If you doubt whether Manchester United’s players are all-in with Jose Mourinho’s cagey system, listen to Nemanja Matic‘s post-match verdict after a defensive but effective 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on Saturday.
“They had more of the ball in the first half but we had more chances than them,” Matic said. “They play great football but it’s the result that matters in the end. If we continue like this we can challenge for the title.”
He’s not wrong, and this effort was far better and less safe than United’s disappointing scoreless draw with Liverpool two weeks ago. While there will be discussion about the entertainment value of counter-attacking a Harry Kane-less Spurs at home, Mourinho’s men were ready to go with commitment to the system.
“It was tactically difficult for both and it was well refereed. It was strong, aggressive,” Mourinho said. “We knew if we had one defensive mistake we could lose and that’s what happened to them. We tried and we deserved the victory.”
“Today, every ball looked like the last ball of their careers.”
It was a performance Mourinho can be proud of, yet his noting that United didn’t show as much desperation against Huddersfield shows how hard it can be for a club to flip a switch from that battling, hard fouling mentality to a free-flowing style.
At this point, though, most hardware-hungry United fans will be content to keep in the race for the Premier League title, style or not. Now how will they react if United falls when Chelsea meets their tactics halfway next week?