How Jose Mourinho has changed Manchester United: Less passing, less running, more shooting

Jose-LVG cover
Image: How Jose Mourinho has changed Manchester United since taking over from Louis van Gaal in the summer

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has fewer points than Louis van Gaal had at this stage of last season, but a deeper look at the statistics shows how the Portuguese boss has changed some lingering habits at Old Trafford.

Four wins and a draw from his opening seven Premier League games gives Mourinho 13 points, compared with Van Gaal's 16 last term, which had them top of the table. 

But in two months, Mourinho has dramatically changed their attacking style, possession and work-rate…

First seven league games of 2016/17 compared with 2015/16

Mourinho (16/17) Van Gaal (15/16)
Shots 92 (1st in PL) 54 (17th in PL)
Passes 3623 (5th) 4053 (2nd)
% passes in final third 31.5% (7th) 29.6% (14th)
Crosses 179 (2nd) 123 (17th)
Distance run 735.6km (20th) 802.2 (3rd)
Sprints 3524 3363
Av possession 55.9% 59.8%

Attacking

United have one more goal at this stage than they did under Van Gaal last season, but the number of shots has nearly doubled under Mourinho.

After seven games of last term United had registered just 54 shots on goal, ranked 17th in the Premier League, but United are currently top of the charts with 92, though only 45.7 per cent of those have been on target (11th in the Premier League).

Although Van Gaal's United were relatively shot-shy, they converted 22.2 per cent of their efforts on goal in their first seven games of last season (second in Premier League), compared with 14.1 per cent under Mourinho (10th in Premier League).

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Ander Herrera speaks to Jose Mourinho after the final whistle
Image: Mourinho has won four of his opening seven Premier League games as United boss

United's 1-1 draw with Stoke on Sunday saw United register 24 shots, but just a single goal and point to show for it.

"One of those days" was the feeling after the match, a far cry from numerous United performances at Old Trafford under Van Gaal in 2015/16, where they averaged 13.1 shots per game. This season that number is up to 16.5.

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Mourinho was still pleased with the Stoke showing, saying after the match: "It should have been three or four-nil at half-time, six or seven-nil at the end. But the result is 1-1. That's football. It was very undeserved but the best performance so far."

At the other end of the pitch, with United far happier without the ball than under Van Gaal, their defence has inevitably been tested more. They have faced more shots, made more blocks, clearances and interceptions, won slightly less tackles and have conceded three more goals. Conclusion? Mourinho is certainly more daring.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot
Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has given United added height up front

Passing

In the aftermath of United's 2-1 Community Shield win over Leicester, Mourinho's sly comment on the winning goal, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header from an Antonio Valencia cross, didn't go unnoticed.

"There are some changes and that takes time," Mourinho said. "The second goal, probably last year, instead of crossing, Valencia gets down [the line] and plays a back pass."

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Van Gaal was heavily criticised for lateral and backwards passing last season, and although Mourinho admitted after the Manchester City defeat that some habits are harder to shift than others, he is making a change.

In their first seven Premier League games, United have made over 400 fewer passes than last season, though their pass completion remains at around 85 per cent (second in the Premier League).

Marcus Rashford (C) celebrates scoring in injury time
Image: Five of United's goals this season have come from crosses

Possession wise, United are happier without the ball, averaging 55.9 per cent compared with 59.8 per cent for the 2015/16 season.

Their passes in the final third remain similar to last season, but Mourinho's side have enjoyed success down the flanks, not a trait synonymous with Van Gaal's tenure.

They've hit 179 crosses so far this season (second in the Premier League) compared with just 123 at the same stage in 2015/16 (17th), and five of their 13 goals have come from deliveries from wide areas.

Manager Louis van Gaal of Manchester United watches from the bench during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United
Image: Van Gaal was sacked as United manager in the summer

But crossing isn't necessarily a Mourinho trademark. In his title-winning campaign with Chelsea, he made just 18 on average per game, the second-lowest in the Premier League.

With the added height of Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, it is more a case of playing to the team's physical strengths than reinventing the wheel. 

Distance

Mourinho's United are bottom of the Premier League pile when it comes to distance run so far this season, travelling just 735.6km compared with 802.2km under Van Gaal at the same stage, which was ranked third in the division.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City challenges Paul Pogba of Manchester United during the Premier League match between M
Image: Paul Pogba is the only United player to run over 10km in every appearance so far

Only once have United out-ran their opponents - in the 4-1 win over Leicester - while Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have been out-ran themselves just once this season, in the 2-0 defeat by Tottenham on Sunday.

Pogba is now United's main engine man, the only player in the team to run over 10km in every appearance, but for the rest, Mourinho seems to be focusing on energy retention.

That leaves some verve for the counter attack, and Mourinho's side have made almost 200 more sprints than Van Gaal's United at this stage.

Conclusion

Mourinho's United pass less and run less, but their first thought is forward, not sideways or behind with the sole purpose of keeping possession.

He has let his star players breathe, and while there are big question marks over the roles of Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the style of play is pleasing the fans at Old Trafford.

The problem? Other sides around United have improved too. Mourinho is on the right track, but the competition could be as fierce as ever.

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