Now that the new Premier League season starts on Saturday – Sunday for Manchester United, we thought that we would bring back a once-popular weekly column in which five questions were asked and five of our writers answered them. This week the questions were thought up by our writing team, with a selection of five writers answering them; Shawn Medow, Daniel Hazell, Matt Henderson, Adem Berkay and Aaron Moniz. As the weeks go by, this will evolve and we will be getting supporters involved to change things up a little but – ensuring that no two pieces are the same. This should be a good season for Manchester United with Jose Mourinho at the helm and so far with four new signings; Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba. United face Bournemouth on Sunday, KO 13:30 BST. Here are the questions and answers for this week’s Five At The Back…
How do you think Manchester United will fare against Bournemouth?
Shawn Medow: Manchester United should get three points at Vitality Stadium but it will not be easy. Bournemouth is not a pushover and will put up a fight until the final whistle blows. United will have to play with composure and focus on themselves and not the opposition, who will play with a lot of physicality and attempt to make every little movement difficult for United to complete. Anything less than a win is not good enough for United considering the firepower the club has compared to that of Bournemouth. I think United come away with a narrow win, probably by only one goal, but grabbing the three points away to Bournemouth is most important for Jose Mourinho’s men in the Premier League opener.
Daniel Hazell: I fully expect Manchester United to come back to Manchester with all three points. It is Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League game in charge of the club, a number of players may make their Premier League debuts and no doubt the group’s confidence will be high after tasting success in our last two competitive matches, the Emirates FA Cup Final and the FA Community Shield. I do not think we will completely turn them over and win three or four goals to nil, though. I can imagine Bournemouth being stubborn and pumped considering it is the first fixture of the new season, personally I am going for 2-0 to Mourinho’s men.
Matt Henderson: I think Jose Mourinho will be baying for blood in his first league game as Manchester United manager. The Community Shield wasn’t a priority but the league is so I think the performance will reflect this. I can genuinely see a romp on the cards. If the team is set up right, and the players that have impressed and picked up their games continue this then I see no reason why United cannot put two or three past a Bournemouth side they should be beating (with all due respect of course). It’s the chance to set a benchmark and send a real signal to the rest of the league that United really mean business.
Adem Berkay: I’m optimistic that United will beat Bournemouth and start the season with three points. The confidence around the club at the moment is sky-high and that confidence will be key. The signing of Paul Pogba, winning the Community Shield, the aura of someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this will be far from the timid United side that lost on the south coast last season. I don’t expect a huge winning margin on the opening day; the Premier League is far too competitive for that, but I do expect Mourinho’s men to make a statement with an opening day win.
Aaron Moniz: Bournemouth is a tricky place to travel because of the way they play football, and United will be in for a challenge in their first match regardless of what people will tell you. I wasn’t able to watch the Community Shield, but neutral fans said it was very evenly matched and the statistics agree. It’s going to take a while to dominate matches the way United did under Louis van Gaal because the style is more adventurous. United is still very much in first gear after a poor first season, but they should pick up a win anyways. There won’t be a clean sheet, and it may very well be a scoring draw.
Who do you think will start from the newbies?
Shawn Medow: Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should both be in the starting lineup, but it could be a difficult match for Ibrahimovic. The Swede struggled to grasp the pace of the game against Leicester City in the Community Shield on Sunday but still managed to rise up and head home the winning goal for United. He needs to get minutes in the Premier League against competition that he has never dealt with before. Vitality Stadium is a small ground and it will be interesting to see how Ibrahimovic fares against a physical team at a cozy stadium. Bailly looks to be solid and deserves a start while Henrikh Mkhitaryan does not have a role in the starting XI yet. It is too early to start Paul Pogba, and the Frenchman might be better off waiting to play at Old Trafford the next week.
Daniel Hazell: I only expect two of Jose Mourinho’s four signings to start the game at Vitality Stadium, otherwise known as Dean Court. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly are the two I can see getting the nod from the off, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba only making the bench. However, that is dependent on Jesse Lingard’s knock he took at Wembley last weekend, if he is not fit enough to start I can see Mkhitaryan coming in, but if he’s good to go, simply because of his performance and fantastic goal in the Community Shield, I feel Mourinho will opt for him. I would be extremely surprised if Pogba started, considering he has not had a proper pre-season and only signed for the club in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Matt Henderson: Unfortunately not Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as Wayne Rooney seems infallible in that number 10 role (somehow). I expect Eric Bailly to continue at Centre Half as he has looked excellent thus far, and the two superstars – Pogba and Ibrahimovic – just have to start. Quite why Mkhitaryan hasn’t had the faith of his manager yet I don’t know, but if given half a chance I expect it to be a permanent dethroning of Rooney. Pogba, if he doesn’t start then I’ll question Mourinho’s ability because the lad is a real superstar. And the other two have given no reasons to drop them after last Sunday, so they should maintain their places.
