Mourinho's Half-Time Magic
At 2-1, today was a disappointing result to be sure. There were bright spots though. One of those bright spots was the management of Jose Mourinho at half time.
The first half was disastrous for us. Jesse Lingard gave the ball away cheaply and easily making our left wing a useless outlet to relieve the pressure of City’s constant attack. The more-directly devastating event of the first half, though, was Kevin DeBruyne’s ability to find yards and yards of space at the top of the penalty box. That guilt rests squarely on Pogba’s shoulders.
Time and time again he flat-out refused to mark DeBruyne which forced Blind to step forward and apply pressure, leaving a large gap in the back line and breaking the connection between Bailly and Blind. This, coupled with our inability to escape down the left wing, lead to constant pressure and a wide-open conduit to generate chances straight down the center of midfield. Ultimately, I believe this contributed to both of City’s goals.
Mourinho faced some difficult decisions at the half and I think he made some brilliant moves to restore order in midfield. That’s what I would like to focus on.
First, Lingard was out. That was an obvious move. Twenty minutes in, it was clear that he was having a bad day and would not be able to turn it around. Everyone has a bad game from time to time. Rashford for Lingard was a welcome and obvious change for everyone.
The next move was not so obvious, and this is where the brilliance lies. Mourinho knew Mkhitaryan would have to be replaced. He said as much in his pre-match press conference. Mkhitaryan was not fit for 90 minutes. But Pogba was adding stress to the back line and that also had to change. To add to the pressure, changing Lingard, Mkhitaryan, and Pogba at half time would mean using all of our substitutions early, which is not a good situation to put yourself in.
Mourinho’s substitution was Herrera for Mkhitaryan. My first thought was, ‘What a terrible decision, Mata or Martial are both better choices to fill that role.’ But it was not a direct swap. Staying in the same formation, Rooney shifted out to the wing to relieve Mkhitaryan, Pogba stepped forward into Rooney’s attacking midfield position, and Herrera took Pogba’s spot as a CDM. This solved two problems with one substitution allowing the third substitution to be saved for the late stages of the match when Mourinho knew we would need to make a change.
My only criticism of the management today would be to ask why those substitutions did not happen earlier.