Manchester United players want focus on attacking to continue
Calls come after Mourinho’s side came back from two goals down to defeat Newcastle
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba shoots from an overhead kick in their 3-2 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
The final 45 minutes had José Mourinho’s team in the “attack-attack-attack” mode that is the United way but has become a near-collector’s item under the Portuguese. It is the biggest count against the manager from supporters who will countenance defeat but only if the side go down swinging.
On Saturday, against Rafael Benítez’s side, United ended the game in a blaze of glory to come back from a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 in what was one of the finest post-Sir Alex Ferguson displays. Lukaku admitted that it was too close for comfort but was encouraged by the response to going 2-0 down. “It’s not good for the heart when it is like this,” he said, “but it is satisfying to win and the way we did in the second half was the way we should always play football.
“That’s what the fans want to see, that’s the way we want to play. I don’t know why we don’t always play like this but at the end of the day we won the game and we have to move on. It made me think about Palace away last season.”
In that match in March, United also overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. They then pulled off the same act at Manchester City the following month. The common denominator in United going gung ho under Mourinho is when they are forced to do so. Only then does the handbrake come off.
Asked what made the difference against Newcastle, Lukaku said: “We thought let’s just go for it, give everything we have got. I mean that is what the fans want to see. They want to see quality and they want to see sacrifice at the same time. And that is what we did and, thank God, we won the game.”
Yet 10 minutes in, United – and Mourinho – looked buried. Goals from Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto had them 2-0 behind, and in complete disarray. So bad were United until the break that the mind rewound to the David Moyes 2013-14 season and some of the shambolic offerings of that team.
While the club began the day by saying privately that Mourinho retained their backing, the joke at Old Trafford was that he might be relieved of his duties at half-time. But, no. After some stern words at the interval, out came his players in a re-jigged shape that had Paul Pogba as a quasi-centre-back-playmaker, and he, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Lukaku proceeded to tear at Newcastle.
From 70 minutes to the close United were unstoppable. Mata curled home a superb 20-yard free-kick, Martial burst the net with the equaliser and, then, entered the maligned Alexis Sánchez.
Dropped again by Mourinho, the Chilean had been a jumble of clumsy touches, over-hit passes and baffling low confidence after coming on with 23 minutes remaining. But he refused to give up and provided the sweetest of moments when he headed past Martin Dubravka for a memorable winner in the dying seconds.
For Mourinho this was the dream script: an uplifting, backs-to-the-wall victory that illustrated the players possess precisely the spirit required. Lukaku said: “You know we do a lot of stuff together. We are a tight group. Every time a new player comes in we try to make him feel comfortable. And that is the key.
“The dressingroom has always been good and that has always been the case at Manchester United. We did what we had to do. We won the game and we have to be positive and look forward to the next games.”
Luke Shaw, who again impressed at left-back, echoed those thoughts.
“At half-time I’m sure there were a lot of happy people around the world watching that and loving every single moment of it, but the team spirit is very strong here,” he said. “The half-time team talk was very strong but it was really needed and gave us a kick up the backside. We came out different. The way we played in the second half was much quicker, much more direct, more like the United you saw in the old days and we need to do that more, we will hopefully, and now we just look forward to our next games.”
Shaw’s reference to the “old days” is telling, as it follows Lukaku’s demand to attack more as well as Pogba’s, who following last month’s draw with Wolves mentioned the A-word in comments that left his manager nonplussed.
Whether Saturday proves a turning point or the falsest of dawns will determine United’s season – as well as Mourinho’s fate. Next up after the international break is a trip to Chelsea before Juventus arrive for a Champions League group game. The charge against the 55-year-old is not so much that his pragmatic style is anti-football but anti-United.
Yet Lukaku, Shaw and Pogba – and, surely, most other team-mates – all yearn for the rollercoaster play they rode to a memorable win over Newcastle. As Shaw said: “We should be like this in every game. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be like that with the quality that we have.”
Might Mourinho heed this and other players’ sentiment? It still seems unlikely.