Adem Berkay: Eric Bailly for sure. Zlatan as well. Unsure about Mkhitaryan, although I’d personally want him to start. He’s competing with Mata and Rooney for that no.10 role and it will be interesting to see who will feature most often this season in that role. (Please, anyone but Rooney). Bailly performed exceptionally well in the Community Shield. He contained Vardy, matched him for pace and power, made several excellent challenges and was composed and assured throughout. Ibrahimovic looks as if he will lead the line for United on most occasions this season and why not? He showed last week he can be the focal point of the attack, someone who can bring the other forwards into play but most importantly, has the knack of scoring crucial goals.
Aaron Moniz: Chris Smalling is suspended, which means Eric Bailly will almost definitely start alongside Daley Blind at the heart of United’s defence. Bailly was arguably man of the match in the Community Shield based on hearsay evidence. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should start, simply because it’s the first game, but expect to see matches with Wayne Rooney or Marcus Rashford up top instead. Rooney won’t be benched regardless of performance, which means that Jose Mourinho has to choose between Jesse Lingard, who was brilliant in the Community Shield, and Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan, though I’d fancy the latter to start. Paul Pogba is also suspended for yellow cards in the Coppa Italia last season.
How do you rate the transfer dealings so far?
Shawn Medow: This has been one of the best transfer windows of the last several seasons. Last year, United left the best for last when the club signed Anthony Martial at the deadline and managed to hold onto David de Gea. Mourinho has walked in and taken care of business quickly while also addressing needed players. A centre-back, a central midfielder, a striker and a creative player takes care of what United needed. Bailly seems to fit right into the backline and it should not be difficult for Pogba to adjust. Ibrahimovic has found the back of the net twice, which is all Mourinho can ask of him. Mkhitaryan has not done much but looked impressive in the minutes he played during the pre-season. It certainly is an exciting time for United fans with a stellar summer transfer window.
Daniel Hazell: Brilliant. The signings Ed Woodward has managed to pull off have been superb, how can anybody complain? We have signed the Bundesliga player’s player of the season, a world known superstar that has scored goals wherever he’s been and one of the best midfielders in the world who is being tipped by many as a future Ballon D’Or winner for a record transfer fee. Furthermore, we have signed a centre-back who in the early stages of his United career has shown signs that under the right guidance he could become a magnificent defender, he seems to have all the right assets – pace, power, and strength. Mourinho said he wanted four and we’ve got all four, seemingly strengthening and fixing many areas that certainly needing amending. We missed creativity last season, we missed goals, power from midfield and we were definitely short of a central defender – we now have all of that.
Matt Henderson: It’s been better than expected this summer. You build a bit of a wall around your expectations based on past disappointments, but Mourinho has bucked the trend and delivered some really exciting players. They may not all workout, but I’m not thinking ahead, I’m staying in the glorious moment we’re enjoying now. Ibrahimovic and Pogba aren’t just stars on the pitch, they’re stars off it also and the boost their arrivals will give to the squad could be just as influential as their effect on the pitch. Bailly has impressed me to now, and he has a bright future, and Mkhitaryan was player of the year in Germany and that says it all.
Adem Berkay: Pretty much perfect. Mourinho wanted four and he got four. You get the sense that they were the four he wanted too. No settling for second best or finding alternative targets; he identified weaknesses in the squad, chose who he wanted and the club went out and got them. Not only were United cold and calculated in the market as they recruited some of the best players in Europe, Mourinho has brought in players to excite the fans and bring some much-needed ego back to Old Trafford. Under van Gaal the football was dour, the players seemed afraid and the club felt lost. Now, United have players throughout the team befitting of the club; talented, confident, some of the best players in the world. After a decade of Glazernomics, it’s about time.
Aaron Moniz: United has done some solid four-star business. It hasn’t been perfect because United could still do with a ball-playing centre-back to allow Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo to finally depart. The four signings are excellent tactical fits, and there isn’t much to say because the business was comprehensive. That’s what is so admirable about United’s business this summer- collectively comprehensive, and exactly what they wanted, while still spending less than neighbours Manchester City.
What are the realistic expectations for the season?
Shawn Medow: United have to, and should, finish in the top four or else it will be the biggest embarrassment since David Moyes’ season. I think United is capable of challenging for a title. Everything is falling into place for United with a deeper squad, a winning manager, and four fantastic signings. United can win the title and it may sound out of reach, but it is completely possible. With all the craziness at the top of the table last season with Leicester and the quick decline of Mourinho’s Chelsea, anything can happen with United this season. Mourinho has had great success in first seasons with multiple clubs, including Chelsea in the Premier League, and he could repeat this with United. With the money spent and the build up to this season, United has to be thinking about pushing for a Premier League title.
Daniel Hazell: Many people are saying we are going to win the league, although that is definitely easier said than done. However, I do expect United to be in the race, we may just come short and I do not expect to necessarily win it, but if we are applying the pressure and still one of the teams in the hat come the latter weeks of the season I would be happy. As for the domestic cup competitions and the Europa League, I feel we can and should win one of them or at the very least reach a final of one. People think because we have plugged many gaps and spent a lot of money it means instant success – that is rarely the case. It’ll probably take time for things to gel and the players to get used to Mourinho’s ideas.
