Jose Mourinho suffered an awful debut league campaign with Manchester United last term after finishing in 6th position. In fact, they finished a massive 24 points behind champions Chelsea and 7 points adrift of the top 4. Thankfully for the manager and the United faithful, the former Chelsea manager put all his eggs in the Europa League basket and it proved dividends. Just.
Had Celta Vigo’s John Guidetti not fluffed his lines in front of an open goal in the semi final of the Europa league tie at Old Trafford, United and quite possibly Mourinho, were out. As luck would have it, he did make as mess of his shot and United went on to win the trophy with an easy 2-0 win over a young Ajax side, cementing the Red Devils a place in the Champions League.
The Portuguese coach would have learned a lot about his players last season and knew that he would need to strengthen if they are to compete with the elite in Europe’s biggest club competition. He’s a smart man and knows the players he needs who will help his defensive style and so far this summer he’s done extremely well.
He has spent big in signing Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku, and Nemanja Matic, all over 6 foot tall. He likes his squad to be strong and physical and the latter duo certainly bring that to the table. Swedish international Lindelof, has already been told he will take time adjusting to life at Old Trafford, after a poor performance against Real Madrid in the Super Cup and was left out at the weekend.
Jose has always said that his 2nd season is his best one and he has certainly added the quality to a squad that has missed some for the last number of years. They went into last years campaign with the clever signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who certainly knows were the goal is and Paul Pogba from Juventus. The latter failed to deliver on a consistent basis while Ibrahimovic, who was having an excellent 1st season, suffered a nasty knee injury.
Scoring goals was a problem for the Red Devils last season as they only notched 54 in 38 games. Everton, who finished 7th and Bournemouth who finished 9th, scored more. United failed to score in 8 games and in 14 league games they scored just once. Of those 14 games they won on just two occasions and drew 9 times. That is poor returns considering that they had Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mikataryan.
Heading into this campaign with the new signings, much more is expected. Jose has gotten rid of captain Rooney who has failed to deliver since 2013. Also departed is Ibrahimovic who is out of contract, but there are strong rumours that he will return once his recovery is over. Going forward, United were too slow last season and gave the opposition a chance to get back into shape. Giving Mourinho’s defensive and counter attacking style, this was quite a surprise.
The Swedish giant isn’t the quickest but offers excellent hold up play, physicality and strong in the air. Last season he dropped deeper looking for possession and left no out ball for United to use. The differences this season with Lukaku are startling, the Belgian stays on shoulder of the last defender, constantly moving, offers much more pace than Ibra and is always asking the question of his opponents.
Last season Ibrahimovic netted 17 league goals in 28 games. He created 46 chances for his team mates, 5 of which turned into assists. Of his 84 shots on goal, 46 of them found the target which is just over 50%. Compare that to Lukaku who played 37 times and scored 25 times which was his best return in the Premier League. He also created 46 chances for Everton with 6 of them leading to assists. He had just 2 more shots on goal than Ibrahimovic, with 55 of them finding the target leaving him with a shooting accuracy of 64%. In every regard, Lukaku equaled/outperformed Zlatan.
Man United got off to the best possible start at the weekend as they roasted West Ham 4-0. It was a much more energetic United side than previous campaigns, as Matic’s control and reading of the game has freed up Pogba to finally show his quality. Although the Frenchman wasn’t excellent on Sunday he will reap the rewards of the Matic signing. With Rooney now gone from the club, Mikataryan can also show his quality on the ball in his beloved number 10 role. So often pushed out to the wide areas, the Armenian’s best position is just in behind the striker.
With the pace, energy, skill and talent of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mikataryan, it should make it a nightmare for the opposition. Going forward shouldn’t be a problem for Man United but it is at the other end were they could struggle. The clean sheet at the weekend against a Hammers side which looked like they have no ideas, will give them some confidence but it will not always be so plain sailing.
Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and even Marcos Rojo lack the quality to cement a consistent place in a Manchester United side which aspires to greater things. Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind and Chris Smalling are also suspect but it seems Mourinho trusts them more than the others.
It’s hard to say how far this team will have come until they face the bigger sides, as they will ease past 90% of their Premier League opponents. The gap is growing and growing with every year and it will continue to do so. This season, United are better equipped than last but to see this squad reach its full potential, Mourinho needs to let his attacking players, attack. With the talent at his disposal, Mourinho’s defensive minded tactics will only get him so far before the United faithful get on his case.