Neil Humphreys: Mourinho must stick to the Man United way
Red Devils may not win title with bold approach, but they'll win friends
Jose Mourinho might be getting the hang of this Manchester United lark after all.
He probably won't win the title, but he'll win plenty of friends among the Old Trafford faithful.
United's invigorating 3-1 victory at Arsenal yesterday morning (Singapore time) proved that winning ugly wasn't the only option available to a squad worth the best part of a billion dollars.
Until yesterday, Mourinho was adamant that his way was the only way, a sterile, suffocating approach that was capable of inducing a coma.
When facing elite opposition in the English Premier League, United's games felt like a penance for all that greed and glory under Sir Alex Ferguson.
They were not so much sporting exercises as they were endless demonstrations of lingchi, a football death by a thousand cuts, set-pieces and narrow scorelines.
More annoyingly, perhaps, the masochistic philosophy wasn't even working. Before the trip to Arsenal, seven previous away days against the EPL's best sides had resulted in zero wins and only one goal scored.
Tedious, unambitious performances against Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City got their just rewards. Zilch. A big fat nothing for a seemingly inflexible manager unwilling to alter his tactics.
To a degree, Mourinho's resume justifies the dogma. League titles in four different countries buy tremendous goodwill, time and patience, but the latter was in short supply around Old Trafford.
Win, lose or draw, United never bore. That's been the mantra since the Busby Babes. In Mourinho's case, they were boring and still failing to beat the big boys, which made his cynicism all the more exasperating.
But their performance at the Emirates was something else.
Not only was United's electrifying counter-attacking a treat to behold, but it also left Mourinho out of excuses. He should never again be tolerated for parking a bright red bus against any opposition - including Man City in the derby next Monday morning.
Arsenal, who scored their only goal through Alexandre Lacazette, were in-form and confident of extending their 12-game winning streak at the Emirates, but Mourinho's tactics confused them.
Rather than absorb punishment, United surged at every opportunity. Arsene Wenger expected Mourinho's "rope-a-dope" routine, but was left disoriented when the Portuguese scamp went toe-to-toe instead.
In other "big-six" fixtures, United sent out a 3-4-1-2 against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, which often ensured nine red shirts were behind the ball.
But against Arsenal, Mourinho backed his central triangle of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard to protect and serve at both ends.
No one has benefited more from this subtle tweak than Lingard, who netted twice against the Gunners. The academy graduate has three goals in his last two away games and six (in all competitions) for the season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the obvious casualty of the minor shake-up. But his loss has been United and Lingard's gain. Both were exceptional at Arsenal.
Admittedly, the Red Devils' victory owed a debt of gratitude to the comic-book reflexes of goalkeeper David de Gea and the occasionally comical finishing of Arsenal's forwards.
But it's also telling that several of the Spaniard's saves were shots from a reasonable distance. Statistics don't lie, but they can be misleading.
Matic and Pogba provided outstanding cover for United's back three, forcing the Gunners to either try their luck from the edge of the box or from set-pieces in a crowded area.
In both instances, de Gea proved unbeatable. But actual one-on-one opportunities against the goalkeeper, where Arsenal broke through United's lines, were few and far between.
In the final third, only one side were truly decisive.
Mourinho acknowledged Pogba's return to full fitness as a key reason for United's counter-attacking endeavours.
With the Frenchman alongside Matic, Mourinho feels confident enough to unleash Ashley Young and fourth-minute goalscorer Antonio Valencia, as well as allow Lingard to dash between defenders like a jittery pinball.
So, Pogba's suspension against City could tempt Mourinho into falling off the bandwagon. Like a lapsed addict at a meeting for Bus-Parking Managers Anonymous, he could blame the midfielder for United's return to dull football.
But he must not succumb.
Whether United persist with their fast, swashbuckling initiative or bring a fleet of buses to Old Trafford, the chances of silencing their neighbours are slim at best.
Mourinho might as well stick with what worked at Arsenal.
United's intoxicating victory was an uplifting reminder of what made them the biggest sports brand in the world.
It was always the United way. For Mourinho's United, it should be the only way.