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Manchester United Season Review Part One: Premier League 2016/17

Manchester United started the 2016/17 Premier League season in high spirits. Jose Mourinho had become the new manager of the club in May, ahead of a busy summer which saw Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba sign for the Old Trafford club. Many thought this would be the season in which United would challenge for the Premier League title and at the start of the season it did, but other competitions stretched United, lots of draws happened and United ran out of chances to break into the top four, despite there being many of them. Mourinho prioritised the UEFA Europa League over the Premier League towards the end of the season, seeing the competition as United’s best chance to earn a UEFA Champions League place, and he was right, despite the criticism he was given by supporters, the media and the ABU’s. United lifted the UEFA Europa League on Wednesday evening after beating Dutch side Ajax 2-0 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. That aside, they will play in the UEFA Champions League again, which is where United deserved to be. Panic over. The season has ended on a high and there are some positive foundations which have been laid this season. Here is the United review of the Premier League season.

August 2016 – Three matches; Bournemouth (A), Southampton (H) and Hull City (A)

On Sunday 7th August 2016, the curtain raiser for the new football season commenced with United beating Leicester City at Wembley for the FA Community Shield, a friendly effectively, but one with meaning – the first part of glory this season. Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck home for United to win the first trophy up for grabs, not that it was a major honour and all. A week later, United took on Bournemouth in their opening league fixture away from home. United continued their good start to the season with a victory with Juan Mata 40′, Wayne Rooney 59′ and Zlatan Ibrahimovic 64′ scoring his first Premier League goal. Bournemouth got a goal back five minutes later, but the first three points of the season ended up back in Manchester. The second match of the season was at Old Trafford on a Friday night against Southampton. United again got the win, keeping a clean sheet and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring both of the goals, one a penalty. It was a good start for United – two matches played, two matches won. So far so good. The month would end well with United winning their third Premier League match in a row, beating Hull City 1-0 with Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal of the game in injury time, sorry Fergie time.

September 2016 – Three matches; Manchester City (H), Watford (A) and Leicester City (H)

September was a busy month for United, the first international break of the season started the month, after the closure of the summer transfer window, then United had to entertain Manchester City in the league for the first time – Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho. There was supposed to be a pre-season fixture of the Manchester derby in Beijing, but it was postponed due to the state of the pitch if you could call it that. United were defeated for the first time in the league this month, City won 2-1 at Old Trafford with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring United’s only goal of the game. It was a poor result, one which United did not play well and deserved the defeat. 100% record in the league had gone four league matches into the season. United were away to Watford next, another loss for United, the third in a row in all competitions. Watford picked United apart winning 3-1 with Marcus Rashford scoring his second goal this season in the 62nd minute of the match, equalising for United. Two goals late in the match for Watford sealed their victory. Another three points lost for United. They needed to do much better. The third and final league match in September was against the then reigning Premier League champions Leicester City, who had started the season poorly. United continued that for them, ripping them apart in the first half, scoring four goals; Chris Smalling 22′, Juan Mata 37′, Marcus Rashford 40′ and Paul Pogba 42′. United has overturned the defeats in the league which started the month. Onwards and upwards?

October 2016 – Four matches; Stoke City (H), Liverpool (A), Chelsea (A) and Burnley (H)

October was a month of frustration for United, four matches played, three draws and one defeat. One of the draws saw 37 chances on goal, not one being scored. The month started with United entertaining Stoke City at Old Trafford. United took the lead through Anthony Martial in the 69th minute of the match with United played well and looking to take all three points. An equaliser by Joe Allen in the 82nd minute of the match quashed that for United, earning a point when they should have had three. United then visited Anfield to face Liverpool, the scene of a 0-0 draw with David De Gea being pivotal to stop the home side from taking all three points on offer. The month did not get any easier for United as they then travelled to Chelsea where they were beaten 4-0, two goals scored in each half, one in the opening minute of the match. United were taken apart by this in-form Chelsea side who went on to win the league. The month ended with a visit of Burnley to Old Trafford, a 0-0 draw. United had chance after chance but former Academy player Tom Heaton was in-form thwarting nearly every chance created. United were unlucky not to score, but this was only the start of things to come this season. Improvement needed for United.

