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Manchester United pay for their meek approach against Chelsea | Jonathan Wilson

José Mourinho’s stubbornly dogmatic team tactics cost his side at Stamford Bridge and look to have handed the title initiative to Manchester City

The memories of Manchester United in 1985-86 and Newcastle United in 1995-96 serve always as caveats, but already it feels that it would take something outlandish for Manchester City not to be named as champions this season. Perhaps their slick cogs and gears will somehow stick or grind, but at the moment none of the chasing pack are applying pressure. The gap already is eight points and, once again, on Sunday, it was hard to avoid the thought that there has been something meek in the way José Mourinho has presented the initiative to his rivals.

When United defeated Ajax to win the Europa League, Mourinho spoke of it as a victory for pragmatism. It is a term that is frequently applied to his football, and football generally has a tendency to use pragmatic as a synonym for defensive. But they are not the same: a pragmatist does what is necessary to win; Mourinho insists on reactive football again and again, even when it means losing ground. The three games in the past month against top-six sides were always likely to represent a decisive phase of the season. In them United totalled six shots on target – and that suggests an approach that is not pragmatic, but is rather stubbornly dogmatic.

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