Jose Mourinho got the tactics wrong vs. Sevilla, and the optics of Manchester United's Champions League exit don't reflect well on the manager, especially after all the money spent to fortify his squad.

By 90Min
March 14, 2018

In May 2017, Jose Mourinho and his son collapsed to the ground in an embrace of celebration, joy and relief as Manchester United won the Europa League for the first time in their history.

Those occasions where an entire season would be defined as a success or failure on just one result are rare, but this night was one of them. A young Ajax team were put to the sword, and Mourinho had achieved his minimum requirement of ensuring United returned to Europe's premier club competition. At the second time of asking, albeit.

United had finished sixth in the Premier League going into that game in Stockholm. But Mourinho - heralded as one of the finest tactical minds in the game since proving himself with Porto well over a decade prior - had got his chance to take one of the world's biggest clubs onto world football's biggest stage. 

But on Tuesday night, on that big stage, Mourinho showed that he's a shell of the manager he used to be. Sevilla scored two quick-fire goals at Old Trafford to stun the home crowd and send United packing from Europe much earlier than expected. They - and the world of social media - had Wissam Ben Yedder to thank.

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Sevilla, though, were there for the taking. This was a team that had already shipped five goals to Real Madrid, Real Betis, Eibar and Atletico Madrid in La Liga this season. This was a team who had conceded 12 goals in six group games before Christmas. While they sit fifth in their domestic table, the two teams should have been poles apart. In a financial sense, they are.

But Mourinho's Manchester United chose not to attack their biggest weakness for the best part of 170 minutes across the tie - responding (typically, as it has come to be under Mourinho) only after they had fallen behind. Unfortunately for a reactive Mourinho, it was too little, too late. 

Instead, the former Chelsea boss set his stall out to earn a potentially dangerous 0-0 draw in the first leg in Seville, and run the risk of going punch for punch with the Spanish outfit in the second. He would rely on the solid home record that had before Tuesday night seen only Manchester City win at Old Trafford since he took charge.

Mourinho's tactics were wrong in both ties, and he duly paid the price. His players may get the brunt of the blame from BT Sport pundits who believe he's earned his stripes and absolved himself from criticism for future defeats, but this limp elimination from the competition United have worked so hard to get back into was symbolic.

It's symbolic of Mourinho's faded powers. His teams no longer play with the ferocity and commitment of years gone by. His ability to pull teams through knockout rounds of key competitions (UEL aside, United were by far the strongest team in the competition last year) has waned. He cannot motivate a squad like he used to.

Urgency is key. Taking a game by the scruff of the neck is what Manchester United fans have become accustomed to since the early 1990s, and that confidence was always there under Sir Alex Ferguson that it was never over 'til it's over. That habit retired with Ferguson in 2013.

Mourinho had two separate opportunities, two games, to go and take control of the tie. They refused on both occasions. 

His teams don't play with the ball, and instead will wait for an opposition error to capitalize. Sometimes, those errors don't come. It didn't come on Tuesday night, and it's been the same story under his guidance countless times already.

Mourinho sees early goals as key to his tactical plan - it gives United something to protect, and invites opponents to leave gaps to counter attack into. His plan worked perfectly at the start of this season (see 4-0 victories over West Ham, Everton and Crystal Palace as examples), but the breakthrough doesn't always come either. And if it doesn't, it leaves United uncertain. 

See Tuesday as an example of that.

Manchester United fans were willing to accept the reactive football as part and parcel of a plan to make strides forward. But Mourinho will live and die by his own sword, and this most embarrassing of eliminations should be the killer. Never before have a Manchester United team accepted defeat with such ease and a lack of care.

They don't cover ground. They don't move off the ball. They rely on individual genius or "stickin' it to Fellaini at the back post". You can grin and bear it when it works, but there's no defense for it when it does.

There's no doubt United have taken steps back to restoring themselves under Mourinho. He's bought box office players, made them difficult to beat, and got them back into Champions League contention via league position. But this simply is not acceptable. 

Mourinho's done his bit, but under his management and with his football, they will never restore themselves to the very top of the tree. Local rivals Manchester City have all the tools in place to dominate both domestically and in Europe for many years to come, and the truth of the matter is that United are so far off despite being so close in proximity.

He's free to state that United need better players - in many senses he's right - but his current crop of players (who are insanely talented, by the way) are not delivering under him. He has no right to ask for more when he's not even able to utilize what he's already got.

If you're not going to win, at least go down fighting. We don't even get that with Jose any more.

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