Belfast Telegraph

Five things we want to learn from Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho in China

By Mark Ogden

Manchester United flew to China yesterday afternoon ahead of pre-season friendlies against Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City.

It will be the first real glimpse of Jose Mourinho's United, so what will the two-game tour tell us about the man and his team?


With several key players unavailable in China due to summer exertions at Euro 2016 or the Copa America, Mourinho will be restricted in terms of wholesale changes to his team this week, but Saturday's friendly victory at Wigan gave a glimpse of his readiness to be ruthless.

Juan Mata, the Spanish midfielder sold by Mourinho to United in a £37.1m deal from Chelsea in January 2014, did not even start at the DW Stadium, with the new United manager opting instead to deploy summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the No.10 role.

Mata played the entire second-half, but the message was clear enough from Mourinho that the 28-year-old has work to do to convince him he has a future at Old Trafford.

Memphis Depay is another who must make a quick impression on the Portuguese following a poor first season at United, with Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Phil Jones also needing to win over the former Real Madrid coach.

Playing style

Louis van Gaal's slow, possession-based approach alienated supporters and players alike last season, but Mourinho has already made it clear that his United will be different.

But how different? Will they become more direct under his leadership or more decisive?

Under Van Gaal, the football was predictable and painstaking, but Mourinho wants his United to hurt teams in defensive areas and spend more time in the final third.

Fixtures against Borussia Dortmund in Shanghai and Manchester City in Beijing will give Mourinho the opportunity to impose his playing style against high quality opposition.

The 2-0 victory at Wigan, with Mkhitaryan playing as an advanced No.10, showed a subtle change in approach, but China will offer a better picture of the way ahead.

Anger management

There were flashes of Mourinho's touchline temper at Wigan at the weekend during his first game in charge of United, with the Portuguese berating the linesman for perceived mistakes.

In the heat and humidity of the Far East, however, and against high-profile opposition, will Mourinho be able to replace the fire with calmness?

United's players will know that Mourinho does not share Van Gaal's view that managers have no place in the technical area and they will discover that for real in China.

But having become embroiled in too many spats with officials during his final year at Chelsea, Mourinho needs to show he has learned to curb his temper at United.

Verbal warfare

With the Premier League season less than four weeks away, when will Mourinho start to play mind games with his big rivals?

The United manager has the opportunity to launch an early broadside at Pep Guardiola when his team face Manchester City in Beijing on Monday and his words in the build-up to that game will be analysed and pored over to assess whether he has made an early start to the verbal warfare.

Will he be able to bite his tongue when asked about Arsene Wenger's hopes of success at Arsenal or his views on Antonio Conte's prospects at Chelsea?

Perhaps the Special One has become the Quiet One, but few are expecting Mourinho to remain subdued for long.

Will he give the kids a chance?

Pre-season tours are often the best chance for young players to make the breakthrough at a time when first-team starters are still on extended breaks and United's starlets are faced with that opportunity in China.

Will Keane played against Wigan last weekend, with Andreas Pereira impressing during a second-half run-out against the Championship outfit.

Both will be given game time in China, with Adnan Januzaj also set to be handed the chance - perhaps a final one - to resurrect his United career.

But with Mourinho's track record showing that he sticks to proven performers in the Premier League, United's youngsters may just have two games to make their point to the new manager.

Because once United face Galatasaray in Gothenburg next week, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and the rest will be ready to kick-start their pre-season preparations.

Belfast Telegraph


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