As Vic Reeves once noted 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot and while that may not be entirely accurate, he does have a point. In football stats are thrown about so often and used so disingenuously they almost become completely meaningless, it’s getting to the point where watching a game and commenting on it based on what you’ve just witnessed is no longer allowed, you need to back up your argument with the number of forward passes a player made in the final third of the pitch, or how many interceptions he made when his team where on the defensive, throw in a heat map and you’re golden.
It’s a sorry state of affairs the way football has somehow turned into a bastardised version of some American sport, with play-by-play stats dominating many fans’ thinking, stop the world I’d like to get off please. We’ve all fallen victim to the stat Nazis who refuse to allow anything other than hard evidence to sway their views of a team or player’s performance, just recently, I made the mistake of commenting how Scot McTominay had played well against Chelsea, sitting in Old Trafford I didn’t have access to the number of tackles, passes, interceptions and shots he’d had, I was completely ignorant of how his heat map looked, I just thought from watching the match, he’d played well. Obviously I was wrong. I was quickly corrected on social media with a bombardment of statistics that showed, despite my own opinion of what I’d just witnessed during the win over the champions, McTominay hadn’t played well at all. The stats said so, who am I to argue?
One ‘stat’ that’s often levelled against Jose Mourinho is the one about United not performing well enough against the rest of the top six. Some fans have bought into this idea so much, Louis Van Gaal is now revered as some form of coaching genius thanks to his impressive record as United boss against the likes of City and Liverpool – we’ll ignore the 30 odd games a season on his watch where the Reds were quite frankly so abysmal it made me want to staple my eyelids shut.
Mourinho has been accused of setting his sides out too negatively against the Premier League elite, of failing to give his attackers the free reign their talents deserve and in almost contradictory fashion, ignoring the obvious threats of the opposition. Twice we’ve witnessed David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne handed enough space in the middle of Old Trafford to open up a decent sized match day car park, oddly enough, Jose’s infamous bus wouldn’t be one of its customers as the United boss seems to reserve the true negativity for away from home.
On their travels United have left Stamford Bridge and Wembley empty-handed this season, both times failing to really turn up against Chelsea and Spurs teams who didn’t even need to hit top gear to outclass the Reds, it’s a pair of results that fitted the narrative of Mourinho having lost his mojo against the top sides.
Until the win at the Emirates this season, Mourinho as manager of both United and Chelsea had taken just five points from a possible 33 with no wins and only four goals scored – three of them coming in a 5-3 loss to Spurs. It was a record that would make David Moyes blush and there was scant defence of such an awful run, but things haven’t been quite so bleak during this campaign.
Much of the criticism towards Mourinho’s tactics in the big games stems from his decision to ‘park the bus’ at Anfield, a game and result that seems to have sent almost every pundit into some form of mental breakdown, one where logic no longer applies. Take City’s loss to Liverpool a few weeks ago, people who are paid money to write and speak about football, claimed that losing 4-3 was better than drawing 0-0, no points was better than one point, we truly are through the looking glass here people.
Regardless of whether you believe the United boss betrayed the spirit of Sir Matt Busby, or simply applied the similar sort of pragmatism we’d often seen under Sir Alex Ferguson on trips down the M62, the criticism was completely over-the-top and ignored the fact Jurgen Klopp hardly sent his troops out in an all-out attacking manner.
In fact if we bother to look at a league table comprised of the top six teams and their records against each other there’s no prizes for guessing who comes out on top, City of course, but the team occupying second place may give some ‘experts’ pause for thought.
United have taken ten points against the top six, beating Chelsea and Spurs at Old Trafford and winning away at Arsenal, plus the aforementioned draw at Anfield, while that’s the same number of points both Spurs and Liverpool have taken in the ‘mini league’ the fact United don’t have a negative goal difference puts Mourinho’s side in second place. Hardly the shambolic record many have claimed.
The problem for many United fans hasn’t been the number of defeats against the rest of the top six this season, it’s been the nature of them, City completely dominated much of the game at Old Trafford, Chelsea never looked like not winning at Stamford Bridge while it took less than 20 seconds for the game against Spurs to be over as a competition. It’s not good enough. United should always, at the very least, be hard to beat and while we’ve seen even Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides suffer embarrassing defeats, they were a rarity, usually spaced out over several seasons rather than several months.
The main issue the manager had to address following last season’s poor league campaign, was dropping points against the bottom half of the table, especially at home, where the likes of Hull City, West Brom, Swansea City and Bournemouth – to name a few- took time out from their relegation dogfights to give their fans something to remember and United fans something to lament. While there has been the odd blip at home this season, mainly the dreadful four days after Christmas which saw the Reds draw with Burnley and Southampton, in the main Old Trafford is beginning to resemble the type of fortress you’d associate with a Jose Mourinho team.
There’s lots of reasons United fans can question the manager, no doubt many of them will pop up when Ashley Young is named ahead of Luke Shaw in the game against Crystal Palace on Monday, where United are 4/7 to beat Palace, but Mourinho’s record against the top six this season isn’t one of them, if you don’t believe me just check out the stats – surely they can’t be wrong?