Written by Carl Walker
Jose Mourinho is just over half way through his first season at Manchester United and it has certainly been an indifferent start to life at Old Trafford, but has progress been made? And what should we expect in the next six months from Mourinho and Manchester United.
After replacing the eccentric Louis Van Gaal in May, the club was not eaxctly in great shape, okay they had won the FA Cup but finished 5th in the league, which meant it was Europa and not Champions League football they would be playing this season. The most disappointing aspect of the post Sir Alex Ferguson era was the brand of football. Turgid, slow and possession based it had the fans snoozing during the games.
credit Ajith Kumar
There was also issues with the squad personnel, many of whom had been signed by Van Gaal and some of whom are ultimately not good enough but not without giving them a chance to impress first. Some of the fringe players were sold or released to free up the wage budget. Victor Valdes, Tyler Blackett, Ashley Fletcher, Nick Powell, Paddy McNair and Donald Love all departed the club. Januzaj and Pereira were sent out on season long loans.
Jose got straight into action in the transfer market and strengthened the club. Eric Bailly, the raw and tough centre half has been brought in and looks to be a solid player who will develop into a real quality centre half. Henrikh Mkhitaryan the mercurial play-maker was brought in from Dortmund to help create chances for the strikers.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was brought in as a free transfer after his contract from PSG expired and has proved to be a superb piece of business even at 34 years of age. Zlatan has already scored 23 goals so far this season. The last striker to score over 20 goals in a season for the reds was Robin Van Persie in 2012-2013 so a regular goal threat was needed and the big Swede certainly provides that. Jose Mourinho then broke the world record transfer fee when he brought Paul Pogba back to Manchester United for £90 million in the summer. The midfielder has developed into one of the best in the world at Juventus in recent seasons and is a welcome addition to the squad.
Jose has started to build his team, big strong and poweful players mixed in with smooth and silky operators that are full of pace, this is something he has done wherever he has managed Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid all had these aspects within the squad. The squad itself also have great depth allowing for rotation and for United to fight on four fronts.
Jose Mourinho has brought back the element of fear that has been missing, none of his players are safe and he will drop anyone that is not playing well, no more easy rides for some of the players that they have experienced since Sir Alex left. Jose has also challenged some of his players, publicly in some cases. If your not with him your against him and you will be gone. It’s all or nothing for Mourinho.
The season itself has been a mixed bag so far. Manchester United sit sixth in the Premier League, they are currently on an unbeaten run of 16 league games and have closed the gap. There is now only 2 points between them and Tottenham in second. A series of draws in October saw United drop crucial points but they are now back in the hunt for a top 4 finish.
The Europa League has been taken seriously by Mourinho and United are on the verge of qualifying for the last 16 after an impressive fisrt leg win over St.Etienne last night at Old Trafford. Zlatan Ibrahimovic with his first Manchester United hat-trick.
Manchester United have also been impressive in the EFL cup this season, a competition that Mourinho takes very seriously as proved in the past. They have already booked their place in the final next Sunday against Southampton with impressive victories on route over Manchester City and West Ham United.
The club are current holders of the FA Cup after beating Crystal Palace in the final last May. They travel to Blackburn on Sunday, still very much in the hunt to retain the trophy and Mourinho will no doubt want to get to as many finals as possible.
Mourinho has also managed to keep Phil Jones fit, well until recently and get the best out of Marcos Rojo who formed a fantastic partnership during Eric Bailly’s injury and has definitely found the correct balance for the sqaud in terms of rotation.
There have also been problems that he has had to deal with that he possibly didn’t anticipate would happen. Bastian Schweinsteiger was written off in the clubs annual reports and told to train with the reserves, like the true professional he is Bastian did not moan or complain, instead his hard work has seen him re introduced into the squad and his experience could end up being invaluable this season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan found early life extremely difficult at Manchester United and Jose’s man managemnet the Armenian has been fantastic, taken out of the limelight for a while to build his fitness and integrated slowly he has not become an integral part of the team.
Michael Carrick had to prove to Jose he was worthy of a place in the squad in the early days as initally Jose was not fully convinced, however his true quality soon shone through and Carrick has been vital for Manchester United this season.
In January Jose Mourinho trimmed the squad even further, Morgan Schneiderlin joined Everton for £24 million and Memphis Depay joined Lyon for £20 million. In previous seasons Manchester United would probably have got half of what they did for those two, showing that in the market Jose gets good value for his players that he sells. Something again we saw at Chelsea with De Bruyne and Lukaku.
United are slowly getting there, you wouldn’t bet on them finishing in the top 4 as Jose has made them extremely difficult to beat and with a few good cup runs there could be trophies arriving too. Mourinho has already admitted it is a rebuilding process and he has identified his targets for the summer and there will no doubt be a few players that will be moved on as the squad rebuilding goes on.
Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid
The attacking midfielder lit up the European Championships last summer with France and finished as top scorer. Technically very gifted and can play anywhere in the front four, his versatility means he would be perfect for United. Jose has said he has his top target identified already and many belive it to be Griezmann. His release clause would need to be met which stands at £85 Million.
Victor Lindeloff – Benfica
The Sweden international was apparantly on his way to Old Trafford last month but a move never materialised, however rumours state that Manchester United are still interested in the centre half and a bid of £35 million could secure his signature. Strong in the air and good with the ball at his feet, he is a modern centre half.
Frank Kessie – Atalanta
Manchester United are not the only club following the Ivorian’s progress with Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG also interested in the youngster. Already an international with ten caps he has been impressive in Serie A this season. A strong and powerful player which fits the mould perfectly for Mourinho. Kessie is a ball winning midfielder, something which is lacking at United at the moment.
Wayne Rooney – MLS or China
It is becoming increasingly like that Manchester United’s all time top goal scorer will leave this summer. Rooney is no longer a guaranteed starter for United and he will feel he has more to offer than being a bit part player. MLS would suit his lifestyle more than China, but one last big payout could sway his mind if he leaves.
Ashley Young – Premier League
Another who has become a bit part player, when fit, under Mourinho. Hard working and versatile but its just not clicked for him under Jose. Had an offer from China in January which was turned down. Will probably leave in the summer.
Luke Shaw – Premier League/ European Club
After an early season falling out, Shaw has rarely featured this season for Manchester United. A succession of niggly injuries have also seen his game time limited. United may look to cut thier losses and move Shaw on.
Jose Mourinho is clearly enjoying life at Manchester United, his work has only just begun but he is definately moving Manchester United back in the right direction, The results are coming slowly and the standard of football has improved ten fold.
He has created the Us vs. Them mentality again that Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson once had.
It should be an interesting end to the season for the red devils and an even more intruiging summer……
Watch this space.
What are your thoughts on the Mourinho tenure so far? Let us know in the comments below!