November 2016 – Three matches; Swansea City (A), Arsenal (H) and West Ham United (H)

Manchester United started November with a 3-1 victory away to Swansea City, a stadium where they have had trouble winning and a team that has beaten them a few times post-Ferguson. United scored all three goals in the first half of the match with Paul Pogba opening the scoring in the 15th minute of the match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a brace, doubling United’s lead in the 21st minute and completing his brace in the 33rd minute. Swansea got one back in the last 21 minutes of the match. Arsenal were next for United at Old Trafford. Gone were the days of that 8-2 thrashing, but this was a positive match for United, taking the lead through Juan Mata in the 69th minute of the match, but Olivier Giroud equalised for Arsenal in the last minute of the match. Devastating draw from a winning position. Finally, the third league match in November saw West Ham United visit Old Trafford, which they would do twice in three days. This was another draw, 1-1 with the Hammers taking the lead in the second minute of the match and Ibrahimovic equalising in the 21st minute of the match. Three matches for United, one win and two draws. United were four matches into their unbeaten run, in the league at least.

December 2016 – Six matches; Everton (A), Tottenham Hotspur (H), Crystal Palace (A), West Bromwich Albion (A), Sunderland (H) and Middlesbrough (H)

December was the busiest month in the league with six matches being played, but it would get busier for United with them still fighting in three competitions at this time and the FA Cup yet to come in January. United started by visiting Goodison Park against a resurgent Everton side. United took the lead in the 42nd minute through none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic with United looking to cruise to victory. A mistake by substitute Marouane Fellaini gave his former club a penalty in the last minute of the match, which Leighton Baines converted, meaning another draw for United. Tottenham Hotspur would then visit Old Trafford in the league, something which United needed to be wary of as they North London side were in good sorts, despite their form being off due to their UEFA Champions League matches, which they were struggling with. Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored in the 29th minute, also suffered an injury later in the match. United won.

Crystal Palace were next for United, away from home. A 2-1 victory for United with Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic scoring the goals, Zlatan scoring the winner two minutes from time. West Bromwich Albion away was the next trip for United, a stadium where winning was not easy with the Tony Pulis side playing tactical football. United won 2-0 with Ibrahimovic scoring both goals. United were on a run in December, after the Everton draw at least. On Boxing Day, United entertained David Moyes’ Sunderland side beating them 3-1 with Daley Blind opening the scoring and Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic completing the scoring. Fabio Borini got a consolation for the now relegated and managerless side. On New Year’s Eve, United entertained another North East club with Middlesbrough coming to the Theatre of Dreams to end 2016. Ibrahimovic was denied a perfectly acceptable goal and Boro took the lead. Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba scored twice in the 85th and 86th minutes to win the match for United. Six matches were played with United winning five and drawing once, the best month this season.

January 2017 – Three matches; West Ham United (A), Liverpool (H) and Stoke City (A)

2017 had arrived and United still had work to do in order to break into the top four this season. United travelled to West Ham’s London Stadium for their first match, winning 2-0 with Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the goals. Liverpool at Old Trafford was next for United with a draw in the reverse fixture, the same result here with James Milner scoring a penalty and Ibrahimovic equalising six minutes from time, meaning neither Liverpool nor United had beaten each other this season. The final match of the month for United was against Stoke City at the bet365 stadium. Juan Mata scored an own goal in the 19th minute of the match. United looked beaten but a moment of magic came with Wayne Rooney scoring a free-kick, which was his record-breaking 250th goal for the club. United ended the month going unbeaten in the league for 13 matches, which despite all the draws was some good form and some good football, at times, this season. An improvement on the previous ones post-Ferguson.

February 2017 – Three matches; Hull City (H), Leicester City (A) and Watford (H)

February came for United with three matches played in the Premier League. First up was Hull City at Old Trafford, the fourth time United had played them this season, beating them twice and losing one, with it meaning nothing as United reached the EFL Cup final, played at the end of the month. It was a 0-0 draw in this game, a poor start to the month. United then travelled to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City for the second time this season, beating them 3-0, the third victory over the side this season. Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata were enough for United to take all the point, back to winning ways after their draw earlier in the month. The final match of February, in the league at least was against Watford at Old Trafford, the team who beat United earlier in the season. United won 2-0 with goals from Mata and Anthony Martial, which put United to 16 matches unbeaten in the league, eight  away from matching the record set by Sir Alex Ferguson in a single season, nine away from breaking that record.

