Manchester United rounded off a mixed a 2017/18 season with heartbreak at Wembley, losing out to Chelsea in the FA Cup final despite dominating the game. Jose Mourinho’s men have had a really bizarre season, with many ups and plenty of downs, which makes judging how the season went very difficult.
The Red Devils started the season on fire, leading the Premier League for the opening couple of months, with 4-0 wins coming in thick and fast. But the big turning point in United’s season was undoubtedly the injury to Paul Pogba. The free-flowing attack that was blowing teams away became disjointed and uninspired, and hasn’t really recovered since. The Frenchman missed two months of action, and in that time United lost to Chelsea and Huddersfield, and also dropped points away at Liverpool. The loss of their main man completely stunted United’s momentum, and they had to restart their season in November.
Pogba’s return inspired United, and sent them on a run of four wins on the spin, including a thrashing of Arsenal at the Emirates, where the £89 million man was instrumental, notching two assists. The controversial red card he received in that game again caused problems, as he missed the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, which United lost, virtually handing the title to City in December, leaving United just fighting to finish second.
This sent United’s season into a tailspin, with three consecutive draws and an exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of Bristol City forcing a frank reassessment of his squad from Mourinho. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford had both started the season well, with Romelu Lukaku recovering from an early slump and Jesse Lingard enjoying the best season of his career.
However, when a world-class player became available, Mourinho pounced. United signed Alexis Sanchez in a straight swap for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a deal that suited all parties. While the Chilean is still yet to display his scintillating Arsenal form at Old Trafford, he was present for a fantastic run for United. Victories over Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, all in the space of two months, helped to mask the pain of their premature Champions League exit to Sevilla.
The spirit shown to comeback from behind in the wins against Chelsea, City and Tottenham was more than encouraging, but the decline in the fluidity of United’s football was evident, and the fans became more and more frustrated with the lack of excitement in the team’s play against the smaller teams.
As the season went on, United lost their ruthlessness. They struggled to come out on the front foot and force the issue in any game, playing their best football when a goal down. They’d shown they can mix it with the best when they blitzed Man City in their own back yard, but showed their frailties in drab defeats to West Brom and Brighton.
Defeat to Chelsea ensured the Red Devils ended the season empty-handed, yet moving from sixth to second in the Premier League represents definite progress. A huge summer lays ahead if United are to make a serious title challenge next season. Clearing out of the squad’s deadwood is essential, with the likes of Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian destined for the exit door. Whether players like Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial will stay is still up in the air.
One thing that is for sure is United will spend. Fred and Toby Alderweireld are two names being lined up in two key areas that United need to improve on. Full-backs are also needed, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young offering precious little service in the final third. United have all the attacking and creative players they need, but they need to trust their defence to fully unleash the firepower. If Mourinho can instil a ruthlessness to his players, then England’s most successful club may reign as champions once more.
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