Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford
The Real Madrid manager had made the journey from Spain to attend a two-day League Managers Association seminar hosted by Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, he also took the opportunity to execute a scouting assignment ahead of the UEFA Champions League battle between Manchester United and his Spanish champions in February.
Did Mourinho like what he saw? Or did United’s attacking threat concern him?
Click through the slides to reveal what the highly successful but controversial “special one” learned from his reconnaissance mission, which saw United beat Liverpool 2-1.
Robin van Persie: A major concern for Jose Mourinho
Robin van Persie is arguably the best striker in the world at the moment and he is capable of single-handedly destroying any strategic master plan that Mourinho puts into place.
The Real Madrid manager will be frantically racking his brain for how best to tackle the prolific marksman who once again delivered a goal and an assist to down arch rivals Liverpool.
Van Persie’s tally now stands at 17 goals and six assists in 19 Premier League starts this season, and the Dutchman’s glaring self-confidence currently seems impossible to dampen.
Mourinho will deliberate whether to operate a zonal defence to handle van Persie or directly appoint a defender to him.
Will he risk assigning the temperamental attentions of Pepe to the savvy and experienced striker? Or will Sergio Ramos be a safer option? Decisions, decisions Jose!
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic: Defensive concerns
Liverpool was lackluster in the first half. United dominated the play and should have finished the match as a contest by converting one or two more goalscoring chances.
But Mourinho will have noted how markedly this changed in the second half when Brendan Rodgers introduced new striker Daniel Sturridge and his Liverpool side began to attack.
When Liverpool took the game to United, Sir Alex’s team looked perilously exposed at the back—defensive fragility has been a concern for United all season and Madrid will look to exploit it.
Rio Ferdinand is in decline and question marks over Nemanja Vidic’s fitness remain, particularly after he was removed for Chris Smalling after 79 minutes.
Mourinho will be fully aware that United’s poor defensive record this season will be mentally impacting United’s players.
Patrice Evra scores against Liverpool
Despite a recent improvement in form, Patrice Evra is still failing to strike the correct balance between his attacking and defensive responsibilities.
He has been very successful going forward so far this season, but inevitably, his forward sorties leave United’s defence short on occasion.
Mourinho will look to expose this flaw.
Mourinho will ask Ronaldo to run at Evra when the Frenchman is in attendance at the back and exploit the holes he leaves on the left of defence when he gallivants up the field.
Either way, Mourinho will have identified it as United’s area of weakness and with Evra’s levels of stamina on the decline, Ronaldo will present a serious problem to United.
Michael Carrick: Rolls Royce performance
Michael Carrick is back—the veteran midfielder has a new lease of life and is flourishing in a role alongside the high-energy, all-action Tom Cleverley.
The detractors are finally beginning to come around to exactly what Carrick offers this United side and the partnership between the two looks stronger with every game.
The high work rate of Cleverley allows Carrick to indulge in his composed, stylish approach and spray the passes. Against Liverpool there were some impressive passages also involving Shinji Kagawa.
The No.10 also drops deep to assist in the centre of the park when out of possession and, as a result, United’s midfield looks more compact and able to compete in recent matches.
Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric will not find it as easy to take control of the midfield as they might have expected.
Ashley Young: Little impact
Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa need not concern themselves with United’s flankers, who are dreadfully out of form this season.
Against Liverpool, Ashley Young was caught in possession countless times and failed to have any impact on the first half.
The second half saw the introduction of Antonio Valencia at Young’s expense and, despite him working hard defensively, Valencia’s attacking play is desperately lacking in confidence.
Mourinho will most likely be concerned about Nani. The Portuguese winger’s season has failed to get started so far, but Nani is one of those talents that can change a game in an instant.
Nani’s unpredictability will always be problematic for Mourinho to plan for, but it’s unlikely Marcelo and Arbeloa will be losing any sleep over any of them while they continue to disappoint.