As we approach the business end of the season, or to quote Sir Alex Ferguson, “Squeaky bum time” it’s fair to say that things have not turned out exactly as planned for José Mourinho in his first season in charge of Manchester United.
Upon his arrival Mourinho got straight to work and of four signings he has made, you could make the case that they have all been good signings, despite some having had more influence than others.
The talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimović has been crucial for the Reds this season, even at 35 years old and it has seen to have been a good piece of business with his goal return and assists. Injury now looks to have ended his United career after one season. Henrikh Mkhitaryan took time to settle when he arrived from Dortmund, but now looks like the players we all knew he was and is slowly becoming vital to the way Manchester United are looking to play, especially in the Europa League this season. He has chipped in with 10 goals in all competitions so far this season.
Eric Bailly, despite missing a serious chunk of the season through injury and the AFCON has become a lynchpin in the Manchester United backline. The raw and powerful talent will need some further development but looks likely to be at the heart of Manchester United’s defence for years to come. Paul Pogba was brought “home” by José Mourinho and due to his astronomical transfer fee, has seen his every misplaced pass, slip or shot wide scrutinised by plenty. Without his passing ability, strength and power in midfield though, United have missed him dearly in the last two games. His stats show his importance as Pogba tops the Manchester United charts for completed passes, chances created, take-ons and duals won. He is still only 24.
Mourinho was looking for an assault on the Premier League and a shot at the title, but no less than fourteen draws have put an end to that, and now Manchester United sit in fifth with a tough run of fixtures to try and break into the top four.
United’s home form has been cause for concern: 11 draws and 7 wins means that Mourinho’s win percentage at home is a paltry 38.8%. The last time it was that low, Manchester United were relegated in the 73-74 season. However on the road Manchester United have played with freedom and have been very, very good. This is what has kept them within touching distance of the top four pack.
Mourinho’s first season has also not been without incident, but what else are we to expect from the fiery Portuguese manager? Two touchline bans (one completely ridiculous one for kicking a water bottle) and numerous public slatings of some of his pampered stars and have seen him challenge his players. Something that thye have not been use too under Moyes or Van Gaal.
Mourinho is testing the mentality of the players, and this summer you will see which players have passed the test. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones don’t look to have futures after frustrating Mourinho by not pushing themselves to be fit again in what is undoubtably Manchester United’s most important month.
Has there been an improvement from the Van Gaal era? If you glance at the league table, you would have to say no in that respect. Manchester United have won two trophies this season (Yes Mourinho counts the Community Shield as a trophy) and are in the semi-finals of the Europa League, the best route back to Champions League football it would seem. So it could be three trophies come the end of May.
In terms of the football, anyone can see the vast improvement from the Van Gaal era. Van Gaal’s slow, probing and methodical football has been switched back up with goals, attacks and excitement again and this in itself is a step in the right direction; this is why the Old Trafford faithful have remained fiercly loyal despite the low win percentage.
José has also made Manchester United extremely difficult to beat. In fact Manchester United have lost less League games than Cheslsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal. Three losses in total and only one of them at home: but its those pesky draws that have badly let United down.
Again to quote the great man “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles”. José has done the defensive part, it is the offensive part in which United are lacking; too many times this season Manchester United have failed to kill off thier opponents, especially at home. Crazy to think this when within thier ranks they have Ibrahimović, Rooney, Martial and Rashford. Again, this is something that José will need to address in the summer.
Manchester United are very much a team in transistion, and Mourinho is slowly reinstilling seige mentality that he is so famous for. This summer Mourinho will look to re-shape the squad more to his liking with the likes of Rooney, Smalling, Jones among others set to leave. In order to land the players he wants, Champions League football would go a long way in helping.
The truth is the summer window of players arriving could well depend on the European campaign next season. Griezmann, Lindelof, Belotti, Fabinho etc etc. All top players that want to play at the top level.
United travel to Celta Vigo tonight. Don’t expect José Mourinho to go all guns blazing though: he will do what he does best, set the team up not to lose, espcially with the injuries he currently has. The squad is currently ravaged by injury, but Manchester United should have enough to get the job done over two legs.
Manchester United are improving, slowly, baby steps, learning to crawl again before they can walk. It’s Europa or bust! Who would have thought we would be saying that back in September? Certainly not José Mourinho.