José Mourinho masterminded a magnificent Manchester United victory against Juventus in Turin.

No, you didn’t read that wrong, José Mourinho did indeed mastermind a victory, and it was kind of magnificent. Alright, let’s be honest, Juventus were the better side and probably should have been more than one goal up by the time Juan Mata stepped up to take that 86th minute free-kick, but they weren’t, and what happened there was Mourinho’s magic.

Mourinho’s… magic. Yeah, that’s not something we’ve seen too much of at Old Trafford since his side won the Europa League in Solna, Sweden. There have been good games since then, United’s win over Manchester City a standout, but nothing that marked Mourinho out as a coach who still competed at the very top table anymore.

This demotion came largely as a result of his own poor decisions, and typical third season implosion with regards to his relationship with his players and his board. United are currently 7th in the Premier League, level on points with Bournemouth (having beaten them in the last second before the trip to Turin), so things aren’t exactly going great.

But there have been glimpses lately that something could be stirring. Firstly, United didn’t lose to Newcastle a month ago. After a run of four winless games including a humiliating home exit to Derby in the EFL Cup, Mourinho had to beat Newcastle to keep his job. And then he went two goals down inside 15 minutes and he looked sure for the sack.

Then United effected a great comeback in that game. Then they did the same the week after against Chelsea. Two impressive comebacks. They lost to Juventus but also played much better in the second half after a truly abject first period. The Everton game was an anomaly as they started hot and ended up holding on, but Bournemouth was back to the comeback.

This is a clear pattern now for Manchester United, one that culminated in the win vs. Juventus, but what motivates it? An easy answer is player pride; the United players come out in a sluggish shape and then when their pride is threatened by a defeat, they come together to fight back and win. That may explain one or two comebacks, but United are doing this consistently now, it can’t all be players.

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Mourinho’s hand is clearly at play here; and not just with substitutions. Against Chelsea and Juventus the comebacks were complete before a sub was made, if anything against Chelsea had he made better chances then a bigger victory was there for the taking instead of just a draw.

But substitutions have played a considerable role. Mourinho’s ability to diagnose how a game is going and what he could do to change things is a skill he doesn’t appear to have lost. Against Newcastle he put Pogba in defence to launch attacks, against Bournemouth Ander Herrera came in to help take control of midfield whilst eventual matchwinner Marcus Rashford was introduced to add thrust.

Against Juventus, though, we saw a perfect hat-trick of substitutions from Mourinho. Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini came on. Rashford added pace and direct play to keep the defence honest, Mata knitted things together with more accuracy in the final third, and Marouane Fellaini is bloody massive and terrified Juve defenders.

All three men either scored or should have scored a goal. Mata obviously hammered home the equalising free-kick. Fellaini probably should have scored from Ashley Young’s free-kick minutes later, but his mere presence confounded Wojciech Szczesny and Leonardo Bonucci, causing the winning own goal. And Marcus Rashford should have made it 1-3 with a superb run, but he saw his shot saved by Szczęsny.

So substitutions, changing the game with his squad, has been massive. But against Juventus we also saw something else: Mourinho got the initial line-up right. It wasn’t all the subs, because United had played very well up to that point as well. They should have conceded more, sure, but they were competing against a vastly superior side in terms of organisation and world-class talent.

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Helping his cause is consistency of selection. Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof have played several consecutive games for the first time under Mourinho and are rewarding their boss with sensational displays. Lindelof in particular made just one mistake over 180 nerve-shredding minutes vs. Juventus and now finally looks like the brilliant centre-back United signed for £30m.

In midfield he’s stuck pretty religiously to a three-man shape and bringing Ander Herrera in from the cold has transformed the way his midfield moves with and without the ball. Paul Pogba is also playing all the time instead of having to look over his shoulder for Scott McTominay or, y’know, some random trainee Mourinho wants to use to humiliate him.

In attack Romelu Lukaku was finally given a rest and Alexis Sánchez plays his natural position as a free-roaming forward. Anthony Martial just keeps on starting out on the left and as a result is finding his truth. It’s amazing what happens when you give young, talented players consistent and consecutive minutes, isn’t it? Almost like he should have done this from the start, eh?

Resting Lukaku can’t have been an easy decision, such is the faith Mourinho places in the Belgian, but it was the right call to make. With Alexis at the head of the side United looked more energetic and less prone to just hoofing long passes up to a big target man. Except of course when they did start hoofing long passes up to a big target man as a Plan B, but at that point Fellaini’s size and freshness was actually a challenge for the Juventus defenders.

About the only selection mistake he consistently makes is to pick Nemanja Matic in midfield. Matic is about as useful as a bicycle made out of Jammie Dodgers, and his continued presence in the XI ahead of Fred is maddening. Sure, Fred is far from adapted yet but every flawed display he puts in at least has the added value of giving him experience. Matic is just a waste of space.

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But yes, Matic aside, Mourinho is picking a consistently good team. He’s selecting talented players instead of benching and haranguing them. He’s foregrounding Ander Herrera to run his midfield. He’s made Anthony Martial the go-to guy in attack. And he’s making superb substitutions that change the tempo and flow of a game superbly.

These are all things United fans have wanted to see him do forever. These are the actions and decisions of a man who doesn’t appear to be actively sabotaging his own side. Moreover, Mourinho is also back in supreme post-match form, with his goading of Juventus fans and then charming explanation of said goading afterwards being actually funny instead of just dour and miserable.

When you lay it all like that, one can see why Manchester United did so well against Juventus and why he will hope that all of these good results to his good decisions can carry forward, in particular to the Manchester derby against Pep Guardiola’s City this weekend. A month ago, Mourinho looked sure for the sack, now? There is hope that things may turn around.

They say the night is darkest before the dawn. Well, things have gotten pretty damn dark for Manchester United since the start of the season, but with José Mourinho’s tactics and team selection coalescing in Turin, is the victory over Juventus the warming glow of a sky ready to receive the first rays of a new rising sun? We’ll find out on Sunday.

The post A perfect hat-trick of Man Utd subs v Juventus isn’t the only sign Magical Mourinho is back appeared first on Squawka News.

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