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Transfer Talk: Pochettino keen on Man Utd move

Transfer Talk

Criticism won't affect Mourinho after Man United's display at Liverpool

Alejandro Moreno says Manchester United played like a mid-table side in their scoreless draw at Liverpool.
Mark Ogden expected much more out of Liverpool and Man United following their dire goalless draw at Anfield.
Craig Burley breaks down Man United's defensive approach which left Romelu Lukaku stranded up front.

Before you watch Liverpool vs. Manchester United at Anfield next season, perhaps deflate your expectations. As well as the 53,000 inside Anfield for Saturday's 0-0 draw, more people watched the game globally this weekend than any other in football.

In Bangalore, thousands of United fans waited for the excitement to begin, watching on a big screen in the presence of former players. Like several major clubs -- including their midweek Champions League opponents Benfica -- United want to make an impression upon India and its 1.3 billion population.

Just as La Liga showcases Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, so the Premier League promotes Liverpool vs. United. But while El Clasico delivers season after season, games between England's two biggest clubs seldom come close in terms of entertainment.

There were predictions that Saturday could be different. United are better than a year ago when they played for a draw. Still unbeaten in the league, they have been scoring lots of goals and winning matches. Liverpool's defence, meanwhile, was conceding too many.

But though the start to the season has been excellent, United didn't come out to play at Anfield. The manager Jose Mourinho, with so many top-of-the-range cars, decided to keep them in the garage. It happens: No team, no matter how good, goes through a season beating every opponent out of sight in every match.United will play worse and win. Mourinho's side will lose games as well, but he's effective at getting results and trophies over everything else. And that's what people remember.

When fans speak of the later years under Sir Alex Ferguson, they focus on silverware won and forget the significant number of dull matches. When England won the 1966 World Cup by playing defensively at home, people remembered winning the actual trophy more than the team's style. Do you recall the two Europa League defeats last season or the drab performances at home to Zorya Luhansk, Rostov or Celta Vigo? Or wining the trophy?

Mourinho has a great ability to coach a team to play differently in different situations. He studies opponents meticulously and effectively. There are no off the cuff "go and enjoy yourselves, lads; let them worry about us" team talks; everything is done to instruction. That's why he admires Marouane Fellaini, a player who would have started on Saturday: He follows instructions to the letter.

A draw at Liverpool, whatever the circumstances, is not a bad result. It was the same when the Anfield club visited Old Trafford in the 1970s and 80s. They were often England's best side, yet could be tripped up playing against a pesky, title-free, better-supported Manchester United team who would raise their game.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has overseen back-to-back goalless draws against Liverpool at Anfield.

In 1989, for example, 14th-placed United beat champions Liverpool 3-1 on New Year's Day, then lost at Middlesbrough 24 hours later. Mourinho would have got a draw against Liverpool and beaten Middlesbrough.

United's manager isn't short of critics. He's still smarting with several of the London-based print media for the way his final few months at Chelsea were covered. Yet he's doing a very good job at United. He doesn't make it comfortable for his employers by briefing journalists, but then the club didn't make it comfortable for David Moyes or Louis van Gaal by doing the same.

Was everything always sweetness and light with Ferguson? Far from it. He fought so many battles each day that he'd write down a list of his problems at night because it helped him sleep.

United court so many constituents that Mourinho has to be all things to all people, even though that's impossible. For years, Ferguson pushed back against demands from sponsors that pay millions and enable United to spend but, in return, demand access to first teamers. From a standing start, Mourinho has had to get to grips with the commercial beast that is United.

Further, his English is not quite perfect, so he is more prone to having his words twisted or taken out of context. I spent an hour interviewing him last season and there were a couple of comments he made that needed clarifying. I could have got things very wrong, had I not followed up.

Mourinho also has to achieve success in the face of more competition than when he first arrived in England. Every Premier League club is now wealthy and not under pressure to sell. Players must push to leave, just as Romelu Lukaku did with Everton. Even then, they have a choice as regards where they go, so managers like Mourinho must be close to the super agents who look after the top players.

He is, as is executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. And that's how United have been getting the players they want, most of whom have been successful under Mourinho. His -- and that of United -- pull is significant: In Nemanja Matic, a club that finished sixth last season, managed to sign a first-choice midfielder from champions Chelsea.

But United remain in transition; the club has undergone a rebuilding programme on and off the field and aren't yet out of the post-Ferguson slump. At least Mourinho is fortunate that United is far less of a political beast than where he has previously managed.

The Old Trafford decision-making power base is tiny and he chooses which players are signed, though he doesn't -- and shouldn't -- enjoy an autocracy. Clubs that lean too heavily on one individual pay the price when they depart. Check out the managerial tenures at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea or Paris Saint-Germain, for example. They don't last long.

Woodward prefers the idea of longevity and stability, while the club-owning Glazer family don't have the egos to call the shots by hiring and firing managers. They trust Mourinho to take care of the football. If they get a winning formula then they'll stick with it and, while Mourinho isn't the type of coach to hang around for extended spells at clubs, he's winning.

Saturday was frustrating but he is the manager. It was his decision, nobody else's. He set out to do a job and his team did what they were told.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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