Luke Shaw: Playing for Mourinho not for the faint-hearted
Defender wants squad to ‘get behind manager and fight’ against Young Boys
Luke Shaw: relationship with Mourinho has moved from apparently irreparable breakdown to seemingly mutual trust. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Champions League Group H: Manchester United v Young Boys
Kick off: 8pm. Venue: Old Trafford. On TV: RTÉ 2 and BT Sport 2.
Luke Shaw has acknowledged that anyone playing for José Mourinho requires a “thick skin” but believes Manchester United’s squad now need to “fight for this manager and this club”.
As if to prove his left-back’s point, Mourinho responded by declaring that any player feeling cowed by the pressure of performing in front of 75,000 fans at Old Trafford would be better off staying at home and watching tonight’s Champions League group game against Young Boys on television.
If a much-altered dynamic between Shaw and his manager has seen their relationship move from the point of apparently irreparable breakdown to a state of seemingly mutual trust, it has proved a rare positive at Old Trafford this season.
After all, United welcome Young Boys for what, in theory, should be a fairly routine victory despite United having won only three of their nine home matches in all competitions this term.
Such setbacks have not only left them a modest seventh in the Premier League but, in recent days, prompted Burnley’s Sean Dyche to suggest Mourinho’s players are not immune from relegation worries, while David Moyes yesterday claimed he should have been given more time in charge at Old Trafford after succeeding Alex Ferguson.
Although victory against Young Boys will guarantee United’s passage to the knockout stage – providing Juventus avoid defeat by Valencia – Mourinho’s side failed to score in recent home European games against Valencia and Juve, and Shaw conceded they are feeling the heat.
“You need a thick skin to play under this manager and for this club,” he said. “But we need to fight for this manager, the team and the club. Everyone in the changing room is a fighter and we want the best for the team and the club.”
Coat of gloss
Just as a prime minister or president facing difficulties in the domestic sphere often tends to look for diverting glory on the foreign-policy front, Mourinho is clearly hoping that Champions League success can help gloss over his team’s Premier League travails. On the road in Europe his team have generally done well, most notably winning away at Juventus but also prevailing 3-0 at bottom-placed Young Boys in Berne, yet the Portuguese demurred when asked if United are happier playing away.
“I refuse to say that,” said United’s manager. “I think it would be a lack of respect to the stadium and to the fans to say we prefer to play away from home. I totally refuse to say that. If you ask me do I prefer to play tomorrow at Young Boys here or go again to Berne I would say immediately to play at home. Always. I always prefer to play at home. If you feel pressure when people come to support you stay at [your] home and watch on TV.”
Mourinho has, however, felt stress en route to Old Trafford in recent weeks, with the Manchester traffic on more than one occasion causing his team to arrive late for games. That peril should be avoided tonight by United having switched pre-match bases to a hotel much closer to the ground. “Things are going to be much better,” he said. “And if they aren’t, we’ll walk.”
He trusts the reassurance of being within striking distance of main reception will bring the best out in Paul Pogba and his fellow midfielders. “I want my players to be proactive not reactive,” said Mourinho. “I want my players to be strong. Young Boys is not a crucial game, but I want to play like it is the last chance to qualify. I want to play like a knockout game. I want the team to start on the front foot, not to be waiting. Probably the fans think José told them to start slow [in recent games] but it’s the opposite. I want the team to start strong to have a go immediately, and it’s a bit frustrating.”
Midfield has proved a particularly weak link of late, with Saturday’s disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Crystal Palace a case in point, and Mourinho – who cannot currently seem to find a starting place for Fred, his £52 million summer signing from Shakhtar Donetsk – is hoping Pogba and company start winning some second balls tonight. “Normally we are not very good at second balls,” said United’s manager pointedly, presumably to lay down a gauntlet. “Our midfield is not normally that aggressive in the fight for second balls. You need that aggression and intensity in the midfield, which, to be honest, we don’t have.”
Mourinho’s woes were further compounded when he confirmed that his much improved and increasingly influential Sweden defender Victor Lindelöf will be absent because of a muscle injury – almost certainly his thigh – and could also be sidelined over the impending festive period.
“He will be out for quite a while,” said United’s manager. “Victor has a proper injury. If we can have Victor available for the Christmas period, it will be good.”