There was only one place this column could start: the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The strained atmosphere, poisonous sniping of his own players and his constant self-obsession have inevitably brought his time at Old Trafford to an end. His compensation has been reported to be around ₤15 million, with speculation sizzling over his next replacement. Here is the official Manchester United statement:
“Manchester United announces that manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect. The club would like to thank Jose for his work during his time at Manchester United and to wish him success in the future.
“A new caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the current season, while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new, full-time manager.”
Whoever eventually takes over, they will have a considerable job to patch up a broken team. There is little doubting the quality in the squad other than a couple of specific positions. In theory, any change will give the club a lift, but the nuts and bolts of preparing systems needs addressing.
After Manchester United’s annihilation at Anfield on Sunday, even Jose Mourinho was forced to praise the energy and pace of Liverpool. Not one prone to lavishing positivity on anyone but himself, it came as quite a shock. However, given the evidence on show, it can hardly be disputed. Andy Robertson in particular was singled out by the Portuguese.
“The strongest team won, but they won in the period when they were not stronger than us. In the first 20 minutes we could not breathe, the pressure was so intense. I am still tired looking at Andrew Robertson. In first 20 minutes there was a huge distance [between the teams]. They were better and stronger, they did everything better than us.”
It is hard to know where to start with the statistics. Almost every metric backs up the overwhelmingly obvious conclusion Mourinho highlighted. First of all though, see how dominant Liverpool were in their positioning in the heatmap below. They took 250 touches more than United, and they were mostly in in United’s half.
The visitors by comparison had almost no presence at all in central advanced positions. Romelu Lukaku was only partly to blame for this, since the relentless pressing of Liverpool prevented much service. The lack of symmetry is telling too. Ashley Young was by far the more experienced of the starting wing-backs, as United’s fuller left flank shows.
To address the specific praise lavished on Andrew Robertson, take a look more specifically at the image below. On the left is his individual heatmap, showing him largely in United territory with an impressive 97 touches. Between Diogo Dalot and Young, United’s wing-backs, they only managed three more touches in total.
Granted, this was largely down to Dalot being substituted off at half time. He had, however only taken a measly 22 touches. His weak performance was down to the pressure he was under from his opposite number Robertson. A fairer comparison is Young, but even he was barely made it past the halfway line area.
Although the scoreline didn’t look remarkable, the number of shots certainly was. Liverpool’s 36 efforts on goal was a season high for any team in the Premier League. That they relied in the end on two deflected shots to win made it all the more surprising.
Roughly half of their attempts came inside the penalty area, in contrast to United’s. All but one of their shots were near the edge or outside of the area, including one eye-opening Marouane Fellaini effort that toppled a medic sitting by the corner flag.
If one can give any merit defensively to United, it is that they kept the scoreline down. Eric Bailly alone made six interceptions out of a team total of 21. His role as part of a back three was to move out of the backline to cut out attacks. He largely performed this job well, but couldn’t prevent Xherdan Shaqiri’s two efforts late on.
Recriminations will drag on for some time over how much blame to apportion to each element of the club. On the pitch, though, there was no denying Liverpool’s relentless energy and pressing were unstoppable. That Mourinho’s position had become untenable in general had long been clear. On the pitch, while it is churlish to use a visit to one of Europe’s most lethal and in-form sides individually to judge, it highlighted the gap between United and the top.