Written by: SIDDESH IYER
Six games into the Premier League season and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United are slowly moving towards eradicating their “stuttering” tag. After suffering three consecutive losses in a one week across all competitions, Mourinho wasted no time in adopting the “chop and change” policy, and boy it paid off! A 3-1 win against Northampton in the EFL Cup; followed by an emphatic performance in the Premier League against the current Premier League champions where the Red Devils decimated Leicester 4-1 and a mundane 1-0 win against Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League made it 3 wins on the trot. Now, going into the fixture vs Stoke City on Sunday we look at the big questions that stand in front of the Special One…
Premier League form on the rise, title challenge firmly on?
The losses vs Manchester City and Watford meant Jose Mourinho was under intense pressure to get his “stuttering” star studded side firing again! Tough decisions were to be made ahead of the game against Leicester, and all the Red Devil’s fans had their hopes hinged on a blockbuster performance and bang , United came out all guns blazing smashing the Foxes 4-1 with Juan Mata and Paul Pogba playing the lead roles. So, with United’s stock on the rise, is the title challenge on? Given the results after the opening set of the most recent Premier League fixture list, United , by winning on Sunday could rise as high as into the top 4 if the remaining results fall into place. With large parts of the season yet to unfold, a stellar squad and consistent performances under a world class manager could propel United as title challengers again!
credit Aleksandr Osipov
Europa league importance – Winning strategy? Or sacrifice focus?
United’s Europa League campaign didn’t get off to the best of starts with a disappointing 1-0 loss in the opening fixture in Rotterdam vs Feyenoord. Most Premier League teams over the years have considered the Europa League as an actual headache and contemplated the policy of “Faster the exit, more the merrier!” However, Jose Mourinho in his recent quotes has reiterated his desire to do justice to both the competition and United’s legacy and go all out to advance as ahead as possible.
Wayne Rooney-Captain Fantastic or Motivating veteran on the bench?
Probably the biggest question for Jose Mourinho to answer…Wayne Rooney’s slump in form. United’s captain and talisman is faltering and it seems his attacking contribution has hit a snag. The biggest decision that Jose had to take with respect to his captain was his role in the team. Jose wasn’t holding back though and his captain went straight onto the bench and extra pace that was introduced on the flanks to support Zlatan produced the goods as United comfortably coasted to victory against Leicester. However, this bold decision from the manager seems to be more of an attempt to get the fire back in his captain’s performances rather than an attempt to penalise Wayne. The Red Devils would hope they have Wayne Rooney back at the Captain Fantastic level once again!
The Midfield Conundrum – Pogba & Herrera? Or the Fellaini card?
The big man finally arrived on stage in the recent demolition of Leicester! Yes, Paul Pogba, the €100m man, who arrived at Old Trafford to revolutionise the Red Devils’ midfield produced his best performance ever in a United shirt so far when he calmly dictated the play vs Leicester. Alongside him, playing the silent assassin role was a certain Spanish maestro in Ander Herrera. The enigmatic Spaniard, who was finally given his chance made the most of the faith shown in him by Mourinho. He displayed his influence all over the pitch, be it in breaking the opposition’s play or creating chances by effective transition from defence to attack, Ander Herrera had everything under his belt. So what’s the dilemma for Jose here? The major player to stake a claim on the midfield role, though not on his recent performances would be Marouanne Fellaini. The towering Belgian with his aerial threat and attacking prowess would definitely make Jose always spare a thought whether to get the Fellaini card into the fray. However, with Pogba & Herrera making formidable pair in the middle of the park, the chances of Fellaini entering the fray seem slim at the moment.
Strategic planning and the player management dilemma.
Time to get Zlatan firing again! Martial’s slump in form! Mata playing the unsung hero role! Shaw up against Blind at Left back! Where’s Mkhitaryan going to stick in? Rashford’s meteoric rise!
These are some of the major issues that Mourinho needs to address with respect to the players available. Zlatan will get firing again for sure, given the stature and footballing prowess of the man. However, the questions surrounding the other players mentioned are yet to find concrete answers. Juan Mata has been phenomenal when given, and the same is the case with Daley Blind. But Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial are extremely talented young players as well, with almost a surety of being real superstars in the near future. And what about Henrikh Mkhitaryan? Last season’s Bundesliga Player of the Year, who has found transition to English football a bit difficult but when he hits top stride it’s almost impossible to stop him. And last but not the least, United’s bright spark, Marcus Rashford almost guaranteeing a starting spot with some stellar performances adds extra pressure on some of the senior players to work hard again to claim a starting spot.
Although these questions are yet to be answered, the fact is that United are improving rapidly under Jose Mourinho and possess all the ammunition to launch a sustained title challenge. With positive vibes around Old Trafford, a fair crack at the Premier League title seems to be just on the horizon!
With United facing Stoke City, we leave you with the Matchday prediction…
UNITED 2–0 STOKE
- Zlatan first to score, followed by Rashford.
- A clean sheet for United seems a possibility given Stoke’s wretched form both in attack and defence.
Man Utd fans, what did you make of September overall? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Sean MacEntee