to hear it but when your club buys the most expensive player in English history that fact is going to be mentioned in every match report. Pogba looked powerful and fast but like a classic Ferrari lacks the amenities one expects with a huge price tag. His touch was poor. His control was mediocre. His passing was loose. And it seemed like whenever he got the ball in attack the game grinded to a halt or resulted in a turnover. And yet, it was his cross which found the head of Zlatan and should have won them the game.

That last bit is entirely Mourinho’s game plan. Play defense for 90 minutes and maybe get a winner off a single moment of brilliance. If he gets the winner, he’s hailed as a genius, if he doesn’t get the winner he’s decried as boring. But Mourinho won’t care either way. All he wants is that point.




  1. I wonder what the ManU fans make of it. Is it just this game? ManU haven’t seemed like they play good attacking football all season, though maybe I’m just biased in that observation. After all the fuss they made about Lvg, I wonder how long they’ll give Mourinho’s reputation before turning on him. It’s not like he’s likeable anyway.

  2. I am unwilling to dignify that performance by Jose Mourinho’s United as anything other than cowardly. Mourinho must get over his small team manager mindset and realize he is now at a club that desires good football and the win. That was embarrassing.

    1. It was an away game against a team challenging for the title. I appreciate your football purism, I really do, I just think that if you asked any supporter of any club if they would take a point at Anfield right now that they would take it.

      I will take a point at Anfield. Yep. Go ahead and award it right now. A point at Anfield and a couple of shots that might win you the game? I’ll take that in a Liverpool minute.

  3. I’ve watched Pogba a fair bit over the past three years, and his touch has a tendency to desert him a surprising amount considering how often it looks utterly brilliant the rest of the time. I always thought he would grow out of it, but it’s still there. He seems to lose control of the ball at really weird moments. Maybe it’s that I expect more of him.

    But yeah, that price tag is a stone around his neck. Any mistake he makes, no matter how innocuous in the grand scheme of things, means that the transfer fee turns into a stick with which to beat him and United.

    1. Yes Pogba does have moments when his touch deserts him. I think he probably should be in the £45-55 mil range in this market. Unfortunately for him (and for United), they bought him in the same summer when the Euros were being held in France and he was one of the most recognizable faces of the French team. That further inflated the price (along with United’s desperation to buy a brand name).

    2. Touch lets you down when your focus lets you down. I haven’t seen Pogba play a lot, but the few times I have seen him he’s never looked right in the head.

      It’s a stupid thing to say but I think of him as a tragic figure – an Arsenal player who never found Arsenal. Imagine if Henry or Vieira had never found Arsenal and never been given the space to blossom. He shouldn’t be ruined by Mourinho or playing in a cagey tactical Italian league, he’s a frickin racehorse who should be running free.

  4. Oh, and this is totally unrelated, but I recently started watching “Red Oaks” on Amazon for the sole reason that the lead reminds me of Mesut Ozil. The show’s not bad, and if you grew up in the 80s, like I did, you’ll enjoy the cultural reference points rooted in the setting, but really I think it’s the Ozil factor that keeps me coming back. Strange how following Arsenal influences non-football things I do.

  5. I saw a post somewhere where someone said , ‘ If Mourinho directed ‘Die Hard’, it would be 90 minutes of Bruce Willis hiding in a closet, then applauding his tactics for not getting shot. Haha

  6. Real Madrid wouldnt get away with this for more than a couple games. The club invests huge amounts and with that comes the expectation of an attempt to entertain. Do you noted fans not feel they want more than a cagey point at every away game to the top 5/6 clubs?

      1. Well notably it wasn’t mourinho who delivered that too them. But it was the same if not worse football.

        And here lies the question arsenal fans get asked, would you trade the glorious football for silverware? I wouldn’t.

  7. I think it’s his self congratulatory nature that annoys me.
    As you say, he has 11 of the best players so if they play it safe they’ll more than likely get a point anywhere. He’s not exactly making a team better than the sum of it’s parts, rather settling for the bare minimum you’d expect from them.

