Will Man Utd recover from the unusual slump and mount a title challenge?
Manchester United were primed for greatness last season. With a promising centre-back, a proven champion in midfield and a bang in form striker signed early in the transfer window, the murmurs of a title challenge were growing louder and louder. United did live up to the hype with a brilliant start to the season, but they were blown away by their noisy neighbours, who broke all records and cemented their place in history.
The fact that we had to talk about Manchester City in the first paragraph of a Manchester United post says it all. United were not bad last season. They finished 2nd in the Premier League with 81 points, they reached the FA Cup finals, only to lose to surprise cup winner Antonio Conte. In Europe, United were shocked by Sevilla, a team which exposed the shortcomings of Mourinho over two legs.
In the end, there were no trophies to show and a brand of football which was attracting more boos than new supporters. The preseason is not off to a great start either. Third season Mourinho is beginning to show up at Man Utd as well, with regular moaning, transfer complaint and a negative attitude starting off early this season. There is a big cloud of negativity surrounding the club ahead of the start of the new season, and it will be interesting to see if Mourinho manages to turn things around.
Manchester United won an early summer battle with their neighbours by clinching the deal for Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk. Since then, they have only gone on to sign a young defender in Diogo Dalot, while the uninspiring capture of Lee Grant is highlighting the lack of ambition if David de Gea finally gets his move.
With Anthony Martial determined to force a move away, Mourinho has a big problem on the wings. He either needs to put all his trust in Rashford, which would surely be a popular move, or he needs to sign a pacy dribbler who will be able to light up Old Trafford like Ronaldo did. Of course, with Ronaldo moving to Juventus, he is not an option too. When Martial moves on, and it is only a matter of time before he gets his wish, Man Utd will have a hard time in replacing him, with Perisic looking more and more likely to stay at Inter and Rebic not coming for cheap after a blockbuster World Cup.
First few fixtures:
Manchester United have a tricky home game against the plucky Leicester City to begin the new campaign. A Riyad Mahrez less Leicester might not pose the same threat as before, but Mourinho would know better than taking them lightly. With a few players returning late from their World Cup exploits, it is important that Mourinho choses the right combination to kick off the new season on a positive note.
They have a early season test against Tottenham at the Old Trafford, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men being a thorn in United’s side for the last few seasons. The game will be followed by a tough test away at Burnley, with the surprise packages of last season successfully retaining the core of the squad together ahead of the new season. Mourinho needs to lay down his marker and start bundling points right from the off, with no points tally safe enough, given the100 point season by City last year.
First Team shape-up:
Manchester United will be in a real pickle if Anthony Martial decides to leave, with Marcus Rashford set to miss the Premier League opener due to his World Cup exploits. In between the sticks, it looks much more settled, now that Real Madrid have turned their attention to Hugo Lloris and Thibaut Courtois. Ahead of de Gea will be Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling, with Victor Lindeloef still not in Mourinho’s good-books. Luke Shaw is working hard along with Lindeloef to get Mourinho’s attention, but it looks like Young and Valencia will prevail in the battle of full-backs.
Matic and Herrera look likely to partner Fred with Paul Pogba slotting in for Herrera once he is back from his holidays, following a successful World Cup. Ahead of them, Alexis Sanchez will likely start as a forward and will shift to the left once Lukaku is back from his holidays. Juan Mata looks likely to retain his spot in the first team as Martial is inching closer to an exit. Jesse Lingard will be a regular starter on the wings/midfield, once he check in following his holidays. With lack of options up front, Andreas Pereira looks set to stay and fight it out at Man Utd.
Manchester United were in better shape at this time last season, and the future does not look bright either. With Mourinho showing signs of his closing time at Chelsea, the fans will not be having very high hopes ahead of the new season. These are testing times, and United need a Perisic shaped messiah to save their season.