With only one game remaining in the Premier League this season and the FA Cup Final just around the corner, Manchester United are on the cusp of not only cementing 2nd spot in the league but are gearing up for the FA Cup Final showdown against arch rivals Chelsea. The match will be a tense encounter against two great clubs with world class players, managed by two tactical masterminds, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.
United theoretically have had a much better season then the former English champions who sit 5th in the league table fighting for a spot in the Champions League. It will be an important match for both the managers who are fighting for their only chance to win silverware this season. Mourinho needs to win it to get a trophy and ensure progress, while Conte needs to win the cup to ensure his future at Chelsea. Conte is under immense pressure this season and a win-less season without Champions League football would more or less spell the end of his career at Stamford Bridge. It is most certain that both the teams will be at their A-Game. Both, United and Chelsea have a great attack comprising of Lukaku, Morata, Sanchez, Hazard, Rashford, Willian, Martial and Giroud. Both teams have bought new strikers in Lukaku and Morata who have experienced different levels of form this season. Lukaku has had a successful season, whereas Morata has struggled this year and has been inconsistent. Both the teams invested in attack in the January, United bought Alexis Sanchez and Chelsea bought Oliver Giroud. Two target forwards with immense ability, strength and finishing ability. Based on their current form, it is highly likely that Lukaku and Giroud will start in the final.
A target forward means a striker or a number 9 who possesses great strength and aerial ability. A well-built player, strong, physically dominant and a target for the creative midfielders to assist to. The signing of Lukaku wasn’t a shock for the fans and pundits who know Mourinho’s style of play and history to develop a team around that type of attacker. Drogba, Costa, Eto’o, Shevchenko, Ronaldo, Benzema, Zlatan and now Lukaku. Both, history and stats show that Jose has got it right when there is a target man in his side and Lukaku is no exception. It may be his first season, but as history has recorded, Mourinho will generally start building a squad around the Belgian, in fact he has started already.
Starting off during his first spell at Chelsea between 2004-07, Mourinho bought Didier Drogba from Marseille. Drogba, a natural striker, energetic, strong, great physical ability and a deadly finisher made his name in the Premier League record books and eventually a Chelsea and Premier League legend. Before his arrival, Chelsea already had the likes of Lampard, Terry and Cole. Jose also bought the likes of Arjen Robben and Tiago to support Drogba with their creativity. He managed to score 16 goals in 41 appearances that season, followed by a Premier League winners medal, League Cup and reached the Champions League semi-final. The puzzle wasn’t completed. In the next season, Mourinho bought Lassana Diarra and Micheal Essien to support the attack and Drogba. The stats weren’t that convincing yet again as he managed to score 14 goals that season and won the League again. Great defenders in the league like Vidic, Ferdinand, Terry and even Smalling all said that Drogba was the toughest striker they ever faced, it was difficult to get the ball off him. Drogba flourished in Mourinho’s 3rd season. He bought Michael Ballack, John Obi Mikel and one more target forward in Andriy Shevchenko to support Drogba. He was the top scorer that season scoring 23 goals and winning the FA Cup and League Cup followed by a League’s runner’s cup medal. Shevchenko on the other hand, had a satisfactory spell at Chelsea scoring only 22 goals in 77 games.
Fast forward to Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea in 2014, Jose did a complete overhaul of his attack and midfield. This time he was working with a new and young batch of players. Drogba made a sensational return to Chelsea. He also bought the likes of Diego Costa, an aggressive and bullish target man. Great on his feet and strong, Costa was unstoppable on his arrival, despite his discipline record. He also bought Fabregas to support the attack. That was a star-studded squad with the likes of Oscar, Hazard, Matic, Mikel, Ramires and Willian. With so much creativity in the midfield, a target man like Costa notched up 21 goals in all competitions being the top scorer and an inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year. Chelsea won the League that season and the League Cup too in the following season.
Following his arrival in Milan with Inter, Mourinho had a perfectly built squad in which no major change was required. An experienced squad with the likes of Figo, Vieira, Cambiasso and Stankovic in midfield, he didn’t need to make any changes. To top that off he had the experience of Crespo in attack followed by Zlatan in his prime. A target forward and world-class striker. Zlatan ended up being the top scorer scoring 29 goals. Inter won the Scudetto that season. The only additions were two wingers Quaresma and Mancini to supply Zlatan. In the treble winning season, where Mourinho guided Inter towards Champions League glory, Zlatan had left the club, but, that didn’t stop Mourinho from buying one more target man in the form of Samuel Eto’o. He also made changes in midfield by buying the likes of Sneijder and Thiago Motta to help the attacking midfielder and wingers supply the new signing Eto’o. But, it was Diego Milito, one more target forward with great strength and good in the air, signed by Jose in 2009, who was the top scorer with 30 goals.
When Mourinho signed for Real Madrid in 2010, it was a similar situation like that at Inter, a star-studded squad ready for action. He might not have had a target forward in the squad per say, but, he had Karim Benzema and a prime Cristiano Ronaldo at his disposal. Benzema might not acquire the height for a target man but was strong and had good aerial ability. Ronaldo on the other hand, was and is a once in a generation talent, lightning fast, tall, strong, muscular and unpredictable. With two attackers like them, it would be a dream for any manager to manage, especially Mourinho. He bought the likes of Ozil, Di Maria and Khedira as a defensive midfielder in his first season to supply the two ‘target men’. Ronaldo was the top scorer in that season scoring 53 goals. Ozil topped the assist charts by supplying 25 goals. Real won the Copa Del Rey that season, on the following season, Mourinho bought Sahin to strengthen the engine room. Real won the La Liga and Ronaldo was the top scorer scoring 60 goals but, it was Ozil once again who topped the assists with 24. In his last season, Real once again won the league and Ronaldo and Ozil dominated the goals and assists charts with the numbers being 55 and 24 respectively.
Now at United, Mourinho started off his first season by signing a similar forward in a 35-year-old Zlatan. The squad needed a massive overhaul and still needs to find it’s balance. Jose signed Mkhitarayan and Pogba to support Zlatan, an experienced target forward. With the likes of Martial, Rashford and Mata already in the squad, it was obvious that Zlatan would make the most of it and he did. He was the top scorer that season scoring 28 goals. One more example that shows that Mourinho guarantees success with a target forward in his line-up. In the current season, Jose signed Lukaku and Matic to strengthen the squad, followed by Alexis Sanchez in January.
Mourinho is implementing the same philosophy as he did at every major club he managed. Building a squad around his target man. As noted at Inter, Chelsea and Madrid, Jose has bought a target forward, followed by a defensive midfielder, two or more creative midfielders and a winger. There is a chain, a connection. As witnessed before, it takes time for Mourinho to build the squad of his desire, but, he gets the job done, and success immediately follows! At United, he has signed Lukaku, a tall, strong, fast striker, who can and on few occasions has being played as a target man, he bought Matic, a defensive midfielder and Sanchez as a creative winger. The same series of positions wherever he has gone. Now, the final piece of the puzzle at United is the need of midfielders, to support his attack. Jose has expressed his desire to sign at least two central midfielders. Although United require them due to Carrick’s retirement and Fellaini’s unclear situation, but whatever the case, Mourinho will sign at least two midfielders in the summer as he has before.
It is a pattern, a pattern for success, he is building a team around Lukaku and Matic, Pogba and Sanchez are going to play an important part next season. Based on history, Lukaku once again will prove that target men are the key ingredient in Mourinho’s title winning formula!