Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho claimed after the 3-2 home victory over Newcastle that he was the subject of a “manhunt.”
Mourinho also said he may have been convinced he was set for the sack if he had not received a text message that morning from the United board which told him to “ignore what you are going to read and do your job”.
Ahead of Saturday’s Premier League match at Old Trafford, senior figures at the club strongly denied a report from the previous evening that the Portuguese would lose his job this weekend regardless of the outcome of the contest.
United then claimed victory thanks to a dramatic late fightback after going 2-0 down early on, with Juan Mata netting a 70th-minute free-kick, Anthony Martial equalising six minutes later and Alexis Sanchez, who had also come off the bench, heading home the winner in the 90th minute.
After seeing the Red Devils end their four-game losing streak in all competitions, Mourinho told BT Sport 1: “In spite of the first time I see in football a manhunt, I am 55, I am mature, I can cope with it. I can live with it.
“Clearly some of the boys, in spite of their not being the man that is hunted, I think they are not coping well with it. The way they start the game was absolutely panicking.
“Marcus Rashford was sad on the pitch. Scott McTominay was scared on the pitch. Even all the players, they make mistakes that are not normal.
“I think at half-time we had a good conversation. We didn’t promise to each other we would win the match, we promised we would give absolutely everything without fear. They gave everything.”
He added:: “As a friend of mine was saying to me this morning, if tomorrow rains in London it’s my fault. If there is some difficulty to have the agreement of Brexit, it’s my fault. And I have to be ready for all of this.
“I think a lot of wickedness and a clear man-hunting that I think in football is too much. It’s my life, it’s a life I love, it’s a life I worked since I was a kid. I will love it until my last day. It’s one more experience in my life.”
Mourinho also did an interview with talkSPORT, in which he said: “When I woke up in the morning I had an SMS from my board to say ignore what you are going to read and do your job, but if I didn’t have that SMS I could be also convinced (by the report).”
In his post-match press conference, Mourinho said to the assembled journalists “I’m sorry boys” as he sat down.
And he said when asked about his “manhunt” comments that “it doesn’t stop” and that he felt nothing would stop it.
When mourinho was asked about the fight his team had shown with their comeback, he said: “I think there is too much talk and you put in doubt the honesty and the professionalism of the players.
“One thing is you can’t do better and another thing is you don’t want to do better and another is you can do better but don’t cope well with the feelings surrounding your environment but I think the players showed they wanted to win the match.”
“This is not about me or the players…this is about the club.”
“I am 55 years old and this is the first man hunt I have seen in football.” 👀
“If it rains in London it is my fault. A bad Brexit deal is my fault.”
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 6, 2018
Mourinho also expressed his gratitude to the United fans at the ground, described them as “absolutely amazing”, and added: “My happiness about the victory is not because of myself, is because of the fans and the players.”
Having heard boos around the stadium when the first half concluded, mourinho then heard his name being sung loudly following Sanchez’s goal.
While United are now eighth, six points behind leaders Manchester City and second-placed Liverpool, who meet at Anfield on Sunday, winless Newcastle, whose goals came from Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto, have slipped to second bottom.
Boss Rafael Benitez said: “I think we did so well for 70 minutes. It’s a pity.
“The organisation and determination of the players was really good and it’s a pity that at the end against a very good team you concede the first goal that changes everything, and they continued pushing and it was difficult to defend.
“They (United) are a good team and for me they will be at the top of the table.”
Here, we look at the tactics Sky Blues boss Pep Guardiola should consider at Anfield.
CREATE THE OVERLAP
It’s a regular sight for all City watchers.
The ball is worked out wide, a winger or full-back rolls the ball across and either a striker or advancing midfielder strokes the low centre home. Simple, but so, so effective – just ask Hoffenheim and Brighton in the last week, alone.
Against Liverpool, this approach gains greater relevance. In alternating fashion, one of either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson will bomb on – leaving enticing space.
Robertson was burned off Napoli’s Jose Callejon to tee up Lorenzo Insigne in midweek to inflict Liverpool’s first loss of the season. The likes of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker are infinitely capable of doing the same this Sunday.
Guardiola teams are not thought of as set-piece specialists.
But a study of the 2017/18 corner statistics in the Premier League places them joint second with eight goals, just one behind leaders Bournemouth and Arsenal.
Liverpool’s weakness in this area has largely been cured by January’s addition of the statuesque Virgil van Dijk. But with fine margins likely to define the contest at Anfield plus a potential return after nearly two months out for dead-ball master Kevin De Bruyne, this could be a profitable avenue for the champions.
Centre-back Aymeric Laporte has looked a constant danger at attacking these deliveries, as his goal at Wolverhampton Wanderers shows.
Here, we look at the tactics Reds boss Jurgen Klopp should consider at Anfield.
MASTERS OF TRANSITION
Expect an old friend to be brought back by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp this weekend.
The German has turned down his famous ‘gegenpress’ this term. Rather than using physical intensity to make opponents crack, a psychological superiority/inferiority complex has been at play.
Sheer weight of talent, however, will not unsettle City’s superstars.
Research by The Times this weekend showed that from Liverpool’s nine goals against the Blues last term, they held the ball a maximum 14 seconds.
The onus moves to making counter-attacks as swift as possible. When, for example, Jordan Henderson wins the ball in midfield, City’s attacking shape must be instantly exploited by forward Mohamed Salah and Co.
PRESSURE THE DEFENCE
Liverpool are experts at turning pressure points to their advantage.
Guardiola didn’t lightly say in Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary that “They scare me”, when referencing the Reds. Klopp’s 57-per-cent winning ratio against the iconic Spaniard is unprecedented and this comes from his ability to strike at the heart of an area of strength.
The Catalan’s sides dominate possession and build from the back. Their defenders hold the ball more than other teams, leading to more opportunities for your attackers to win it in advantageous positions.
Goalkeeper Ederson and centre-back Nicolas Otamendi both fell victim in last term’s Champions League quarter-finals to the hustling attacking trio of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.