José Mourinho’s game of chicken will pay off until the opponent does not blink

Manchester United manager’s late show mindset, relying on exploiting errors, reaped rewards against Tottenham but he risks denting fortune-teller reputation

‘Sometimes, it was as though he could see the future,” the former goalkeeper Vitor Baia said of José Mourinho, who coached him at Porto. “I remember a specific incident against Benfica, when throughout the week he prepared us for what we should do after we scored a goal … He told us that [the Benfica coach José Antonio] Camacho would make a specific substitution and change his tactics, which was what happened. So we already knew what to do when he did it; we were completely prepared for it. For the same match, we also prepared to play with 10 players because José knew the referee would not be able to take the pressure and would show a red card along the way. That also happened … so we knew what to do and got a narrow win.”

Perhaps the win against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday did not demonstrate quite such prescience but it did go precisely to the Mourinho gameplan. It is no coincidence that Manchester United keep scoring late goals: that’s 11 after the 80-minute mark already in the league this season. Nor is it any coincidence that Anthony Martial has come off the bench four times to score this season. Mourinho spoke warmly afterwards of the 21-year-old’s ability to run with the ball; he is, in other words, the ideal player to come on late in the game to run at and behind opponents who may be beginning to suffer fatigue and are thus more prone to the mistakes such as that made by Jan Vertonghen in failing to read Romelu Lukaku’s flick-on. “Annoying,” Ben Davies called it; rather stronger words you can imagine being used in the visitors’ dressing room.

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