The 16/17 Premier League season marked yet another managerial shift for Manchester United since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. In the 4 years since his departure, United have cycled through 4 managers, none of which have been able to build a foundation for the club. The post-Ferguson era has been nothing short of dreadful for United fans, but the acquisition of Jose Mourinho might the mark a resurgence for the club.
An immediate improvement made by Jose Mourinho was the number of injuries United suffered. During the 2015/16 season under Louis Van Gaal, it seemed there were at least two injuries every week of the season. Barring the end of the season, Mourinho kept the players significantly more fit than LVG did.
Another improvement that was made was in the team’s defense. While United only conceded 35 goals in the 15/16 season, this was largely due to the fact that United almost always had more possession than the other team. With significantly less possession, the opposition was always going to get less chances to score. Also, David De Gea bailed the team out numerous times with his world class goalkeeping. In Mourinho’s first season in charge, United didn’t keep as much of the ball as before, and De Gea had a subpar season by his lofty standards. Despite this, United only conceded 29 times. Mourinho improved the quality of Manchester United’s defense by signing players such as Eric Bailly, and improving the team’s defensive shape.
Mourinho’s differing style of play compared to Louis Van Gaal brought about more goals to this United side. United scored 5 more goals this season compared to last. While 5 goals is only a marginal improvement, it is important to look deeper than just the numbers. Under LVG, United just couldn’t create chances. Most games were spent passing the ball around the other team, without almost no intent in getting behind their defense. LVG simply didn’t allow his players to make risky passes, nor make runs into the box. Mourinho changed this immediately by signing Paul Pogba, the creative spark in the team. Pogba’s near-immaculate passes, coupled with risky runs into the box by other players meant that United had more opportunities to score this season. Mourinho also gave his players more freedom to do what they wanted in attack. The only problem was the scoring itself. Manchester United missed 50 big chances this season, more than any other team in the league. The combination of miraculous goalkeeper performances, bad luck, and a lack of concentration inflated that stat to an exorbitant number. The lack of goals isn’t completely Mourinho’s fault as he can’t control the three aforementioned factors. Still, the number of goals scored and overall attacking play is an improvement from last year.
Despite all of the improvement from last season, United still finished 6th. With proper signings, a little more luck, and even more improvement in the attacking side of the game, United can challenge for the title next season. With the signing of Victor Lindelof, United have another center back who is comfortable on the ball. This brings the number of reliable center backs at the club to 3 (Bailly, Lindelof, Rojo). If Luke Shaw can keep fit next season (although it doesn’t look likely with his injury record so far), United will have good options at both fullback positions.
In the midfield, United need more of an attacking threat. This season, Pogba was the only center midfielder capable of creating chances and scoring. On top of that, he had the sole responsibility of bringing the ball up the field, due to the facts that Herrera and Fellaini don’t have the ability to do that, and that Carrick didn’t start most of the games. The simple solution to this would be to sign Fabinho from Monaco. Fabinho would bring versatility to the squad, and the ability to pass and bring the ball up field. However, this signing looks unlikely as it appear that Mourinho more interested in Nemanja Matic, a more defensive player that he worked with in his time at Chelsea.
United can further improve upon their midfield by finding a replacement for Herrera. Herrera simply lacks a large passing range, shot accuracy, and consistency in defense. Anyone who has seen him attempt to switch/volley the ball, or take a long shot can attest to this. Although he has the 8th most interceptions in the league, his tackling leaves much to be desired. Far too many times has he fouled players, gotten cards, or just missed a tackle. Herrera is a good player for the team, but United can still improve in this position. If Mourinho wants a good attacking player who can play both ways, perhaps he should go for Radja Nainggolan. Another player who might leave his club is James Rodriguez, of Real Madrid. James would be one of United’s most talented attacking players, but he does lack when it comes to the defensive side of the game. With all of this said, it still seems that Herrera will start for United next season. Mourinho truly loves him for his tenacity and effort.
At the front end of the team, United have a talented group of players. Martial and Rashford can create a dangerous attacking tandem for years to come if they are developed and given enough game time. Mkhitaryan and Mata are impressive wingers. The former sliced right through opposition midfields with his dribbling on numerous occasions this past season, and the latter produced a good amount of goals and key passes throughout the season. The only thing United lack here is a goal scoring striker. Mourinho prefers strikers who are either tall or fast. This is why it is no surprise that Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata have been linked to the club, with a transfer for Lukaku being agreed upon. Both, but especially Lukaku, since he’s already experienced in the Premier League, could bring a ruthless scoring streak to United.
Whether or not United get all the signings Mourinho wants or needs, the expectations will be the same, to win the Premier League. Anything less than a 2nd place finish and a good run in the Champions League would be considered a failure for many. Will the 2017/18 season be a typical Mourinho second season masterclass, or another underwhelming campaign? Only Mourinho, his players, and the board, will have a say on which way the season goes.