Jose Mourinho finds special formula as derby nears

Jose Mourinho has suddenly found the secret formula to beating team full of high quality, big-impact stars who play at a higher level than his own side, just in time for a similar test against Manchester City in the Premier League.

Jose Mourinho finds special formula as derby nears

By Chris Hatherall

Jose Mourinho has suddenly found the secret formula to beating team full of high quality, big-impact stars who play at a higher level than his own side, just in time for a similar test against Manchester City in the Premier League.

Juan Mata’s spectacular equaliser against Juventus and a Lobo Silva own goal completed a tactical masterclass from the Portuguese who positioned his side as underdogs, inspired his team to a disciplined and hard-working performance and then saw them find the spark to win it at the death.

Those stunning late strikes not only keep United’s Champions League hopes alive but also changes the mood ahead of Sunday’s trip across town.

Make no mistake, United play pretty well in Italy. They looked organised, they defended well, they knew exactly what they were doing. But it all looked like being undone by Ronaldo’s second-half goal, leaving pundits to suggest they didn’t try to win the game until it was too late and approached it as if they were second favourites. But then there was a grandstand finish which changed everything.

Some of the pressure on United had already loosened after last weekend’s last-minute winner at Bournemouth, a result which gave fans hope that Mourinho’s team had finally turned a corner. And there was no doubting this trip to Italy would be once again used to measure just how far they have to go to catch Europe’s elite. So the result means a lot.

It was Juve’s commanding 1-0 victory at Old Trafford, in which they dominated possession against a toothless home side, which opened everybody’s eyes to how far United are behind the very best these days.

It has kind of crept up on us, masked by the genius of Zlatan in Mourinho’s first year, but the club which dominated English football for so many years no longer walks onto the football field as favourite in as many games as it used to and has started changing its rhetoric about where it currently belongs.

After that home match against the Italian champions, Mourinho talked about Juventus’ ‘different level of quality, experience and know-how’. Before facing the Serie A giants this time he insisted the tie was ‘not crucial’ and described the home team as ‘super favourites’.

He meant, in the context of the current fixture list, that upcoming games against Young Boys and Valencia would have a bigger impact on United’s ability to qualify for the next round of the Champions League rather than a match-up in Turin; but nevertheless it feels strange to hear the Special One positioning his side as underdogs. Especially when that side is Manchester United.

It’s not a tag which sits comfortably with United fans, that’s for sure, but in the context of Sunday’s game across Manchester it was probably the only one their side deserved given the recent form of both teams. But has that all changed?

The background to Sunday’s derby, until this game, had been as polemic as it had ever been in recent times. United’s season so far has included draws against Chelsea, Wolves and Valencia as well as defeats against Juventus, Brighton, West Ham, Derby and Tottenham. City’s, by contrast, includes six goals against Southampton and Huddersfield, five against both Burnley and Cardiff, and morale-boosting victories at Tottenham and Arsenal.

City were untouchable in their Champions League tie against Shakhtar Donetsk last night, qualifying for the knockout stages early. So while United battled in Italy, City won 6-0 in a victory inspired by Raheem Sterling on a night which also included the most fortunate penalty you are ever likely to see. That summed up the luck that comes with an attitude to attack opponents at every opportunity.

United used to get that kind of luck too – Marcus Rashford’s winner at Bournemouth seemed to suggest it hasn’t entirely run out and an own goal to beat Juve confirms it. So there remains reason for hope – and confidence, at last, will be running high.

However unlikely it seems, victory at the Etihad would leave United only six points behind the champions and within touching distance of the top four despite what has been pretty uninspiring start to the season until the last seven days.

Can they do it? Well, in a derby anything can happen and momentum means a lot. The odds are still against them but surely United must feel they have an opportunity to make another statement.

In Turin they showed they can be well organised, defend properly and score on the break. UItimatley, playing the undercard worked and it is a huge result.Will they play the same card again at the Etihad? They may well do. Mourinho has found the formula and he is unlikely to change it.

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