Mourinho deploys the Mind games as crunch fixture edges Closer
On the back foot with his team and his captain short of real form. Under pressure enough to make unjust comments about the referee and his opposite number Jurgen Klopp. These are tough times in deed for the self-proclaimed “special one”
Hearing the whispers that he may no longer be everyone’s idea of the perfect modern Premier League coach.
This is classic Mourinho territory. With his back against the wall and the hand grenades already tossed, all the United manager needs now is the kind of performance from his team that has so typified his genius over the years.
He did it at Anfield with a team of Chelsea reserves three seasons ago. Liverpool 0 Chelsea 2.
He did at the Nou Camp with Inter Milan’s 10 men in the 2011 Champions League. Barcelona 2 Inter 3 on aggregate.
Mourinho prides himself on this. The sheer cussedness. The bloody mindedness.
Whether he successfully finds it again on Merseyside on Monday night will perhaps go a long way to telling us just what the 2016 version of Mourinho is really like.
‘He knows how successful football works,’ said Liverpool manager Klopp. ‘He has won the Champions League more times than I have played in it. He is a competitor. Without knowing him well, I know he will want to win this game.’
Talk of the waning of Mourinho’s powers is premature. His body of work remains exceptional. There has been improvement under him at United already.
Undoubtedly, though, the Portuguese heads into the fixture knowing that an important 10 days await his team. This game is followed by a Europa League fixture against Fenerbahce that is not important and then games against Chelsea in the Premier League and Manchester City in the League Cup that undoubtedly are.
Klopp is perhaps under less pressure. Expectations remain lower at Anfield — so long have the fallow years been — and progress has already been great. It is this, in part, which has spawned the theory that while the likes of Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino are heading in one direction, Mourinho is heading in the other.
Klopp said: ‘Who said this? You have spoken to four people in Liverpool? It’s bull. He has started badly at United? They won their first few games. So now you are giving B grades for winning?
How can I say who is on the way here and who is on the way there? If I lose against Manchester United you will stand here and ask me: ‘What about YOUR ways?’
‘I am of course not interested and absolutely not part of the group that says Jose Mourinho was or has been a good manager. To like or not like the way he plays, why should he care?
‘I try to play similar football now to with my former team at Dortmund and when we faced his Real Madrid it was unbelievably difficult to play them.’
Klopp will, of course, remember that his Dortmund team faced Mourinho’s Madrid four times in the 2012-13 Champions League season.
They beat them and drew with them in the group stages and then blitzed them 4-1 in a home semi-final first leg, a game that not only rendered the second leg irrelevant but also handed Mourinho one of his most chastening experiences.
There is unlikely to be anything as one-sided on Monday night, no matter who prevails. Liverpool certainly have the more consistent form and the knowledge that they have already performed well against teams of substance — Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea — this season.
Equally, Klopp remembers losing 1-0 to a United team that had one shot at Anfield last season — Wayne Rooney the scorer — and he heads into the game with a decision to make about which of two uncertain goalkeepers to choose.
At least there was no mischief from the German when he spoke to the media.
Mourinho’s comments about referee Anthony Taylor — born in Greater Manchester but actually a season ticket holder at non-League Altrincham — were pretty lamentable and he can expect an FA charge. Klopp was asked the same question at his press conference and was prevented from answering by Liverpool’s head of media.
Perhaps it suits Mourinho to make the meeting ugly, to make it fractious before it even starts in order to level the field a little. He has this tactic in his playbook.
Certainly it suits Klopp and Liverpool to settle Monday night’s business by the football.
They have been impressive with the ball consistently while United have only functioned in sporadic patches under a new coach who has, publicly at least, lacked some of his recognisable lustre since replacing Louis van Gaal.
Klopp refused to enter a conversation about style.
For all that they issued a joint statement aimed at banishing offensive chanting, this remains a fixture underpinned by the kind of mutual dislike between supporters that few fixtures across Europe can really match.
As such, the result is all important. ‘It’s not about showing who plays the better football,’ said Klopp. ‘We want to win this game. We don’t just play to enjoy ourselves and say ‘Look, it’s nice’. We play to win.
‘But there is not only one way. There are lots of ways and some of the most successful managers in world football had completely different ways. I can’t see there is one way of Guardiola, Pochettino, Klopp.
‘I know nothing about these two guys that I can say is similar from my point of view. We have our way without looking left or right, only trying to do our best.’
Klopp exuded optimism as he spoke at Melwood. On this occasion, the anxiety belongs to those down at the other end of the East Lancs Road.
Mourinho has been here before, though. And we know how it usually ends.