Wednesday night’s 5-4 humdinger between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur was not only a modern FA Cup classic, bringing some light relief to viewers who are still stuck at home, it was also very unlike a Jose Mourinho team.
Manchester United fans probably did not recognise this kind of performance from a side managed by the Portuguese, known for his tight tactics and disciplined defensive line. Few did.
But then lots has changed about Mourinho since he first came to the attention of Premier League fans. The cynics would say most of what was good about him has now dissipated, with ‘the Special One’ now under pressure at Spurs following a string of poor results.
“If you say it was fantastic, it was fantastic. I’m not a neutral,” Mourinho said afterwards. He clearly did not enjoy the Goodison Park ding-dong as much as TV viewers.
“When you score four goals, you have to win. The way we played, we should win comfortably. Attacking football and defensive mistakes.”
Attacking football and defensive mistakes are not usually the realm of Mourinho, but there are some other elements of his current crumbling Spurs regime that United fans will recognise. Others that help shine a light on exactly what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing to rectify the mistakes of his predecessor.
The signing of Gareth Bale, and subsequent use of the (former?) Spurs legend has been puzzling. There was not a single Tottenham fan who did not want Bale to return ‘home’ on loan from Real Madrid in the summer, believing they had secured a coup given United had been linked with the Welshman too.
MEN Sport understood United considered Bale as an emergency loan option in the summer amid an impasse in negotiations for Jadon Sancho. But they did not try too hard to bring Bale to Old Trafford; certainly not as hard as they tried in 2013 when David Moyes was desperate for a marquee addition.
Bale and Spurs got their dream homecoming, but now he’s made only 15 appearances — including just two league starts — under Mourinho. He was not involved at all against Everton after making himself unavailable, to his manager’s chagrin.
“Monday I was a bit surprised by him wanting to have a scan because he was not feeling comfortable,” said Mourinho.
The situation is reminiscent of Mourinho’s dealings with a few ‘star’ signings during his United stint. The Portuguese and Paul Pogba never felt like a match made him heaven, while Mourinho also struggled at times to manage players like Romelu Lukaku and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
There was the sense that some signings were not ‘Mourinho players’, both at United and now at Spurs — hence times when the style at football, with both teams, looked confused. Attacking players have often looked shackled under him.
This is not a problem Solskjaer has had. The transfer strategy has looked a lot clearer under the Norwegian, with four of his seven permanent senior signings now first team regulars (Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani). Okay, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles are still waiting for their chances, but there’s certainly been no acrimony between player and manager.
Such acrimony would appear to be present between Mourinho and Bale, just as it is present between Mourinho and Dele Alli right now.
To completely disregard a player of the 24-year-old’s talents, who was a key pillar of Maurcio Pochettino’s brilliant Spurs side, has seemed very odd from the outside. Mourinho openly called him a “bad trainer” on an Amazon documentary.
Dele’s confidence looks shot, a result of him starting the grand total of one league game this season — in which he was hooked at half-time. He was not even allowed to join his old boss at PSG when they made a January move for him.
Again, there is a comparison to be made with United, both past and present.
Mourinho was heavily critical of Luke Shaw in public, infamously calling out the left-back after a league match against Everton in 2017 after previous comments about his weight.
“He [Shaw] had a good performance, but it was his body with my brain,” Mourinho said four years ago. “He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him.”
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Manchester United beat West Ham 1-0 in the FA Cup, thanks to Scott McTominay’s extra-time winner.
United sealed a spot in the cup quarter-finals with victory over David Moyes’ side at Old Trafford, and now they travel to West Brom in the league on Sunday.
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BBC pundit Ian Wright recently called the treatment of Shaw “degrading and horrible” and it certainly has not been repeated under Solskjaer.
Quite the opposite in fact, Shaw has been reborn under Solskjaer and looks more confident and more assured than he’s ever been in his career.
All the while, Fernandes and Cavani have made signings like Bale look completely inadequate.
The success of such United players can be traced back to the environment that Solskjaer has created for them: happy, relaxed, humble and hard-working — the same qualities that brought an instant boost when the Norwegian replaced Mourinho in the United hotseat, in December 2018. Now they’re being harnessed on a long-term basis.
The Tottenham situations reflect just as well on Solskjaer, as they do badly on Mourinho.