Roy Keane, the ex United Captian had decried Manchester United’s season as average and many would have followed this train of thought. But have Manchester United failed really? Did they under-achieve this season? It’s a trick question which i will try to answer. Short answer: NO.
To be fair to Roy Keane, and to many others who think this season has been a disaster for Manchester United, the aim was for a title challenge. Fighting for the top four was the barest minimum. After all, they had a significant outlay on players with Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic completing the set for a sum of £157.25m. That was a statement of intent from the club strongly suggesting a route back to the top. Whether this compromised their philosophy of bring players through and/or brining in young, raw talent from around Europe and furnishing them util they become pristine finished articles; the board clearly didn’t care. Success had eluded Old Trafford since the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson. David Moyes had come, stunk the place out and was duly sacked. Manchester United ended seventh. A reading which would have depressed even the most loyal of fans. Louis Van Gaal was brought in to much fanfare; this was a coach who dismantled Spain 5-1 and his Netherlands team did impress. Van Gaal passed a pre-season requirement and led United to fourth. Their European campaign was a failure, however, as they failed reach the round of 16. They ended the 2014/15 season trophy-less for the second year running. Manchester United fans were getting sick to the stomach. Meanwhile Chelsea cantered to the title with Mourinho winning a customary league title in his second season on his second return to Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United needed progress but somehow finished fifth in a year when most of the traditional big teams cocked-up. Chelsea, the premier league champions, finished 10th. It was that kind of season. An FA cup win did little to assuage the hierarchy. Van Gaal was sacked in a semi-embarrassing fashion – finding out his sacking as Manchester United celebrated a cup win. Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea after a shocking title defense and he was a constant rumor mill surrounding the soon-to-be-vacant managerial seat. It had been an open secret that Mourinho coverted the United job (despite him denying this several times), it never dissipated until it was official: Manchester United had got their man.
Mourinho will always divide opinion. One one hand, he brings success, trophies and memorable victories. One the other, his teams have been known to be pragmatic, functional, not exciting. Mourinho is a winner and this can sometimes get in the way of the secondary component of football in modern times: entertainment. Manchester United have always had a proud tradition of attacking football. No team facing Man United in their hey days were confident of victory. This was chiefly because they attacked more than the opposition. They were relentless in sticking the ball in the back of the net. Old Trafford had become used to this, but after the stoic teams of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, United fans needed to win again and Mourinho was reluctantly accepted as the best available option.
I don’t know how this happened but somehow Manchester United became the most expensive team in the world – in large part to the Paul Pogba’s transfer. it began well, as they won three games on the trot with a tempo and urgency not seen in years. It was followed by two damaging defeats to Man City and – of all people – Watford. A 4-1 win against Leicester City cooled talks of an impending crisis. A couple of draws followed and then one of the results of the season happened. Chelsea – his former team – handed him a thrashing as they lost four nil to the resurgent Blues. Mourinho has to be credited here as he managed the ‘crisis’ well. He didn’t lose for the next 25; and this is where the conundrum lies. United’s unbeaten run was not great. They started the run in sixth and after 25 games without defeat, are still in sixth. Plenty of draws and they are where they started. It is probably one of the longest unimpressive unbeaten runs in living memory. The defeat to Arsenal was crucial and they remain the top six team with the longer odds to finish in the Champions league places.
Pretty grim right? They did however win a trophy in the midst of that unbeaten run; beating Southampton in the fianl to lift the League cup. They have just won the Europa league tie against Celta Vigo and stand a great chance to win it and thereby qualify for the Champions league. Two of our four sin’t so bad, is it? United may have been low scorers but they have been difficult to beat. They have the joint lowest defeat – alongside spurs – and the second in the list of goals conceded. In most games in which they have played they have been utterly dominant. The goals are the missing piece of the puzzle. There is definitely an improvement in the style of play. The tempo is up, Pogba is dabbing and United have enjoyed themselves at times. It just won’t fall for them in the goals department. Zlatan has carried the goal scoring burden and is out injured. While Rashford is a willing eager runner he’s no Ibra.
The most expensive player in the world hasn’t set Old Trafford alight.. yet. He’s not been a failure as many suggests. This is a young man who has played in nearly every game since the 2015/16 season for both club and country. He hasn’t had a proper rest in quite a while. Pogba will come good. He’s only 24, time is very much on his side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was another promising purchase but took his time before electrifying Old Trafford and then vanished again. That lad is good, really good. You don’t win the Bundesliga Player of the year if you’re shi**e. Ander Herrera has been a bright spot in some grey areas this season. Dropped deeper to accomodate Paul Pogba and his appetite for the outlandish, he has flourished in leaps and bounds. The climax performance came at Old Trafford against Chelsea as he tracked Eden Hazard, which was vital in blunting Chelsea’s attack. Bailly is rather good as well, pity injuries have stunted an impressive debut season. The one major disappointment has been Martial. After an excellent first season, he has regressed. This is part to details of his personal life – after splitting with his wife. It’s an issue of mentality not ability. Tony Martial will score again.
There should be no cause for alarm. There are reports of cash being made available for Mourinho to spend, and with rumours of a Antoine Griezmann deal, Old Trafford will come alive. When Manchester United are good, they are unstoppable. Mourinho is on the right path. Just fix that goal scoring thing, Jose.