When Jose Mourinho became the manager of Manchester United, there wasn’t a big welcoming party similar to our noisy neighbors for Pep Guardiola. Most people were a little skeptical of how he would get United back to the glory days after unsuccessful attempts from previous managers; David Moyes and later Louis van Gaal. This season, Manchester United had no UEFA Champions League football, their reputation as a big club was tarnished after finishing outside of the top four once again, and most disturbingly, they played boring football. In stepped Jose Mourinho, who himself was recently fired by Chelsea as they were languishing in the bottom half of the table. The ‘Special One’ would have to not only appease the board but United fans after being frustrated and disappointed the last three years of mediocre results. What did he go out and do? He went and signed the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan an unknown gem in Eric Bailly. Then the biggest coup of the year and the most expensive, the prodigal son Paul Pogba returned Old Trafford.
Some say they came for money; I would argue and say they came to play for United under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho. They all know he is a proven winner, you only have look at his CV. Once United signed these players, supporters were now believers that with this amount of talent something could be done this season, yet some were still optimistic. Fast forward to today, Saturday 8th April 2017, United are in sixth place in the Premier League, four points below fourth place. Just the reminder of this is like a nagging headache, especially when banter is exchanged with Arsenal and Liverpool supporters. So far, United have won the EFL Cup, are still in Europa League and now fighting for a top four place. This teases United every week except for the fact that the team falters under pressure and loses or draws a game to go back to sixth or remain in fifth. The Premier League results are what frustrate United fans the most. The draw against Everton was the ninth draw at Old Trafford, twelve in total in the league, meaning that 24 points have been dropped this season, not even counting defeats. The most frustrating thing about these drawn games is that in 80% of these matches, United were the dominant team. There are factors for these draws; a tiny portion of inept refereeing, the opposition goalkeeper turning out Man of the Match performances at Old Trafford, and the one that hurts United the most is their average finishing of chances.
In attack, Manchester United lead the Premier League in missed chances with 41, second in most shots with 499, second with shots on target of 176 and leading the stat for the ball hitting the woodwork with 18. All these stats indicate that Mourinho has United getting plenty of opportunities, only not to put the ball in the net. Each player has had their fair share of missed chances, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial. These very players who we think should be converting these chances, but are not. Is this Jose Mourinho’s fault? No. This comes down to the player and his abilities. The positive sign is that United are getting back to playing the positive football that supporters had been crying out for since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. But there are some issues that Mourinho must fix.
One case, in particular, is Marouane Fellaini. For some reason, Mourinho has taken a liking to the big Belgium midfielder as he has been involved a lot for United this season. A man who supporters thought the Portuguese would not use. As of today, Fellaini has scored three goals but the slight problem is where Mourinho plays him. The manager has him deployed as a defensive or central midfielder. This causes problems for United’s attack as he is not the most intelligent player with the ball, most of the time passing back or passing the ball directly to the opposition, stifling most of United’s fast flowing attacks. Once the ball arrives at Fellaini’s feet, United lose all momentum of trying to play quick one-two passing football. This also means giving team’s ample time to set up defence. This leads me to another issue, his defence. He remains a liability, often getting caught out of position. He is hit and miss, and when it’s a miss, it tends to be very costly. The best example is giving the penalty away to Everton for a clumsy tackle, for them to convert and level the match at the dying stages of the game. Does Mourinho banish him; no. Instead, he has gone on to feature heavily for the Red Devils playing in the midfield.
Three-quarters of the players in the team are not players that Mourinho had bought. Most are either Louis van Gaal or David Moyes players, some still remain from Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in management. It has made it difficult for Mourinho to settle on a team that can perform consistent results. Because of this, it took Mourinho months to find the right balance in the squad. This included what formation to play and which players suited that formation. We have seen Mourinho experiment and watched his teams play 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and as of lately the 3-5-2 formation which failed under Van Gaal. This is positive news as it means Mourinho is able to adapt.
Some supporters had concerns as there was a reputation of him not using youth like he did in Chelsea. Mourinho is a man who will only use youth if they are up to it. Marcus Rashford has been an integral member of the squad so far, and he has also given Joel Castro Pereira and Axel Tuanzebe game time. The only player I am a little disappointed that hasn’t played a lot more is Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Having debuted last season and playing a vital part at the end of United’s season. He has only featured in one Premier League match, two UEFA Europa League games, one Emirates FA Cup game, and one League Cup game. Now, for a player with his immense talent, he is being wasted, especially when he could be experimented in a few more games to see if he could be the heir to Michael Carrick. Fosu-Mensah recently signed a three-year contract, so he isn’t going anywhere soon, but I hope in the near future, maybe next season, he will be utilised a lot more by Mourinho. We must remember, as great as it is blooding in new talent from the Academy, it is more important for them to prove themselves to Mourinho that they are capable of playing Premier League football and not just content on putting on the red jersey, this is the mentality Mourinho looks for.
One thing I respect is Mourinho’s “tough love” shown towards players, some people say it’s harsh but it’s straight to the point, no beating around the bush. Mourinho is not there to hold the player’s hands all the time. His treatment of Martial, Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw when they were criticised, only to see the first two respond and fight for their position and Shaw still experiencing some problems. These players need to be mentally tough; they are getting paid a lot of money and living the pampered life. If they can’t deal with honest criticism, then these are the type of players that are mentally weak when it gets tough. Mourinho is weeding out these type of players by challenging them to see if they respond. For the last three years, some of these players in the United squad have accepted mediocrity, Mourinho doesn’t and neither should the supporters.
Mourinho will have to look at another summer transfer window to clear out the players in the squad that are not up to it, finding players that are capable of making United a very successful club once again. Mourinho’s faith and in players like Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia who have shown that Mourinho can turn players into top talent. The Portuguese understands what Manchester United are about, and the expectations that are set upon them. This is a man who has won the La Liga, Premier League, Primeira Liga, Serie A, UEFA Champions League titles. He has all the experience that a manager needs to take a club like Manchester United to the next level. Yes, at this stage it’s frustrating, and people are starting to question whether if he is the right man. I can say there are positive signs that Mourinho is steering this team in the direction it needs to be going. I am confident at the end of the day Jose Mourinho will make Manchester United a European power again. You can never count a man out like Mourinho, who for him, winning at all costs is in his blood. This sort of attitude from a manager is what we have all been wanting, and with his knowledge added, will only steer United to a better future.
Written by Chris Siale