Comment: Jose Mourinho releases the handbrake at Man United...and then vows to apply it once again
Jose Mourinho gave the Manchester United fans what they had been calling for as he removed the handbrake from his team in their 4-1 victory against Newcastle on Saturday, yet it may only have been a brief flirtation with fantasy football.
A starting line-up featuring Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba had a touch of the daring, a tasty helping of invention and some real attacking venom etched injected into its DNA and yet aspects of the thumping win were not to Mourinho’s liking.
As this polarising manager has proved time and again down the years, he is in the winning business and that pursuit will always be placed before any consideration is given to the demands of the critics who dare to question Mourinho's tactical genius.
Even though he bristles at the first glimpse of a critical barb coming his way, Mourinho has never gone chasing top spot in popularity polls and he confirmed as much as he picked fault in arguably his side’s most dynamic 45 minutes of football that blew Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle into submission.
Manchester United are currently on their longest unbeaten run at Old Trafford in the club's history (38 games). #MUFC— Man Utd Update (@MufcDevilUpdate) November 18, 2017
Until now, Mourinho has been reluctant to start with Martial and Rashford in the same team and even after the youthful duo played a key role in United’s triumph, their manager responded negatively when asked whether this performance was proof that they can work in tandem.
"They both prefer to play on the left than the right, both playing with another striker through the middle; we lose a point of contact with the midfield that we are used to, with the player playing behind the striker,” reflected a curiously unimpressed United boss.
"We found then a certain balance and, when they started finding one opening on the left and one on the mid-left between the striker and the left winger, that was the moment where we start creating more.
"To be honest, Newcastle were probably the better team - not in the second-half, but in the first-half - and we felt a bit of instability in our defensive areas.
"That was clearly not because of the defensive players, but because of our balance. To play them together gives us things but also takes some things from us."
With those comments, Mourinho burst the bubble of optimism United fans must have inflated after seeing a team freed of their shackles and given license to express themselves as they set about slaying Rafael Benitez's Newcastle.
United's four goals took their tally at Old Trafford to an impressive 19 in six winning games, yet it is their approach to games against their chief rivals that have been the subject of intense conjecture in the opening weeks of this campaign.
Mourinho’s spoiling tactics ensured last month’s trip to face Liverpool at Anfield ended in a tedious stalemate and their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea two weeks ago was again an example of a United team trying not to lose rather than chasing a victory, yet it appears that so long as this manager is leading their charge, he will stay true to his tried, tested and highly successful ethos.
Games against Arsenal and Manchester City are on United’s horizon in the Premier League and after getting a glimpse of the carefree football they crave in the win against Newcastle, the frustration will be even more acute if Mourinho now reverts to his safety first policy for the games that will define his side’s season.
With Manchester City’s finely tuned orchestra may be serving up sweet music that is seducing everyone into suggesting they are already worthy of the tag of Premier League champions-elect, United appear to be the only team with a credible prospect of forcing them to hit a few bum notes.
So will Mourinho fight attacking fire with fire when his old foe Pep Guardilola and his Manchester City off their perch when they arrive at Old Trafford on December 10th? It seems unlikely.
With just a third of a season gone, United simply have to beat City to keep their fading title hopes alive and if Mourinho refuses embrace that challenge in a manner befitting the giant of a club he is now in charge of, supporters who have already expressed reservations about the brand of football he promotes will be quick to deliver a guilty verdict.