Wednesday 21 February 2018

Mourinho can bring back the 'hated' tag

Jose Mourinho takes a water break during the match against Wigan. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters
Jose Mourinho takes a water break during the match against Wigan. Photo: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

James Ducker

Do Manchester United fans finally have a manager to love again?

Half an hour had gone against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium in Jose Mourinho's first game as Manchester United manager when the visiting supporters began chanting for Mourinho to "give us a wave".

When he failed to oblige, the United fans broke into a chorus of "sit down Mourinho", a light-hearted nod to the days when the Portuguese was not so popular as manager of Chelsea, Inter Milan or Real Madrid.

Mourinho saw the funny side and duly waved, to cheers from the 5,500-strong travelling support.

United's faithful yearn for a manager to truly get behind again after awkward, uncomfortable relationships with Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. Perhaps in Mourinho they have finally found one.

One common refrain from United fans has been a desire to see their club "hated again."

Mourinho should help with that, in terms of his record of serial success, personality, capacity to ruffle feathers and develop a siege mentality.

For now, though, United supporters will probably just settle for the sight of a manager patrolling the technical area with no clipboard in sight.

There was also a first win, a 2-0 victory secured courtesy of goals from Will Keane and Andreas Pereira.

Was the football any good?

It is impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions from the first friendly of pre-season against a Wigan team newly promoted to the Championship, but things, evidently, are going to change under Mourinho.

For starters, it is fair to say United players would not have seen Van Gaal applauding a missed shot from distance or a tackle, as Mourinho did in the opening period, when Ander Herrera fired wide shortly after making an excellent recovery challenge.

Herrera looked up, almost bewildered, to see Mourinho clapping at his shot and encouraging him to shoot more, a far cry from the sight of the Spaniard being beaten down by Van Gaal.

And remember all that sideways passing under Van Gaal? There was not too much of that here. In fact, there were probably more long balls played forward in the first half of this game than the entire first half of last season.

Mourinho has already made clear that he wants United to play at speed on the transition. If that means getting the ball forward quicker - he will insist on it ­­- and there was some evidence of that here.

"I'm very happy," Mourinho said. "Some principles of our play, defensively and offensively, that we worked on in training I could see there."

How did new signings do?

This was a particularly promising first 45 minutes in United colours for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will certainly have whetted the appetite among fans hoping the midfielder's £26million arrival from Borussia Dortmund will inject more pace and creativity into the attack.

In the eighth minute, there was a lovely back-heel into the path of Memphis Depay, whose shot was blocked, and soon after a smart first time pull-back for Jesse Lingard, which resulted in another blocked shot. Depay should then have scored, when Mkhitaryan whipped over a pinpoint cross.

The Armenian started in the No 10 role, but gravitated out wide whenever the opportunity arose, showing strength, speed, balance and composure.

"Mkhitaryan is a top-class player and this is the best stage for him," Mourinho said. "He is so sweet on the ball and can play different positions behind the striker. We can all see the qualities."

At the opposite end of the pitch, centre-half Eric Bailly - a £30m signing from Villarreal - overcame a few jittery early touches to settle down and at one point was scooping the ball over the head of a Wigan attacker, taking it on his chest and then spraying a pass out wide.

Mourinho has admitted there are question marks over how the young Ivory Coast defender will adapt to English football, but United will need him to bed in quickly if they are to hit the ground running this season.

Did Luke Shaw's comeback go to plan?

As eager as United fans were to get a first look at Mkhitaryan and Bailly, the return of Luke Shaw must feel like a new signing in itself and the England left-back was warmly applauded as he was welcomed back for his first appearance in 10 months after his horrific leg break against last September.

It has been a long road back for Shaw since fracturing his tibia and fibula in a challenge with PSV Eindhoven's Hector Moreno. But the 21-year-old showed few signs of nerves during his 45-minute run-out, producing a couple of characteristic bursts forward, and he has made an instant impression on Mourinho by forgoing a holiday to get himself in the best shape possible.

"When I found Luke at the training ground, it was a surprise for me because I thought he couldn't be ready to train without any type of limitation, but he did fantastically in the summer," the manager said.

"He sacrificed his holiday, he stayed in Manchester and was at the training ground every day, putting himself in condition. Of course you lose a bit of sharpness and confidence - that is normal - but he is trying hard."

How did those with a point to prove get on?

Juan Mata began on the substitutes' bench, but made an immediate impact after coming on at half-time, intercepting Jussi Jaaskelainen's woeful pass out and rolling the ball across goal for Keane to tap the ball home.

Mourinho was less happy with Mata in the 80th minute, though, when Keane held the ball up brilliantly and laid it off, only for the Spaniard to get knocked off the ball too easily.

The Portuguese - who sold the playmaker to United when he was in charge of Chelsea in January 2014 and may look to offload him again this summer - threw his arms up in dismay.

Adnan Januzaj is another wide player who must win over Mourinho, but the Belgian has clearly worked hard to bulk up physically, to the point that he looked almost unrecognisable from the slight winger of the past. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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