Mourinho's changes give United fighting chance

By James Nalton, Football Whispers

José Mourinho will take the headlines for his actions and and words following Manchester United’s victory against Juventus in Turin, but perhaps on this occasion he should encourage an emphasis on what he did before it.

It wasn’t quite 1999, when United saw off Juve over two legs to advance to the Champions League final. It wasn’t quite Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke, and Andy Cole, but it was important nevertheless.

It was better, it was a win which kept them in the competition, and for a few minutes it was United.

Rather than being a point behind Valencia, which is how things stood in the group with five minutes to go, they are now two points ahead of them going into their final two Group H games.

This late win was possible thanks to the platform they built for themselves throughout the game, and thanks to Mourinho’s tactical changes from the first game against the Bianconeri where they were beaten 1-0 at Old Trafford, a scoreline which did not reflect the Italian side's dominance. 

As well as changing a number of the faces in the lineup, as Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sánchez, and Ander Herrera came in for Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, and Juan Mata, the Portuguese changed his team’s shape from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3.

In the end it was a piece of brilliance from Mata who came off the bench to score a subline free-kick to level, but that his side were still in a position for him to do that was down to what had come before.

Nemanja Matić had been inconsistent in recent weeks but in a midfield three rather than a two, with support from the energetic Herrera, all-rounder Paul Pogba in his best position, and tracking back from wide players Lingard and Anthony Martial, he was at least steadier. 

The Serbian was successful with 91 percent of his passes, and only Miralem Pjanić had more touches of the ball than his 72. Herrera was also economical with his passing, finding a team-mate 96 percent of the time.

This helped United see more of the ball than they had in the game at Old Trafford, with 45 percent possession rather than the 39 percent they had in front of their own supporters

Juventus were still ahead in this area of the game, but this time their opposition made things difficult and they only managed 509 passes at home compared with the 646 they made in Manchester.

Victor Lindelöf was the only player to impress for the Red Devils during their defeat last time out and he put in another solid display in Italy, while there was bite in United’s defending cross the pitch.

Mourinho’s side were lucky to only concede one in the first meeting, but the changes he made here gave his side a fighting chance — which is no less than should be expected for a side which boasts players such as David de Gea, Martial, Sánchez, and Pogba.

Juventus managed 23 shots to United’s nine, but the amount on target were three apiece. It was closer to the type of performance Red Devils fans may have expected from their team at home.

The players could walk off the pitch with their heads held high, and their coach revelled in the feelgood win. The last-minute victory felt like those from United sides of years gone by, and it didn’t matter how the winner went in. 

Mata’s mattered, though, and was a moment of class from the classiest of United players. It matched Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb volley which opened the scoring, and if there were to be goals in this game, they needed to be special.

The winner wasn’t but it was forced in by a strong-willed away side who gave everything until the final whistle. They weren’t giving up and, if anything, they came to life in those final minutes.

It didn’t matter off whom it went in, with reported one-time United transfer target Alex Sandro unlucky enough to get the final touch at the goal-line scrimmage.

Andy Cole scored in the 84th minute back in 1999, and though the prize here was much smaller, the late win evoked similar feelings.

Mourinho had the ammunition to resond to Juventus fans who had goaded him all game, and was genuinely happy in his post-match interviews. This will no doubt rub off on his players as they celebrated their late win, and this boost in morale couldn’t have come at a better time with a Manchester derby on Sunday. 

Manchester City may have cruised to a 6-0 win in their game against Shakhtar Donetsk, but the red side of Manchester had to work much harder for their victory, which may provide better preparation for Sunday.

United came from behind to win 3-2 last time they went to the Etihad and having oveturned a deficit to claim something in three of their last four games it's safe to say you can never rule this United side out.

READ MORE: How Cristiano Ronaldo has transformed Juventus already