A baron patch in the history of Manchester United was broken in May by Louis van Gaal on the Wembley pitch. No trophies since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and a first FA Cup triumph since the great man last won it in 2004 which also caught the record of 12 titles set by Arsenal. The competition itself has fallen somewhat on the priorities of supporters and seemingly the club, as United stepped up their domination of the League and Europe under the tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but as the quality of football and recent shocking performances in the aforementioned competitions the FA Cup has suddenly become an excellent chance for silverware. That is until Mourinho walked through the door.
As it stands United remain on the periphery in the League, sixth place thanks to a patchy start to the season leaves a title push unlikely. But performances recently have taken a major turn for the better and going forward leaves the side with an excellent chance of challenging once more. And in the Europa League (starting to take on significance as a route into the Champions League) Mourinho’s men appear in an excellent position to go far. So where does this leave the Cup in terms of importance? Certainly it cannot now be seen as the only trophy available to win anymore, but no one can ever grumble at a trophy. With a growing trend for ‘big clubs’ to send out weakened teams it’s Mourinho’s decision whether to follow suite, or buck the trend.
With games having been thick and fast, and United challenging on at least two fronts (Europa League and EFL Cup), rotation in the squad is vital if Mourinho is to sustain the sensational form his side finds themselves in. It has been seen already with a number of stars given breaks over the New Year (Michael Carrick in particular was one to benefit from a day off), but with another three games in the space of seven days, how will the manager approach Reading on Saturday? There are a host of young pretenders waiting in the wings for their first team bow. Timothy Fosu-Mensah had shown promise last season under Louis van Gaal, but has found chances at a premium under the new leadership. Axel Tuanzebe is another to have fallen short of a senior appearance after early promise. The absence of Eric Bailly may work in his favour.
It is certainly a risk for the holders to take such a cavalier approach against opponents that can hardly be called useless. Lower in the football pyramid Reading may be, but former United defender Jaap Stam has the London side playing nice, attractive football and performing well in the Championship. Mourinho is a winner, and the regard he has held each of the competitions his side has been competing in thus far could perhaps serve as a guide to who will start come 12:30 Saturday afternoon. For me, I would like to see a blend of youth with experience. The likes of Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah and even Sean Goss have the potential to star if played alongside the right men. But the likelihood is Mourinho will go all guns blazing. It’s a refreshing approach from a top club, and one we should all welcome on the road to a first trophy in the latest managerial reign.