Was Jose Mourinho right to defend Manchester United’s display?

Manchester United were beaten 3-0 at home to Tottenham

Jose Mourinho went into Monday night's game against Tottenham under pressure after Manchester United’s 3-2 defeat to Brighton and that has only intensified following his team’s 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford. The result was emphatic enough but that did not stop the manager from launching a fierce defence of his team's performance.

Mourinho claimed his team were by far the better side in the first half and that the end result was not a fair reflection of the game. He pointed out that his team had good chances and that by pressing high up the pitch his players had forced mistakes from Tottenham in their own half. But was he right? Here, we take a look at the evidence.

Quality of chances

"We were so, so, so much the better team in the first half," said Mourinho afterwards. "My team played so well and strategically they were so so so so good and you want to try to transform this press conference into a situation of 'let's blame the guy'. We missed a goal with an open goal, we missed chances, we were unlucky in rebounds for both goals.
"We lost a game because we conceded a goal from the first corner of the match against us on minute fifty-something. In the first half, zero free-kicks, zero corners conceded, in minute fifty-something they have one corner and score a goal, and you want, with that goal, you want to transform the story of your game."
Romelu Lukaku's opportunity to score in the first half after rounding Hugo Lloris was clear but it was far from the only chance that United had. The home team had 23 attempts in total - more than in any of their Premier League matches in the calendar year. It was also the most shots that Tottenham have faced in any Premier League game this season or last.
"United should have scored one or two goals tonight minimum," Gary Neville told Sky Sports. "They had big chances to score." Opta's expected-goals model supports that view. According to those statistics, the quality of United's chances equated to 1.5 goals compared to the 1.3 goals that Tottenham's chances would have been expected to yield.

Pressing higher up

It was not only the result that annoyed Mourinho. He appeared aggrieved that he was being criticised for the performance. "You have to tell me what is the most important thing because I don't know," he said. "When I win matches I come here many times and you are not happy that I won and you tell me that the most important thing is the way of playing.
You have to make a decision in relation to that because I need to know from you what is the most important thing - if it is to play well or if it is to win matches. Is it to play offensively, or is it to play for a certain result? Today we were aggressive, we pressed high."
There was a noticeable difference in United's approach against Tottenham and the team's high pressing was shown by where they succeeded in winning possession of the ball. According to Opta, United won possession, on average, 36 metres away from their own goal compared to the 27 metres away that Tottenham managed to win possession of the ball.
Manchester United's possession-winning line in their 3-0 defeat to Tottenham at Old Trafford
Image:United's defensive possession-winning line was higher than normal
That is a departure from the norm for Mourinho whose teams tend to favour a defensive low-block. In matches against the rest of the top four last season, United's average possession-winning line was 28 metres from their goal, never higher than 32 metres, and never higher than their opponent in any of those six Premier League contests.
It was even higher than their line against Brighton. "There was nothing to like about the Brighton performance," said Neville after the game. "There were things tonight that were a lot different to that Brighton performance in every single way. There was a level of intensity and desire in the team. There was an urgency that was not there at Brighton."

Forcing Spurs errors

Mourinho argued that United's front-foot approach had been effective in that it had caused their opponents significant problems. "Tottenham could not make two passes coming from the back," he said. "They made lots of mistakes because of our pressure high. We project the full-backs, we had Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw arriving in dangerous positions."
The average position data showed that Valencia and Shaw both spent the majority of the first 45 minutes in the Tottenham half - and United's pressing certainly had an impact on Spurs. They visitors made two errors leading to shots, which is as many as they made in any of their Premier League games last season. But the difficulties ran much deeper than that.
Manchester United players' average position graphic v Spurs, first half
Image:The average position of the Manchester United players in the first half
Tottenham failed to complete 65 passes in that frenzied first half. That is the most unsuccessful passes that any team in the Premier League has made in the opening 45 minutes of a game this season. By the time it was all over, Spurs had misplaced 38 passes in their own half of the pitch, the third most by any team this term.
It was caused by the intensity of the pressing. Fred won it back 10 times alone, covering more ground than any United player, while the introduction of Jesse Lingard helped too - he made 19 high-intensity sprints, a tally only bettered by man of the match Lucas Moura. In total, United recovered possession 75 times - no team has done so more times this season.

Conclusion

Try as Mourinho might, there is no getting away from the fact that Manchester United were beaten by three clear goals. It was not only the biggest home defeat of his entire managerial career but means that United have now lost two of their first three games of a league season for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.
But while there might be little appetite for Mourinho's excuses right now, the statistics do suggest that this defeat was not only unfortunate but that it was untypical of the problems that have afflicted United of late. After being accused of being too negative in their approach, United were uncharacteristically positive against Tottenham only to be picked off.

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