  8. Regarding the tactic of “parking the bus,” I don’t see the point of criticizing that tactical approach. It’s up to our coaching staff and our players to figure out how to beat teams which choose to play that way. I won’t criticize any manager who chooses to play that way. Heck, we were ecstatic when we beat Barca by defending deep in our own half and then countering when possible.

    As for Mourinho, he’s simply a detestable human being and deserves loathing for that, not his tactical approach to football. I mean forget football, the misogyny and sheer vindictiveness he displayed to Dr Eva Carneiro was absolutely ridiculous. It showed the world just how narcissistic, mean spirited, and frankly paranoid he is. I tire of antics and will welcome the day he no longer has the cameras pointed at his ugly face.

  9. I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong for a manager and his team to try to eke a point (or three) from a game in whatever way seems the most effective. We face the same tactics ad nauseam when playing most teams in the EPL, and as pointed out above, we have occasionally used them ourselves when facing top European teams. But the decision to defend deep and hit on the counter is also an admission that your team is outclassed, and is only really interested in not losing. So Mooreenyo patting himself on the back for scratching a point from Liverpool is a clear sadmission (typo intended)that in spite of Utd’s massive spending, the Scousers are the better team, and by inference, Klopp is a better manager. How do United fans (and the Board) feel about that, I wonder.

  10. Arsene Wenger gets the best team out of his individual players for the future of the club. He teaches his players to suppress their weaknesses and express their strengths so everyone flourishes.
    Mourinho gets the best players to suppress themselves without consideration of their strengths in order to serve his purpose. That is why the players and teams change but his system does not. That is why he does not last longer than 2-3 years anywhere.

  11. Unrelated though it is, I must comment on Gianluigi Buffon’s vintage performance in Tuesday’s Champions League game between Juventus and Lyon.

    Amid some notable performances such as Hugo Lloris and Aubaymeyang, the ageless warrior turned in a classic 90 minutes. Gigi’s diving stop from Lacazette’s spot kick was probably the highlight but there were a few brilliant saves.
    After a couple of rough outings recently it was great to see a legend well, being legendary.

  12. I’ve had cause, repeatedly I must add, to deplore Mourinho on this forum, both the man and the tactics. Having said that, I can’t blame him for going for a point at Anfield in a strategic bid for longer term gain in the title race. Perhaps I’m getting a bit more ambivalent towards him because I realize that his man-management skills are on the wane and he’s no longer the darling of the British media having been usurped in that regard by the combination of Guardiola, Klopp and Conte. The decline of the Special One Brand must hurt this deeply egotistical man profoundly. His post-match comments were very revealing. He basically sneered that”Liverpool were not the last wonder of the world (which he felt the media had made them out to be)” and expressed satisfaction at keeping the Anfield crowd in a state of “permanent disappointment”. I find his recession to the shadows utterly satisfying and look forward to the next act in the diminution of his legend when he visits the only place he has ever regarded as home, Stamford Bridge, this Saturday. I’m sure the “rats” who “got” him sacked (Costa, Hazard, Matic and the sadly irrelevant Fabregas) have a few more dark surprises in store for him. Get me a reclining chair gents…

  13. jose is all about winning. winning is not about your style of play or tactics, it’s about having the greatest points total come seasons end. a point at anfield is better than zero points at anfield. he’s also denied a potential title challenger two points. lastly, if he went guns blazing at liverpool, his team could have gotten embarrassed. i respect the approach. he got a point at anfield and, on another day, could have gotten all three.

    the major talking point tim made is that someone has to find a way to defeat this strategy (not tactic). the bottom line is it’s not easy. mourinho’s got a ton of talent, not to mention arguably having the best goal keeper in the world. if it were easy to defeat his approach, we wouldn’t discuss mourinho as he’d be insignificant.

    what is significant is wenger’s never beaten mourinho. the one time i really believed wenger would beat mourinho was right before he got sacked the first time. i think it was the end of the ’06-’07 season, arsenal were at home, and chelsea had more injuries than arsenal. when starting line-ups were announced, mourinho did something i thought was untypical and brilliant at the same time; he played with three strikers. he played wright-phillips and joe cole alongside kalou and they worked their butts off. this approach negated arsenal’s fullbacks providing width for the team. it worked like a charm. chelsea even got a red card in the first half and wenger still couldn’t beat mourinho. while many may not like mourinho, he convinced me on that day of his brilliance.

