What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?

In January this year, Football Further examined the first few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s stint as Real Madrid coach and discovered that he fielded 16 different midfield and attack configurations in his first 16 league matches. Pellegrini’s time at Real ended in disappointment – despite phenomenal success in the goalscoring department – and a look at how his successor, José Mourinho, has approached team selection in the early weeks of his tenure reveals a very different style.

Where Pellegrini chopped and changed (unaided, it must be said, by injuries to key players), Mourinho quickly settled on a first-choice XI and has sought to deploy it at every available opportunity. Below are the midfield/attack combinations that Mourinho has used in the league this season, in the order in which they have appeared:

1. Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra; Ángel di María, Sergio Canales, Cristiano Ronaldo; Gonzalo Higuaín (0-0 v Mallorca, a)
2. Alonso, Sami Khedira; Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Osasuna, h)
3. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-1 v Real Sociedad, a)
4. Alonso, L. Diarra; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-0 v Espanyol, h)
5. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (0-0 v Levante, a)
6. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Deportivo, h)
7. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (4-1 v Malaga, a)
8. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Racing Santander, h)
9. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-1 v Hercules, a)
10. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-0 v Atlético, h)
11. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Sporting Gijon, a)
12. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (5-1 v Athletic Bilbao, h)
13. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Benzema (0-5 v Barcelona, a)

The consistency is striking. Prior to Real’s humiliation at Barcelona on Monday night, Mourinho had aligned the same six players in midfield and attack for eight successive games, and had Higuaín not sustained a back muscle injury prior to the trip to Camp Nou, it is certain that that statistic would have been extended to nine games.

When Real lost 1-0 at Barcelona in November last year, in what was Pellegrini’s 12th league game in charge, the Chilean coach would have been entitled to cite the fact he was yet to settle on his preferred starting XI as a mitigating factor in the defeat. Mourinho, who had one more La Liga game behind him than Pellegrini when he took on Pep Guardiola’s side for the first time, has no such excuse. He knows his strongest team.

That team had been strong enough to obliterate everything in its path until it arrived in Barcelona and Mourinho is now confronted with the unpalatable truth that, while his prototype Real side are comfortably the second-best side in Spain, they are several furlongs behind Barcelona in terms of cohesion, style of play and game management. True, Higuaín’s absence on Monday was telling, as Benzema is not as mobile, nowhere near as clinical and worryingly low on confidence, but there does not appear to be much else that Mourinho can do to bolster his first-choice XI. The small-fry of the Spanish top flight may provide meek resistance, but the return fixture against Barcelona on April 17 already looks like a daunting prospect.

“Clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter are well established and just needed to bring in one or two players this summer,” said Mourinho in August. “Barca are also the finished product. They play with their eyes closed. They have been together so long that they come back from their holidays and after three days of training they are ready. That is not the case for Madrid.  A team needs to adapt to a new coach, to six new players and to another way of working.”

After such an impressive start to the season, Mourinho must have expected his side to offer more resistance in their first encounter with Barcelona, but should he opt to return to the drawing board to re-shape his team, it seems he will find little else but a rough first draft and no sign of a Plan B.

9 Responses to “What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?”

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by s h a h r i m and 浦島 景太郎, Tom Williams. Tom Williams said: Blog – Why Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid tenure to date suggests he may not have a Plan B: http://bit.ly/h3EU4u […]

  • Mourinho’s excuse “under construction Madrid” is lame and it shows a man who is not willing to take responsibilities in defeat while bragging in victories. Pellegrini was in his first season last year. He had tons of new players (with bigger egos than those Mourinho had to deal with). He had players with huge impact in the dressing room who can make his coaching life a nightmare. He was labeled as “the only coach available-till Mourinho can come” which no doubt leave an impact on any coach’s command on his team. still, Barca were lucky to defeat RM at the camp nou back then. Mou has a much better squad than last season with less complexities and more enforcement. Definitely, he has a better squad than any other team we played this season, but ended up being the easiest opponent. He failed to plan his game right. I admit, even for someone who is not carried by the hype surrounding him, I overestimated his qualities while previewing the clasico. He is quality, but last night he got it all wrong.

    He wasnt supposed to guarantee a win. Maybe, Barca would have won anyway. But you can at least expect a quality performance that makes things a bit harder for Barca players. It was a walk in the park. Easier than defeating Sporting Gigon, if you know what I mean. So…no excuses.

