Tottenham visit Old Trafford tonight as Jose Mourinho returns to Manchester United for the first time as an opposing manager since his sacking last December.
Mourinho was of course in the home dugout the last time Spurs came to United, back in August 2018, when the visitors won 3-0.
Plenty has changed since then, far more than the identity of the men in the dugouts.
Herrera at centre half?
United lost the game before, 3-2 at Brighton, and Mourinho responded by trying to shock Spurs with a three-man backline, with Ander Herrera shunted in at centre back.
The hosts made most of the running in the first half, as Fred and Jesse Lingard headed up an energetic setup, trying to surprise Spurs by pressing them high up the pitch.
Romelu Lukaku had chances to put United ahead in the first half, including one where he rounded Hugo Lloris before missing the target, but the home side fell apart completely in the second period.
Harry Kane’s header on 50 minutes broke United’s spirit, Lucas Moura doubled the lead two minutes later and Mourinho was powerless to turn the tide thereafter.
Moura’s second of the night was the least Spurs deserved on a night when they showed themselves capable of absorbing pressure before scything through a top six side on their own patch with devastating attacking play beyond anything Mourinho could get out of his side.
Playing Herrera at centre-back was a mistake he never repeated, although he did also try and fail the same way with Scott McTominay at the back.
It was seen as Mourinho sending a message to the board about a lack of centre-back signings. It worked in a way, but it also backfired on United.
Mourinho ranted in response to a question about United’s defending (BBC): “What was the result? 3-0. What this means? 3-0 – but also means three Premier Leagues and I won more Premier Leagues alone than the other 19 managers together.”
This was the most blatant Mourinho’s self-preservation had been by that stage, and when he was sacked in December,
Fans who look back on Mourinho’s reign now purely through the prism of his results may conclude it wasn’t that bad by comparison to Solskjaer.
But a look back at his quotes after this match are a healthy reminder of the circus Mourinho brought to Old Trafford around this time, and that’s a major reason why it was right to sack him, despite Solskjaer’s current struggles.
Solskjaer may hope it doesn’t also serve as a reminder of the kind of football Mauricio Pochettino is capable of producing as a manager at Old Trafford…
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