Matt Henderson: I don’t normally get too ahead of myself when I predict the chances for the coming season (the last two having consisted of just top four and finishing above Chelsea which were both right I may add) but I seriously believe United can win the league. With Mourinho at the helm, Ibrahimovic heading the spear and Paul Pogba now on board, United have real winners amongst their ranks. And with Mourinho they have a manager that knows the league inside and out and has already started the mind games and the hatred towards the team is back, both manager and club thrive in this position. It really is possible.
Adem Berkay: The expectation has to be to challenge for the title. Another season of big spending, another managerial change, a fully fit squad with quality in every position. By the time May rolls around it will be four years since Manchester United last won the league. That is too long. Mourinho has not hidden his desire to win everything this season. That won’t happen. But after the summer this club has had, United fans will expect Mourinho to challenge for honours in every competition this season. Fifth place and an FA Cup win will not be enough this time around.
Aaron Moniz: United is currently the best side in the Europa League, but I would like to see the Europa League devoted to youth because a couple of them could displace our fringe options. Give the likes of Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley, Axel Tuanzebe and Andreas Pereira a real chance with United’s fringe players- and Timothy Fosu-Mensah in midfield. I don’t think United can win the Europa treble, but with Mourinho picking a large squad that seems to be the goal. The further United goes in the cups, the more football there is for United’s 26 footballers and youth players, all of whom should be capable of challenging in these three competitions. The cups should allow Mourinho to assess his squad depth so he can make changes in January and July to challenge on all fronts next season.
Who out of the new signings do you think will make the biggest impact this season?
Shawn Medow: I think that all four signings this summer are wonderful signings for United but I think it is easier for a defender to adjust versus a midfielder or a striker. Thus, I believe Bailly will have the best season and the biggest impact because United need to lock up the defence. De Gea had to make too many saves last season and with a stronger backline, he will not have to face as many shots. Bailly has played with loads of confidence in all the games he has featured in during the preseason, including a man of the match performance in the Community Shield. Bailly provides speed and strength to the backline, which United desperately need. Chris Smalling grabs shirts and Daley Blind gets caught out of position from time-to-time. Bailly can help clean this up and give United a push for the title.
Daniel Hazell: In terms of whose name will give the squad the biggest lift it will no doubt be a close race between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. On the field they will also make a massive difference, however, surprisingly to many, I am tipping Henrikh Mkhitaryan to have the biggest impact this season. Creativity is something we have missed massively and judging by the Armenians record at Borussia Dortmund – he is an assist machine who the likes of Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will thrive off. Furthermore, I would expect the 27-year-old to chip in with five-ten goals of his own. Long term, the biggest impact will definitely come from Paul Pogba, who knows how far he can actually go, in terms of his footballing career. He is arguably the biggest young talent in world football at this moment in time.
Matt Henderson: I want to say Ibrahimovic but I fear his age and the pace of the league may take its toll eventually. I still believe he will have a big say in how the year progresses but I don’t think he’ll be most influential. Mkhitaryan has the potential to be, but his biggest challenge is getting into the side in the first place, which seems an utterly ludicrous notion and as such he won’t end up having as big a say as the others. Eric Bailly will be crucial as he is an out-and-out Centre Half, and can be a consistent partner to Chris Smalling so long as they both steer clear of injuries. But I think the obvious choice is Paul Pogba, he’ll hopefully be the linchpin and can contribute all over the park. He’s the spark that has been missing since Paul Scholes departed and as such he is my choice.
Adem Berkay: Tough question. Pogba is, of course, the most exciting. Zlatan is likely to grab the most headlines. Mkhitaryan will probably go under the radar despite his immense quality. For me, though, Eric Bailly will make the biggest impact this season. United have missed leaders at the back for some time now. Since Ferdinand and Vidic left, United have experimented with so many different defensive combinations and have muddled through somewhat unsuccessfully. In Bailly, they have a strong, commanding presence. He’s good with his feet, powerful in the air and quick across the ground. At 22, he is the youngest of the summer signings, but potentially the one who’ll make the biggest difference.
Aaron Moniz: All four signings have a claim as to why they will make the biggest impact this season. Eric Bailly could be a world class footballer by May, but could also take two or three years to fully adjust. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the best player of the four based on last season alone, but we could see a decline or a struggle to adjust this year from the big-man. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the second best of the three last season, but he will also struggle to adjust. Paul Pogba is expected to struggle a little bit too, but he has experience with United as a teenager, so I expect him to have a head start over the other three. For this reason, I expect Pogba to end up making the most waves in the Premier League this year.
If you are interested in asking a question or being part of the panel during this season, please send us a message on our Facebook page, or send us a tweet or a DM on Twitter telling us that you want to be part of Five At The Back, or that you have a question you would like to be answered.