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Thursday 14 December 2017

No frills or spills for United as Mourinho's men get the job done

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho helps Marouane Fellaini squeeze the water bottle. Pic: Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho helps Marouane Fellaini squeeze the water bottle. Pic: Reuters / Phil Noble Livepic

No frills and for once, no need for any excuses. Jose Mourinho's big gamble paid off and now he's bought himself some breathing space.

I have to say, the Europa League normally passes me by as something I might watch out of the corner of my eye but for obvious reasons, this was one everyone wanted to see.

The standard is never outstanding and this final followed that pattern. Poor football from two ordinary teams.

This was a difficult night for Mourinho and his team after the dreadful attack on the Manchester Arena and I'm sure they felt a weight on their shoulders above and beyond the normal tension players have heading onto the pitch for a massive game like this.

There was already plenty at stake without the emotional pressure added by that terrible event and Mourinho earned his salary getting their heads right to play.

Success

His success in this area was obvious from the first whistle with United starting confidently and set about getting a goal.

They were lucky when Paul Pogba's shot was deflected to the net for the first but deserved the second scored by Henrikh Mkhitaryan just after the break.

Mourinho set-up his team to defend and they did it well enough to smother Ajax's ability on the ball. Dutch approach work was often good but bounced off United's backline.

Mourinho built his season on defending and the long ball and gave instructions which stayed glued to that script to his players.

Marouane Fellaini was the pivot, both in defence and attack. Alongside Paul Pogba, he presented a solid wall in front of United's back four and when an Ajax attack broke down, the Belgian was the out ball every time.

It wasn't pretty to watch but it was expected and it was pragmatic.

I always laugh when Mourinho is called a defensive coach and compared to say, Pep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger who the common wisdom would have it, are not defensive coaches.

What that means in real terms is that Mourinho understands defending and his teams do not concede easily, even this one.

This, in turn, means is that Guardiola and Wenger are lacking in this area and we have seen plenty of evidence of that over the years. In the end, it's usually about the quality of the players a manager can put on the field and for a while, Guardiola had the best in the world.

Mourinho certainly doesn't have anything like that in this squad and I would have to acknowledge that he made the best of what he had in the end.

I just think he didn't have to do it this way and he had enough, just, in his squad to pip Liverpool for fourth place and automatic qualification for the Champions League preliminaries.

Like Guardiola and Wenger, Jurgen Klopp doesn't pay much attention to defending from what I've seen of him at Anfield so far.

That may change as he gets better payers in but I wouldn't be certain that the subtleties of defence are high on his priority list.

Mourinho will see this as a vindication of his method all season. He applied the stick all the time and barely waved a carrot at all.

For it to work, he had to win and he has done that, his 12th victory in 14 finals and for that he will be forgiven all his sins by fans simply delighted to have another trophy and entry into the Champions League.

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