When Jose Mourinho spoke earlier this season about Manchester United not being one of the big clubs anymore, he spoke with full knowledge that he was being controversial. The idea was to highlight the financial gulf between his club and Manchester City, but Mourinho will have known full well that even as he said it, he had in his squad two players whose transfer fees dwarf the largest fees City have ever paid for a player.
No-one is disputing that Manchester City have greater financial power than their neighbours – than any club in England, full stop. However, as we know, Mourinho is an expert in the tactic of distraction. When United are trailing behind City in the league, of course Jose will point out an issue such as their rivals’ greater financial power. This is fine – it is a manager’s job to ease the pressure on his players. However, he also needs to make sure he’s making the right decisions to bridge the gap. So if he isn’t also planning to do the following, the gap will merely grow:
Find actual full-backs to play at full-back
There are many column inches filled, and many others which will be, by the debate over whether Jose rates Luke Shaw as a long-term option at left-back. The signs are that, if Shaw can stay fit, he should play there, but a feeling persists that Jose disagrees, and plays the more centrally-inclined Daley Blind instead. On the other side, with Matteo Darmian plagued by injury, Antonio Valencia continues to be selected at right-back.
One of the core points of Mourinho’s argument about City’s wealth is that their first-choice full-backs cost c. £50million each. That’s true, and it’s why theirs are better, and more comfortable playing there, than what Jose has to choose from. But City’s most expensive player Kevin de Bruyne also cost approximately £54 million – so it’s not like they are paying lop-sided fees.
Speaking of lop-sided fees…
No-one would dispute that Paul Pogba is an extravagantly gifted footballer and, used correctly, capable of affecting any game against any opponent. If you’re going to spend £90million+ on any player, he’s a viable candidate. The same is true of Romelu Lukaku’s £75million fee. These facts mask one more important one, though.
Manchester City can spend what they want on full-backs because the rest of their team is nailed down. They have two viable players for each position and, if their defence is a little shonky, it doesn’t matter so much because teams are terrified of attacking them. There’s a reason all betting tips and predictions see them as favourites to win the Champions’ League. Meanwhile, United keep “making do” in key positions – because all positions are key – and spending a whole summer’s budget on one player.
Know his best XI
Squad rotation is a thing – it’s been here for decades and it’s here to stay. A manager should still, however, know his best XI. The team that he would pick if everyone were to be fit and he had a must-win game tomorrow. There’s a feeling that Mourinho isn’t sure of his, and that’s a worry. Is Marcus Rashford in there? What about Juan Mata? Assuming the signing of Alexis Sanchez is secured, where does he fit in? Also, given the £30million+ spent on Victor Lindelof, why has he only featured in roughly half of the games he’s been available for?
If Jose Mourinho wants to close the gap on Pep, and win back some of his credit in that rivalry, the above are issues he needs to sort out ASAP.