March 2017 – Two matches; Bournemouth (H) and Middlesbrough (A)

In March, United only played twice in the league with Bournemouth coming to Old Trafford, a match which lost Luke Shaw to injury late in the match and one which saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic banned for an elbow to the head of Tyrone Mings, who had stamped on Zlatan moments before. The Swede was banned for three matches, Mings for five. United took the lead through Marcos Rojo in the 23rd minute, former United player Josh King scoring a penalty five minutes before half-time. United travelled to Middlesbrough for their final match of the month, winning 3-1 with Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard and an Antonio Valencia goal which saw him take advantage of Victor Valdez slipping, which was funny to see. 18 matches unbeaten for United, which was still good form from United, who had now won the EFL Cup and were back in action in the UEFA Europa League and still pushing for a UEFA Champions League place next season.

April 2017 – Seven matches; West Bromwich Albion (H), Everton (H), Sunderland (A), Chelsea (H), Burnley (A), Manchester City (A) and Swansea City (H)

United completed 25 matches in the Premier League unbeaten in April, setting a new record for the club – another positive for Jose Mourinho. April was a tough month for United which saw them play nine matches in all competitions, seven in the league. West Brom visited Old Trafford in a high possession match for United, which ended in another 0-0 draw at old Trafford. Everton visited Old Trafford next and it was another draw for United with Phil Jagielka opening the scoring with a decent goal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring deep in stoppage time to equalise and frustrate the Merseyside club like they frustrated United earlier in the season. Sunderland were next and United had the chance to put them into a precarious position, not actually relegate them, but contribute to their demise. That they did, winning 3-0 through Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford. Bye, bye the Poznan morons.

The next match was Chelsea at Old Trafford, a team who had beaten United twice already by this point. United surprised everyone by putting in a great performance with Rashford scoring early and Ander Herrera doubling United’s lead with the league leaders leaving the Theatre of Dreams with nothing. Burnley next and United got their own back winning 2-0 at Turf Moor. Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney scoring the goals in that match. The Manchester derby was played on a Thursday evening, not the best day, or result for that matter. Another 0-0 draw and a good result against City, although United really needed to beat them to capitalise. Swansea City were the final opposition in April, another 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. United took the lead in stoppage time at the end of the first half with Rooney scoring a penalty, but Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a sublime free-kick eleven minutes from time to earn the draw. United had equalled and beaten the record Ferguson set at the club, going 25 matches unbeaten and looking for more.

May 2017 – Four matches; Arsenal (A), Tottenham Hotspur (A), Southampton (A), Crystal Palace (H)

The final month of the season and the most important to salvage something. There was still a chance of earning a top four place, albeit slight, but United were running out of matches to get there. The first match was against Arsenal at the Emirates, a game United were beaten through a deflected goal scored by Granit Xhaka, then Danny Welbeck doubled the lead, therefore ending United’s top four hopes. Axel Tuanzebe started the match and played a part in the league throughout the month, as did Scott McTominay, but did not play as often as his U23;s teammate. Spurs were next for United, the last ever match at White Hart Lane. Spurs were 2-0 up three minutes into the second half, scoring the first in the sixth minute. Wayne Rooney scored a consolation goal 19 minutes from time, United’s first away goal against a top six side this season.

Top four was definitely gone now and United were back in sixth in the league, their final position. Southampton at St Mary’s was next up, another 0-0 draw for United, which was a dead rubber match, killing time before the biggest match of the season, the UEFA Europa League final. United entertained Crystal Place in the final match of the season, played at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho was going to play lots of youth with Joel Pereira, Demetri Mitchell, Scott McTominay and Josh Harrop all making their full debuts and Tuanzebe also playing. Harrop scored the opener, set up by Paul Pogba in the 15th minute, showing his class weaving in the box to find the back of the net. Pogba scored the second goal of the game four minutes later. The memorable moment of the match was 16-year-old Angel Gomes making his debut, replacing Wayne Rooney with two minutes left to play. United won, ended their league season and now it a matter of time before the Europa League final in Sweden, the biggest match of the season.

Already having won the FA Community Shield, which is not a major honour and the EFL Cup after beating Southampton at Wembley, United had already qualified for the UEFA Europa League next season, but that was not what they wanted. Finishing sixth in the Premier League, for the first time, United had one last chance to earn a UEFA Champions League place, by winning the UEFA Europa League, which they did, beating Ajax 2-0 at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, earning a group stage berth in the Champions League next season. Liverpool, who finished fourth, will have to qualify for the group stages, whilst Arsenal, who finished fifth, for the first time ever in the Premier League, will contend with Thursday night football in the Europa League, which is fitting after their fans mocked United all season.

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