Mourinho and United deliver a performance worthy of their heritage

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The United manager has been stung by what he feels to be unwarranted criticism this season but delivered a stunning riposte to beat Tottenham

Jose Mourinho did not spend long celebrating Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser for Manchester United against Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.

While his team were repositioning – and with the red mist and sulfuric smell of the United fans’ flares leaking across the stadium – the manager was madly bouncing up and down on the spot, beseeching Ander Herrera to look over at him.

Mourinho had a message to deliver and when he finally got his attention, the United manager reminded Herrera to keep close to Dele Alli, who had stolen space to knock Spurs in front early on.

You could see a flame there in Mourinho, just as there was in the stands. This was a day in which his ambition perfectly agreed with the demands of the fans.

They sing “20 times, 20 times, Man United” not just to boast about how many times they’ve won the league but to remind their own players of the kind of club they represent.

United are not the type of club who should be meekly accepting of a Champions League last-16 elimination to Sevilla no matter how hard Mourinho tries to convince them to. But after that defeat – and Manchester City’s decisive title win – Mourinho had to strike back. He needed a statement.

Spurs started the way you should against United; score early and smoke them out. Mourinho excels on the counter. He offers the ball to opponents and says give me your best. But that game plan went out of the window as soon as Alli scored the opener.

It meant United would have to come out and play on the front foot; not exactly Jose’s comfort zone.

Jose Mourinho Ander Herrera Manchester United

He will be thrilled, however, to have seen the same kind of resilience here that he got out of them at the Etihad a few weeks ago. There was a glorious defiance in how the United players refused to accept their fate. Spurs lose FA Cup semi-finals, United win them, and they worked hard to deliver that outcome.

An uncharacteristic mistake from Mousa Dembele – who looked hampered throughout – permitted Paul Pogba to set up Sanchez’s stunning header.

Herrera should have been named man of the match and gave a stunning confirmation of his credentials with the second-half winner. There was though much more about this performance to admire.

It was a day in which Chris Smalling comprehensively bossed Harry Kane. It’s unfortunate him that his game is only ever highlighted when he’s making in a mistake. In strength, pace and anticipation, Smalling has the equipment to be England’s best centre back and the onlooking manager Gareth Southgate will have been impressed.

There was a diligence in which the midfield went about their business of nullifying the opposition threat man to man. Pogba – particularly on the Sanchez goal – gave a tantalising glimpse of his calibre. He knows – everyone knows – that needs to come on a more consistent basis. But then again everybody - Jose included - needs this level of performance on a more consistent basis.

You may not like his brand of football but down the years you cannot argue against its effectiveness. What it requires first and foremost is total commitment from the players and a clarity of purpose from the boss. They got it here. So let there be no more home defeats to West Brom and Sevilla. Let there be the mindset of a team and a manager that expect to win trophies. 

Alexis Sanchez

Mourinho knew his team had to leave it all out there. The potential for his season to end there and then was high. Out of the Champions League, with second place assured but no title challenge to speak of, nobody around the club could countenance FA Cup semi-final defeat being added to that equation of disappointment.

Sometimes you see a veteran player pull a performance out of the bag that makes you believe he’s still got it. It could be Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring two for LA Galaxy to win the derby even while unfit. It could be Andres Iniesta dominating the Copa del Rey final for Barcelona. Well, if a manager can deliver a similar jolt of inspiration then this was it.

Mourinho is stung badly by the perception that this season has been a washout. United do indeed have more points this time round and it would take a very grudging fan indeed to fail to admit they’ve improved. But what’s needed is the FA Cup now as a minimum and Mourinho will be fancying his chances.

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One of Mourinho’s chief methods of motivation is to shock his players into playing better. That could come through a harsh word in the press or a statement substitution in a big game. It is a psychological ploy designed to make a player play better out of defiance; “I’ll show you”.

Well, the United fans may well have performed the same trick – albeit unwittingly – on Jose with how he's been treated in the last few weeks. He responded with a vintage display. This was a Jose team at its best – tenacious, disciplined, calculated and by the end totally in control.

It was a reminder for Jose and for the club of what they’re both capable of. The song says “20 times, 20 times, Man United”. That’s now the number of FA Cup finals the club have reached too. That’s heritage.

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