    Unless if some Mou-fans will keep telling us that everything mou-related are parts of a big supernatural Mou-plan :)

  • Roberticus:


    the danger for Mourinho now is twofold;

    firstly, when it comes to Madrid planning the remainder of the season, everything will boil down to this return fixture in the Bernabeu. Unlike last season with Inter, Mourinho had the luxury of confining himself to domestic competition in Serie A whilst plotting the downfall of Barcelona in the Champions’ League was an added bonus, so that there was almost no pressure on him to overcome Guardiola – his season was going well anyway. This time around, he knows that even Spanish league honours are going to hinge on whether he can reverse this defeat.

    Secondly, when it comes to the ‘return leg’ itself, Mourino is now facing a Barcelona side which has liberated itself of its (Ibra-)inhibitions from last season. The mere presence of David Villa, considering how last year even Bojan showed the benefits of being a mobile, associative striker in the second leg at Camp Nou, seems to render Mourinho’s ‘let them keep the ball and we stay deep’ strategy obsolete.
    Not to mention that Guardiola has spent more than a year now experimenting with different formations so that trying to second-guess Barcelona and setting up your entire strategy on a preventative basis is ultimately risky.

    In terms of tactics for next April’s meeting, I would expect Mourinho to forego AT LEAST one of the attacking quartet from his standard line-up.

    Now the question is: how does he configure them….

    I would guess that at his most adventurous he would play a 4-3-1-2 with an extra defensive midfielder in Lassana Diarra. This defensive trivot would stay very close to the Madrid back four, itself positioned very deeply, and Mesut Oezil would be entrusted with threading through balls to a counter-attacking striker duo of CR and Benzema (assuming Higuain is still recovering from injury or out of favour). But don’t be surprised to see Di Maria supporting Ronaldo at the expense of the other striker… since lightning pace will be at a premium.

    The other approach might be not to play so deep, but also not to have the back line dragged out of position. To that end I can picture a 5-3-2-type scenario, so as to grant extra cover to Marcelo (hopelessly exposed on Monday night at the Camp Nou). Hence we might see three centre-backs (Carvalho & Arbeloa) with Pepe (who has played DM for Portugal and who is always impetuous to leave the defensivive line and follow his man)tracking Messi whenever the Argentine dwells in central areas in the hole. With Sergio Ramos as a right-back who is comfortable tucking in to defend centrally, the presence of Arbeloa on the other side would help cover for the more attack-minded Marcelo. And ahead of this back-four-cum-back five of course, the double pivot of Alonso & Khedira. This would leave Oezil, Di Maria and CR (playing as a CF) encharged with counter-attacking (to be supported by an overlapping Marcelo). A 3-4-2-1 in ways.

  • […] What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?“In January this year, Football Further examined the first few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s stint as Real Madrid coach and discovered that he fielded 16 different midfield and attack configurations in his first 16 league matches. Pellegrini’s time at Real ended in disappointment – despite phenomenal success in the goalscoring department – and a look at how his successor, José Mourinho, has approached team selection in the early weeks of his tenure reveals a very different style.” Football Further […]

  • Mourinho already kinows how to play against Barcelona but the Madrid press/management wont allow him to play this way. This is always the cost of being a coach at Real Madrid.

    One defeat is not a crisis so I don’t think he has to make any changes now. Notice how all the pressure is on Mourinho but not on his players? That is exactly what he wants and how he builds his teams.

  • rob:

    Real Madrid have played a far more possesion-based game.Mourinho does not have in Real Madrid the defensive talent of Inter.Playing that way would be suicide as this Clasico showed.

  • Jacobo:

    Barcelona in the Nou Camp is a very difficult game for the best of teams but for Real Madrid it is impossible. Psychologically the Barca players feel unbeatable and the Real Madrid players the opposite. Nevermind tactics, how many of the Real Madrid players just played poorly? All? Almost all? The strength of the Barca team is exaggerated by the weak Spanish league, same for Real Madrid. This strong Barca team were clearly weaker than Inter last year and Chelsea the year before against ‘proper’ opposition. Until Real Madrid can overcome their demons about Barca, they will continue to underperform in the head to heads. If Barca could beat Real Madrid playing their best 5-0 or 6-2 they’d be going for their 4th European Cup in a row this year. For Barca, Real Madrid reserve their worst.

  • immarneVem:

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  • […] Madrid’s basic shape has changed little since José Mourinho arrived at the club in the summer of 2010. He invariably lines his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cristiano […]

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