Richard Buxton: Pogba's injury gives Jose an excuse to play his way
Record signing's absence gives Mourinho greater excuse to play his way
For once, Jose Mourinho might win the battle of wills.
Manchester United purists may not agree with their manager's time-honoured philosophy but there can be no denying that it pays dividends when, and against whom, it matters most.
Saturday's 2-1 win over Liverpool was a classic Mourinho performance, derived from a ruthless approach which comfortably exploited the Reds' weaknesses.
It is what he has done so successfully at the highest level for well over 15 years and yet had been conspicuous by its absence during his two years at the Old Trafford helm.
Without Paul Pogba, however, Mourinho could finally execute his master plan.
The France international was ruled out for the blockbuster clash due to a gashed shin, but he might not have justified being selected against Liverpool, given his lacklustre performance during last Monday's late win over Crystal Palace.
He had been poor in the weeks leading up to that smash-and-grab victory, but that nadir allowed United to operate far more diligently against Liverpool in the absence of Pogba, bypassing a creative midfield outlet effectively to see off their long-standing rivals.
Statistics still bear out Pogba's importance to the Red Devils in the grander scheme; Since last season, they have won 47.6 per cent, or 10 of their 21 games in the English Premier League, without him in their starting line-up, compared to 59.5 per cent (28 wins out of a potential 47) when he starts.
But the gaps which often appear whenever the £89 million (S$162.1 million) midfielder partners Nemanja Matic were replaced by a watertight barrier as Scott McTominay managed to nullify a Liverpool attack which had previously overpowered most sides they have faced.
Percentage football has never been Mourinho's forte and Pogba could not resist making his presence felt by gatecrashing his manager's post-match TV interviews.
In good and bad, United's record signing manages to manoeuvre himself to be the centre of attention.
He knows that he represents an inconvenience to the Portuguese coach because it forces him into at least trying to play expansive football rather than reverting to type and committing what devotees of the fabled "United way" perceive as an act of tactical sacrilege.
Yet it remains what Mourinho continually does best and a foundation which they may have to reluctantly embrace if they are to take the fight to runaway leaders Manchester City in the battle for the EPL title from next season.
Far too often, the onus has been on the Special One to accommodate Pogba rather than the playmaker falling into line for United's greater good.
That time for role reversal may have finally arrived on the strength of the showing against Juergen Klopp's side.
Admittedly, they were helped by an abject Liverpool defence led once again in their ignominy by Dejan Lovren and the inexperience of Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Both of Marcus Rashford's goals came from an inability by the visitors to handle long balls and an attacking burst.
Lovren, in particular, will face greater questions than the teenager with less than 40 appearances for his boyhood club.
Throughout this season, the Croat has been culpable for the Reds' regular backline capitulations and appears incapable of learning from his mistakes.
More than just Alexander-Arnold appeared unsettled by Lovren's presence alongside them in defence, Virgil van Dijk's noticeable dip in form will have left Klopp wondering whether Liverpool's ongoing defensive stigma will cost more than a mere world-record fee to shift.