Football

Stephen Hunt Thinks Mourinho Is Secret To Champions League Success

Stephen Hunt Thinks Mourinho Is Secret To Champions League Success

Former Ireland and Reading footballer Stephen Hunt used his column in today's Sunday Independent to confound a perception of Manchester United's play that has been under some scrutiny lately.

With five English sides remaining in this year's Champions League knockout stages, Hunt singled out United and Chelsea (both sides yet to play the first leg of their knockout ties) as "the two English teams I think are most likely to win" the tournament outright.

Although Manchester City and Liverpool both racked up impressive away wins, and Spurs came away with an unlikely 2-2 draw in Turin, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte are more likely than Guardiola, Klopp or Pochettino to lead their team to Kiev next May.

For Chelsea, no league commitments to speak of are the secret to their sneaky charge at European success:

They have nothing to play for in the league - their challenge was over six weeks ago - and Antonio Conte has probably had an eye on this one since then.

Suddenly his players are coming back into form and they will come alive in these big games.

For Mourinho's United, their chance of success is rooted in a quality that few other than Hunt have been quick to highlight this year; "they are the strongest defensively."

In recent weeks, the defensive partnership of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling has been taking a hammering from many of Hunt's fellow former players-cum-football pundits.

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Against Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United particularly, the weaknesses of both were exploited relentlessly, and, it is on this point that Hunt's assessment of United's outlook takes on another unusual element; "they have the forward players to rip teams apart on the break."

While Martial, Lingard, Lukaku and now Sanchez certainly demonstrate a portion of United's attacking options, those two recent games demonstrated decisively that their reliability is not absolute.

Yet, when one examines the Premier League table this season, it is in fact United that have conceded the fewest goals; 19 to City's 20.

Ultimately, Hunt has faith in Mourinho as "the master of getting his team to peak at the right time."

It would be an incredible measure of the Portuguese's success if he could, whilst persisting with a back four consisting of the question-marked Jones and Smalling, flanked usually by two converted wingers in Valencia and Young, claim a third Champions League title.

One of very few espousing such faith in Manchester United's defence against the prospective rigours of Europe's elite attacking sides, Hunt's outlook is interesting, to say the least.

See Also: Watch: Paul Scholes Discusses His 2012 Manchester United Return

Arthur James O'Dea

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