    1. I guess the bottom line on whether you support Mourinho or not is whether you only care about the end result, winning. He does win. He is an effective coach, or at least he was before August of 2015. Since then he’s been in a bit of an Aaron Rodgers-esque tailspin. If you’re still an Arsenal supporter this long after the glory years then chances are you care about something more than that. Loyalty, style of football, philosophy, treating people right, letting players express their talent, giving young players an opportunity, giving fans a product worth their money, and so on. Mourinho is better than Wenger at winning a single football match. But Wenger built an entire tradition at Arsenal and will leave a legacy Mourinho can’t hope to match. Even if Wenger never wins against Mourinho his entire career and for me he is still by far the better football manager not only because of what he has achieved but how he has done it. I’ve been called a loser and far worse things for this view but I don’t care.

  14. I feel every team and every club have a responsibility to enhance the game rather than diminish it. Parking the bus when you are outclassed is fair enough, and even defensible as a tactic when you are away from home to another top club. It can be exciting to watch a team put on a defensive masterclass, especially if their backs are against the wall. If they nick all three points doing it, you have to give them credit.

    But all sport is based on the fundamental rule that each competitor will try their hardest to win. If you set up your team to play for a draw, or to play so conservatively that it reduces their chance of winning when winning is a realistic outcome, that borders on unsportsmanlike behaviour. It’s not as bad as throwing a game, but it does diminish the league and the game in general.

    That’s why Mourinho’s tactics as Tim describes them – asking players to play within their capabilities – make a lot of people uncomfortable, beyond the issue of whether it’s boring or not.

  15. Definitely not enjoying reading a defense of Mourinho on 7am. The upshot of the blog today is that ends justify means. I just don’t believe in that. Ssinderias is right, the proof that he’s horrible is that he doesn’t last anywhere.

  16. There’s a difference between taking a draw at Anfield and playing for it. If Arsenal had done what ManU did, I know I’d be disappointed, and there would be a lot of criticism that would follow.

    That Mourinho did what Mourinho does should be more cause for criticism, not less. The odd examples of a Barcelona game, or the 2005 FA Cup final just proves that those are outliers. But if this is the extent of your strategy and ambition then you forfeit any rights to be considered among the biggest clubs or best managers.

    In itself there is nothing wrong with playing defense, but it’s ugly when taken to the extreme. You even had the old Mourinho trick of sending Ashley Young to the opposite end of the pitch and look the other way as he was to be subbed. As I said, I wonder how ManU fans feel about this, but it doesn’t make sense to me that they’d get so riled up by LVG but abide this boring football, similar results and cowardly approach against their historic rivals when they’re looking to claim they’re back. The Mourinho smugness might fit their psyche, but the rest is just an attempt to rationalise, which doesn’t match their stated aims. Point or no point.

    1. They’re a club that’s always believed in attacking football. They may also have a side track record of being referee favorites who get away with assault on the football pitch, but they always tried to win. Setting up to get a a point away from home was not their deal. As long as Mou gets results they may look the other way but like I’ve been saying all year, the whole MU situation has a high chance of getting extremely toxic, extremely quickly. The rooney thing was just the beginning.

