Jose Mourinho believes Liverpool need to ‘create a cage’ for Lionel Messi in their Champions League semi-final if they wish to avoid the 4-0 aggregate thrashing Man Utd suffered at his hands.
The Reds have drawn the Spanish champions after cruising past FC Porto in the quarter-finals, while the Blaugrana comfortably beat Mourinho’s former club 3-0 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday to seal a 4-0 win over the two legs, with Messi bagging two of the goals.
And speaking to Russia Today recently, Mourinho blasted the tactics used by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the man who replaced him in the Old Trafford dugout, suggesting the Norwegian’s second-leg tactics were partially to blame for the heavy defeat.
“Lots of mistakes, lots of goals with awful defending on the inside foot,” Mourinho said. “You look to Coutinho goal, even to Messi goal.
“I think United’s approach was different. I think in the first game they tried to occupy that central zone because Messi’s position is easy to understand but is not easy to create a cage to control him.
“Because he comes from the right, then stays in the middle, and then [Ivan] Rakitic defends on the right and allows him to stay in the middle between the lines. It’s very difficult.”
After a sharp upturn in form upon Solskjaer replace Mourinho, United have now won just two of their last seven games in all competitions and face a real battle if they are to secure a top-four finish.
“Manchester United in the first match, zonally, they occupied that central area very well,” Mourinho continued. “So when he came into the inside he was finding Fred, he was finding [Scott] McTominay coming to the inside all the time.
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“In this match, maybe because Man United were losing 1-0, they tried to start the game with a different perspective.
“And then it was [Paul] Pogba wide on the left and McTominay much more on the right and Jesse Lingard playing as a number 10 behind the strikers. And in front of the defensive line was only Fred.
“And that’s the area where Messi comes and gets the ball and when Messi has the ball. One on one. You are dead.
“That’s why I never liked individual man-on-man against Messi. Messi’s a cage. You have to create a cage.”
The Portuguese then insisted Barcelona’s emphatic win over United was ‘normal’ considering the gulf in quality between the two sides.
“Barcelona is Barcelona, they are a better team than Manchester United, they have better players than Manchester United. I think it’s normal they won,”he said.
How Man Utd beat Ajax
Man Utd won the 2017 Europa League under Mourinho’s guidance, beating Ajax 2-0 in the final.
The Dutch giants have undergone a resurgence in the Champions League this season, qualifying from a group containing Bayern Munich, Benfica and AEK Athens, before dumping out Real Madrid and Juventus in the knockout rounds.
The Amsterdam club will face Tottenham in the semi-finals and Mourinho has urged Mauricio Pochettino to employ a ‘physical’ approach to disrupt Ajax’s passing rhythms.
“In my opinion, [Juventus are] another team that let Ajax play with their strength,” Mourinho told RT.
“Until this moment, nobody really respected them, and they let them play with the qualities they have.
“They have fantastic young players with a little bit of the experience they didn’t have a couple of years ago when I played them in the Europa League final.
“We gave them the game that they didn’t want to have.
“They complained [after the game] about the long build-up, they complained about [Marouane] Fellaini, about physicality, they complained because they couldn’t cope.
“If you play against Ajax in the way they want to play, you have the risk that they are better than you.
“If I see for example Ajax play Barcelona or Liverpool in the final, if they reach the final, I think Barcelona and Liverpool can beat them playing their own strength, but when your quality is not, you have to go to the strategic point of view and give them what they don’t want.”