An attempt to explain the thinking of Jose Mourinho.
It has come to my attention (having not been in the game threads) that there are many in the WAGNH community who think that:
- Mourinho's selection was "wrong"
- Mourinho's approach was wrong
- Mourinho is not the manager for this team
Thus, both in an attempt to address these concerns and other general issues I will attempt to:
- Give a logical explanation of the selection put out by Mourinho
- Explain our early season tactics
- "Defend" Mourinho and look toward the future
- Discuss overreaction
So, as you probably know, Mourinho fielded a 4-2-3-1 that didn't really have a striker; instead of a recognized striker, Schürrle was deployed up top for his pace on the counter. The back seven was the same that we've seen in all meaningful matches this season: Cech / Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole / Ramires, Lampard.
My understanding is that the following inclusions (exclusions) have been questioned by the community: Cahill over Bran at CB, Bran over Azpi at RB, Ramires over Mikel, Lampard over MvG. These are legitimate questions. I myself would have preferred every single one of those changes.
Up top, we went with KDB, Oscar, Hazard / Schürrle. Only one of these decisions was surprising or controversial: Schürrle over Lukaku (and, er, Torres and Ba). This is the decision I had the most questions about.
There is, however, an explanation. It is not one that I have really seen bandied about, so I want to just push it forward.
Mourinho, when he started, was missing a contingent of players: the Confederations Cup participants, who, by nature of the competition, are typically pretty good. Mata, Mikel, Azpilicueta, Torres, Luiz, Oscar. Of those, Luiz, Azpilicueta, Mata, and Mikel seemed to be carrying injuries or fitness concerns heading into the season.
In other areas of the team, we saw the introduction of KDB, Lukaku, and Marco van Ginkel. KDB got a pretty good amount of playing time (started the two of the first three), where Lukaku and van Ginkel received bit duty as substitutes in early matches.
Lukaku, of course, is a hyper talented 20 year old striker who is amazing is destined to be the greatest player ever (OK, OK, too much) and van Ginkel is The Answer at the Pivot™ (for the future?). Why didn't they play? What about Mikel and Mata, who were available for selection before the United match?
Further, why in our first two games did we use the same back 7? Why no chances? Why no Dave? Why no Mikel? Van Ginkel?
It is my opinion, now, that Mourinho saw that the United game was the most important fixture for awhile and prepared accordingly. The fixture was early in the season and squad cohesion was going to be low (especially compared to United whose squad is almost literally unchanged from last season and is playing in a similar way).
To counterbalance that, I think Mourinho made a "pragmatic" (hey, look, 490 words before I called Mourinho pragmatic) decision to build defensive cohesion by playing the same back 7 for three games. Essentially, while there are options across those 7 that would lead to a higher ceiling (both going backwards and forwards) those options were either a) unavailable through injury or fitness (essentially, the Confederations Cup guys like Dave, Luiz, Mata) or b) too young to warrant selection for such a big game (Lukaku, van Ginkel).
Now, these leads to questions like why were Oscar and KDB playing, and I think the answer is that Mourinho values experience at striker (and wanted to counterattack swiftly) and in defense.
Why did Mourinho decide to play defensively and not do the extreme interchange thing that we played in the first half against Hull? I think the answer is that the squad hasn't built that trust yet (see pretty much every misplaced short pass) and that it was too soon to try it against United. He went with the lower-ceiling pragmatic option and tried to guarantee at least one point instead of an early season experiment (perhaps the 5-0 drubbing was still in his head).
Lastly, I just want to address the idea that Mourinho is a bad manager for making these decisions or is the wrong manager for this team or made the wrong choice.
Not that he really needs my defense (RINGZZZZZZZ).
I suppose it's possible that Mourinho's mojo is gone, or that he will ruin the attacking impetus of this team, or that we're all just sheep to his slaughter.
I find that implausible, however. If he continues to only play for a point later in the season and drop into a deep shell in January then I think that will have credibility. It should be noted, though, that it's only August. At this time last year, Meireles was still a viable pivot option. Let's leave all "Mourinho is wrong" stuff for another month or so.