Jose Mourinho uses Marouane Fellaini to lay the foundation for a strong Man United response

Sport360's Brendon Netto picks out three things learned from Manchester United's 2-0 win away to Burnley in the Premier League.

Brendon Netto 2018/09/02

Put away those torches and pitchforks for now because it was Manchester United‘s performance backed by a 2-0 win at Turf Moor that will have seen Jose Mourinho’s stock enjoy a much needed spike.

In a must-win game for the visitors for a variety of reasons, Romelu Lukaku’s brace sealed the points for a 10-man United after substitute Marcus Rashford was sent off.

Joe Hart denied Paul Pogba from the spot earlier but Mourinho’s side were able to pull together and see out a precious victory.


Any general in crisis mode turns to his most trusted lieutenant and whether United fans like it or not, Marouane Fellaini is just that for Mourinho.

The under-fire Portuguese coach started Fellaini ahead of summer signing Fred in midfield, alongside Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. His thinking behind the move quickly became evident.

Burnley’s best route to goal is their aerial assault, be that from set-pieces or dangerous deliveries into the box from wide areas, with Chris Wood providing a big target up front.

Fellaini naturally helps guard against set-pieces with his imposing physical presence but it’s his positioning from open play that is intriguing. As soon as the hosts got the ball wide, the Belgian would immediately sprint into his own box, placing himself among the centre-backs, ready to deal with the ball in. It’s no surprise that Fellaini won more headers than anyone else at Turf Moor (7).

Meanwhile, he was also excellent at covering the space in behind Antonio Valencia when the right-back joined the attack with Matic doing a similar job to cover for Luke Shaw on the opposite side.

Of course, his role was altered once United were reduced to 10 men but he was also economic with the ball at his feet, giving nothing away. He attempted 54 passes with a success rate of 92.6 per cent, only Chris Smalling (41 passes) was more accurate among the United players (95.1 per cent).

Fellaini’s performance laid the foundation for a strong United response after a false start to the season and Mourinho was well aware of the magnitude of his contribution, singling out the midfielder for praise in his post-match interview.

“I would say Fellaini was fundamental to the team. Together with Smalling and Lindelof they made a fantastic group of players,” he said, as heard on beIN SPORTS.

Mourinho used Fellaini perfectly.


Wait, what? Yes, Jonathan Moss didn’t have his finest game as a Premier League official but his decisions against United will only feed the siege mentality Mourinho is famous for creating in his efforts to get the players to pull together as one.

In the heat of battle, the United boss wouldn’t have appreciated some of the calls that went against his side and could so easily have taken the game away from them but as he walked down the tunnel at the final whistle, he might’ve allowed himself a brief smirk. The glaring injustice plays perfectly into his hands.

Mourinho can’t defend Rashford for getting himself sent off, calling him “a naive boy” in his post-match comments. However, Lukaku had a legitimate penalty appeal later on and Ben Mee escaped what should’ve been a clear red card for dragging the ball back with his hand when the striker was going clean through on goal, with only a throw-in awarded in the end.

If United are to challenge this season, they need their best players performing and pulling in one direction. Mourinho is capable of creating a situation like that and this victory, with a man disadvantage and a couple of controversial refereeing decisions will only amplify his battle cry.

Decisions will feed Mourinho mentality.


While Mourinho approached this game under enormous pressure, the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ isn’t enjoying his best moment as Burnley boss either. Some would say the club over-achieved by securing Europa League football last season and that has proved to be a crutch for them at the start of the current campaign.

Burnley have now taken just one point in their opening four games and were knocked out of the continental competition in midweek. Perhaps their elimination from Europe will spark a domestic revival but they can’t afford to lose too much ground in the mean time.

In light of that, Sean Dyche will be welcoming the international break with open arms as most of his side get a chance to have a breather, regroup and start fresh.

Turf times: Sean Dyche.

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Jose Mourinho Marouane Fellaini Romelu Lukaku