The former Blues boss doesn’t have the job he longs for just yet, but exactly how much would his approach differ to Louis van Gaal’s against his former club on Sunday?
Jose Mourinho will not be at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. He insisted shortly after his departure from Chelsea that while he was looking for an immediate return to football and would attend some games (he was a guest at Borussia Dortmund’s clash with Hertha Berlin), high-profile matches would be avoided out of respect for fellow bosses.
And in Mourinho’s world, fixtures don’t come bigger than Manchester United’s trip to west London.
The rumour mill has been in overdrive in recent days, with the Portuguese linked with apparent talks with United regarding a possible move in the near future in light of Louis van Gaal’s current struggles. While the Red Devils have turned in much improved displays in their last two matches on the way to victories over Derby County and Stoke City, there is little doubt that room for improvement is still sought after.
But there have rightly been questions raised as to exactly what Mourinho might change about United’s approach given his own propensity to promote fight over flair. The 53-year-old has regularly managed to pull off crucial victories in ding-dong battles against some of the biggest clubs in football, even against the backdrop of injuries aplenty – think Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Liverpool in 2014.
So what would he do differently to Van Gaal in order to get three points from Stamford Bridge were he Manchester United manager?
Many a famous Mourinho victory has been achieved on the back of a reinforced rearguard. Famous for using the likes of Pepe and David Luiz as defensive screens in midfield, the Portuguese has made a habit of redeploying players for the cause.
A Manchester United side arriving at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho’s leadership might well be expected to make the most of Phil Jones’ return to training by using Daley Blind in front of the back four.
The Dutchman was originally brought in by Van Gaal as a midfield addition, making him more than familiar with the job of protecting the defence and supplying a creative outlet from the engine room. And alongside Morgan Schneiderlin at the heart of the line-up, Blind would certainly provide a solid base which would allow Mourinho to include plenty of flair in attack without fear of leaving his defence short of cover.
It was Mourinho who paved the way for Juan Mata’s transfer to Manchester United in January 2014 by freezing the Spaniard out of his Chelsea side due to a perceived lack of hard work.
“It is one thing to play with Ramires and Oscar closing down opponents on each side, and Mata as a number 10 behind a striker with his clever assists, clever passes and fantastic actions because he has great talent,” Mourinho explained earlier that season.
“But it is another thing to adapt to the way we want to play. In this moment, Oscar is my number 10 and, if anyone tells me Oscar has not been Chelsea’s best player this season, I’d have to disagree. I have to prove to the fans that I am good, and now Mata must do the same.”
Were the two to come together once more ahead of a trip to the league champions, who themselves are on the back of a 10-game unbeaten run, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Mata would again fall foul of Mourinho’s desire for work rate from front to back regardless of the attacker’s recent form.
A front four asked to press hard would relieve some of the defensive workload from the midfield, perhaps allowing the inclusion of Michael Carrick whose relative lack of mobility would become less of an issue for the manager.
Some of Mourinho’s most successful outifts have been based on a congested midfield department with attackers tucking in wide. Indeed, his Inter side of 2009-10 saw Samuel Eto’o playing from a wide left position for much of the season as they came up with a magical run-in on the way to an unprecedented treble of Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.
Such a role could also be asked of Wayne Rooney in a United side under Mourinho looking to play safety first, with the England captain encouraged to emulate Eto’o in joining Anthony Martial as an extra striker when United have the ball just as the Cameroonian did for Diego Milito at San Siro.
The inclusions of both Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick alongside Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield would give extra options on the ball in much the same way Dejan Stankovic and Esteban Cambiasso added to the guile of Javier Zanetti for Inter.
The bottom line at the moment though is perhaps in United’s lack of numbers. Any changes Mourinho might want to make would more than likely be compromised by the same injury issues which have caused Van Gaal such grave worries for most of the season so far.