A penny for Sir Alex Ferguson's thoughts as he watched Manchester United's 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Monday. A penny for Louis van Gaal's thoughts after United lost the possession battle, 65%-35% (United's lowest possession percentage ever in a Premier League match). A penny for David Moyes's thoughts after - oh, wait a minute, no one cares what he thinks...
Plenty of people bemoaned United's tactics as confirmation of the fact that the "United Way" of exciting football has been replaced by the "Mourinho Way" (although, after three years of Moyes and van Gaal, you could say the "United Way" has been dead for a while now). Indeed, while Mourinho seemed thrilled that he had stymied Jürgen Klopp's swashbuckling offense, his pragmatic gameplan seemed like an implicit concession that United couldn't stop Liverpool without resorting to negative tactics. "Look, last season United won here," Mourinho said after the match. "Liverpool had 14 shots on target and United had one. How many shots on target did Liverpool have today? Two? Two shots with 65 per cent of possession. You have to be critical of Liverpool, not of us, because 65 per cent and two shots, it is their problem, not our problem. I think the team was perfect. Even the goalkeeper was on holiday for 90 minutes but he had two big saves to do and he did."
Look, United fans and soccer pundits really don't have a right to complain. We all knew what Jose Mourinho was when he signed on the dotted line. We know that, in big matches, he usually parks the bus and tries to play for a goal or two on the counter-attack. It was, more or less, the exact game-plan he used to perfection when Chelsea came to Anfield late in the 2013-14 season and dealt a death-blow to Liverpool's title dreams. In that game, Chelsea won 2-0 against S Club 4 (Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Stevie Me) despite getting outshot and outpossessed for much of the match. On Monday, United not only ceded much of the possession, they only had one shot on target for the entire match. Instead, like a typical Mourinho team, United clogged the passing lanes effectively and used its size and strength to win balls and manhandle Liverpool's smaller, creative players. Ander Herrera even turned in a thoroughly dominating two-way performance that had people comparing him to Mourinho's prior midfield generals like Claude Makélélé and Xabi Alonso.
The only thing United didn't get was the win. Had Zlatan Ibrahimovic buried his header attempt in the second half, then it would have been a vintage Mourinho performance, as well as confirmation that his methods and tactics were starting to sink in after two years of van Gaal's possession-heavy style. Either way, we should expect more of the same this weekend, with Mourinho's former boys at Chelsea lurking.