  17. The depth of the anti-Mourinho sentiments here is understandable. I loathe the man’s antics as much as the next person. But, having seen him lose his Midas touch and invincible aura to a significant degree in the last eighteen months, I consider him more of an irritant than anything else. Unlike Wenger, you get the impression with people like Jose that football is basically a day job rather than a passion or vocation. He’s too consumed with tangible deliverables to bother with a philosophy or legacy. His page in the football annals will be quite short and filled with numbers…but no soul or hint of perpetuation. His dislike for people like Wenger and Guardiola is partly founded on the fact that the football philosophy they espouse requires the bravery and audacity that he can’t inspire in his own troops. To play that way, you must trust your ideas. Even more, you must trust in the ability of your men to key into your idea, embody it and give it even greater expression than you could have conceived. Bravery and trust: Mourinho’s dreaded twins.

  18. I think there are three separate, somewhat related issues which are in play in this discussion. Firstly, and most obviously, Mourinho is a detestable human being. End of.

    Second, defending, especially in a low block, lacks entertainment and/or aesthetic value. Meh, to each his own I guess. Personally, I find admire teams which defend well and I can appreciate good defending as much as I admire and appreciate good attacking play. In my opinion, defending is an under appreciated and misunderstood aspect in all team sports. Champions in any team sport value defense because it is absolutely necessary for success.

    Third, playing for a nil-nil draw is against the spirit of competition. That I wholeheartedly agree with. But don’t blame teams and coaches for doing that, blame the governing bodies for giving each team a point to defend before a ball is kicked. Of course managers of less talented teams are going to defend the point they’ve “earned” by playing in an attritional and negative manner. A rule change I’d dearly love to see would be only giving a point for score draws. If teams knew they had to score in order to gain even a point, they’d have to change their approach.

    1. Now that is a great suggestion. You start the game with nothing and must earn every point. I think this is better than the more common idea of awarding a bonus point for 3 or more goals.

    2. Excellent idea. That would pretty much spell the end of over rated managers like Mourinho.

    1. Last time we beat a team that badly in the CL was when we put 7 on Slavia Praha. That was also a season in which we should have won the league! 2007-2008.

      Enjoy this, lads. We won’t always have a team this good.

  19. What I find remarkable is the hunger and aggression. The boys have the bit between their teeth. I’m particularly delighted that Lucas and the Ox did their damnedest to impress. As the season wears on, that quality from the bench will be key.

  20. Still frightening defensively especially in the 1st half with The Boss admitting we live dangerously in his post-game comments.

    That being said: Wengerball at its finest as it should be against hapless opponents. No disrespect to the champions of Bulgaria but they are in literally and figuratively a different league.

    I think the Ludogorets keeper left with an umlaut tattooed above each eyebrow!

    Congrats to the sublime German for his first career hat trick. What a beautiful night to be a Gooner. Thanks boys and keep the show going with ‘Boro at the weekend.

  21. doc gooner, i don’t think anyone here is defending mourinho. without condoning or condemning, people are simply saying that they understand why he does what he does sometimes. it would be ignorant to say everything someone does is bad simply because they are detested. people are simply being objective, regardless of a person or a style of play.

  22. good result yesterday. it’s very good when all of your starting front 4 can get on the scoresheet; very barcelona-esque.

    i’d like to recognize the contribution of our young frenchman, frank coquelin. there’s often a lot of talk about how he’s limited, etc. listen, this kid is so solid. is he the most technically gifted? absolutely not, but he’s technically sound. what sets him apart is, tactically, he is very gifted.

    let’s be clear. my belief is this, technical skill is about a player’s technical talent level. tactical skill is about how a player uses his technical skills in game situations (decision making). comparing coquelin to xhaka or ramsey technically, he’s not at the same level. however, no one can tell me he’s behind those guys tactically. unlike xhaka and ramsey, coquelin seems to make the right decision more frequently than those more talented players. as a result, arsenal tends to be more dominant.

    speaking of aaron ramsey, it’s so nice when he’s unavailable for selection. it seems that arsenal always plays better when he’s not in the team. he’s only started one game this season and it’s the only game arsenal has lost this season. in fact tim, if you’re bored, it might be interesting reading comparing arsenal’s win percentage over the past 3 years when ramsey starts opposed to when he doesn’t. then email the results to with an attached bus pass out of town with ramsey’s name on it.

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