According to fans and pundits alike, Mourinho’s constant rotation with the side has been the cause of United’s stuttering start to the season – for example Ray Wilkins stated in October:
“I just don’t think Jose knows what his best XI players are to be perfectly honest.”
However, Saturday afternoon’s bitterly frustrating 1-1 draw with Arsenal presented some positives for Mourinho’s men. Despite a constant tinkering of personnel and tactics, the return of seasoned veteran Michael Carrick alongside Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, proved to be the best midfield performance we’ve seen so far this season.
Mourinho has finally found his best midfield trio; a perfect blend of experience, defensive stability, energy, physicality and creativity. Here we delve into what players we can expect to see going forward this season:
A notable absentee so far this season, Carrick has staked a plausible claim to become one of the first names on Mourinho’s team sheet. Providing defensive stability from a deep anchoring role, Carrick not only provided calmness and composure in United’s build-up play, but his holding role allowed both Herrera and Pogba to push forward.
But at 35, how much can we rely on the Englishman?
Fortunately, Carrick’s game isn’t dependent on physicality – something which usually wanes with age. After reviving John Terry’s career in his recent tenure at Chelsea, Mourinho proved his know-how in managing his senior players. Given Carrick’s age, it’d be advisable to avoid playing him in any mid-week fixtures, and instead focus his playtime on the Premiership; undoubtedly the most important competition where his inclusion will be crucial.
Indeed, like Zlatan Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Carrick is like fine wine, he only gets better with age!
With Michael Carrick behind him, Ander Herrera has been given the freedom to roam forward as a number eight. With the Spaniard’s remarkable work rate, his inclusion in a more advanced role has allowed United to deploy a high-press, something which overran Arsenal’s midfield on Saturday.
Moreover, although he is capable of playing deeper, Herrera’s boasts exceptional chemistry with some of his team-mates,with his superb interplay with Juan Mata constituting United’s breakthrough goal on Saturday.
Despite being heavily scrutinised for his high-profile return to Manchester United, Paul Pogba is now getting back to his best. Despite being capable in any midfield role, Pogba’s superbly rounded game means he’s best when deployed in a box-to-box role, a position that allows him to impact the goal from both ends of the pitch.
On Saturday we saw him beat players and spread play, but equally coming deep to receive bring the ball forward. With Carrick and Herrera alongside him, you’re bound to get the best out of Pogba; and his performance on Saturday proved that.
One of Manchester United’s standout performers so far this season, Juan Mata is certainly flourishing for a player who supposedly was out of the door. Although a wide-birth isn’t his best position, Mata’s ability to roam inside and interlink play in tight areas has been crucial in United’s attack this season, with the Spaniard scoring three and assisting once in the Premier League already this season.
With Antonio Valencia overlapping him, Mata’s inside role allows Mourinho to field a creative number ten without sacrificing his stable midfield. A big game player, and ‘one of the most underrated players in the league’ according to Jamie Carragher, Mata is absolutely crucial to Manchester United.
However, with Mata mostly playing in such central areas, our play becomes focused down the left channel – making Martial’s role arguably one of the most integral positions in the side.
For an effective system, Martial needs to offer a ruthless, direct threat from the left-hand channel, he needs to attack his fullback and break into the box to support the striker – but this is something Martial simply hasn’t done enough this season.
Although he’s showcased his talent under Louis van Gaal, Martial has been a shadow of his former-self. With Memphis and Rashford equally capable of performing the role, time is running out for the Frenchman.
Now having seemingly settled on a fluid, free-flowing and stable system, Mourinho can now begin to implement consistency into his line-ups, thus allowing each player to familiarise themselves with not only their role, but each other’s games too. We’ve showcased our ability in the last month, consistency in the line-ups will be pivotal in getting points on the board.
We’ve made significant progress on the pitch. We’re boisterous, direct and exciting – leagues above the nostalgic football we became used to in the recent van Gaal era.
Although we’ve suffered three frustrating home draws in a row, it’s only a matter of time before the table justifies our performances. With the title – barring a dramatic turnaround – seemingly out of the question, perhaps we should re-evaluate what to expect from this season?
It’s important not to be as impatient. We were willing to give time to our previous two managers, and it’s only right to offer Mourinho the same privilege. In our fiercely competitive league, with such a high-profile club, it’s going to take time to return to our lofty heights.
In his most recent tenure at Chelsea, it took Jose Mourinho an initial season to steady the ship and mount an-all dominating title campaign. As long as Mourinho achieves top four, and preferably delivers some instance of silverware, we should consider this a decent season. We need to focus on our long-term vision and long-term strategy – after all, Mourinho won’t be judged on this season, but on his ability to bring home our 21st title in the next couple of years.
What do you think? Do you believe we’ve made progress under Mourinho? What do you believe will constitute to a good season now?