Marcus Rashford: The Future or the failure

When Marcus Rashford was named on the bench against FC Midtjylland, the best he could have hoped for was a 20 minute cameo, towards the end of a comfortable Manchester United victory. 

Fate, it seemed, had a different plan for the then 18-year-old youngster. Anthony Martial was struck down with injury and Rashford was thrust into the starting line up as his replacement. It got even better from there for the young man. Two goals on his full debut, in a 5-1 win, propelled him into the world spotlight. Such a story is why Old Trafford has been nicknamed ‘The Theatre of Dreams’. The fans delighted to see a homegrown academy product succeed. It’s what many of them grew up with.

Things would only get better for Rashford, two more goals followed on his Premier League debut against Arsenal. He bagged the winning goal in the Manchester derby a few weeks later and it seemed supporters had found a new hero; the kid could do no wrong. His electrifying pace, daring attitude and raw desire were exactly what people wanted to see from an academy graduate.

It was easy to get behind Rashford and support him; after all, he was a United boy through and through. A player who would potentially be a key figure in the side for a decade, inevitable comparisons with Wayne Rooney and other great United strikers came up. Were these comparisons unfair to Rashford? Maybe, after all, he’d only just broken into the first team, such comparisons can potentially, only lead to failure. 

Young players need the room to be able to grow into their own player, forge their own path, and create their own legacy. Instant comparisons to legends of the past can sometimes weigh too heavy on players shoulders. This didn’t seem to bother Rashford, at least initially. He was given his England debut in May of 2016, just three months after he’d made his United debut. He scored the opener just three minutes in and it was just another chapter in this fairy tale start to his professional career. 

Keep the plaudits coming right? Here was a young kid, 18 years of age who seemed fearless, who didn’t know what limits were. Every new test that was put in front of him he passed effortlessly. Very quickly, he became a starter for Manchester United, it had become impossible to leave him out. He was enjoying playing with a huge smile on his face and the fans were loving every second of it. 

Something then changed at United though, something that can easily alter the progress of an emerging young player. Manager Louis van Gaal was sacked and replaced with Jose Mourinho. Many wondered if Rashford’s game time would be limited under Mourinho. After all, he was a manager with the reputation of buying big and not developing youth. However, this proved not to be the case. 

Rashford ended up making 53 appearances with 11 goals – The following season he made 52 appearances with 13 goals. Not spectacular numbers but steady progress from a still blossoming player. Had some expected a bigger explosion from the young man? Perhaps, the improvement was there though even if it was at a slower pace than expected. 

United had finished second place in the Premier League in Jose Mourinho’s second season in charge – If they really wanted to kick on and challenge for the League title, maybe now was the time to see Rashford really up his game and take it to the next level. All players develop at different rates, but there was pressure on because the club hadn’t had a genuine title push since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

Rashford had been seen has the next big hope, even though the club had bought in Romelu Lukaku the season before, there was still that expectation on Rashford to really break through and start fulfilling his real potential. He was given the number 10 shirt at the start of the 2018/19 season. Another added weight to carry for the young man. When he first broke into the side, such pressure would have been brushed off and forgotten about within seconds.

It wasn’t like that this time though. The broad smile that had lit up his face three years ago had gone; it was replaced with a much sterner, serious expression every time as stepped onto the pitch. Was this because he was finally feeling the weight of expectation that had been placed upon him? Was it to do with not enjoying the football anymore? United had been heavily criticised for being a boring, defensive team under Jose Mourinho. Maybe the freedom and expression and been coached out of him? Maybe he was being asked to do things against his natural instincts? He just wasn’t looking the carefree, explosive talent that we’d seen when he first made his debut. 

The team aspect has a lot to do with it – If the team are struggling; individuals are going to suffer as a result. It wasn’t seen like this in Rashford’s case. Many starting to wonder if he’d hit a ceiling and if this is as far as he could go? At 21 years old such suggestions are completely ridiculous and this was proven after another managerial change. Jose Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 and replaced (temporarily) with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It didn’t take long at all for Rashford to find his feet under the new boss. Three minutes in to Solskjaer’s first game against Cardiff, Rashford smashed in a free kick to put United ahead. He ran off celebrating with that familiar smile that we all saw against FC Midtjylland on his debut. 

It was getting better and better for Rashford as he’d managed to net in six of the first eight games under Solskjaer. It seemed his confidence and youthful freedom was back in abundance. The shackles were off and he was pretty much scoring at will. This is the Marcus Rashford everyone thought they’d be seeing. Leading the line for Manchester United and scoring goals with regularity. 

The decision to sack Mourinho seemed justified at this point. United were back, playing some fantastic football, scoring goals and Rashford was at the forefront of it. This period was all too short lived though. Out of nowhere, the team had gone back to old habits, Rashford included. What happened? How could they go from amazingly awesome to particularly poor, almost at the flick of a switch?

How could he go from six goals in eight games to in one goal in the next eleven fixtures? It wasn’t adding up. He was cool and confident only a few weeks prior, now he was snatching at shots, smashing every free kick he took over the bar, and in general, just wasn’t looking a threat on the pitch at all. 

The fans had become fed up. The frustration had come to a head and unfortunately for Rashford he was right in the firing line. He was starting every game because others were constantly injured and this led to him receiving the brunt of the fans criticism. 

Calls for him to be dropped, loaned and even sold by some sections of the support base all came at various points during this horrific run. Some said he wasn’t good enough to lead the line for United if the club wanted to seriously compete. Some said he wasn’t good enough to play for the club full stop. Such notions show the fickleness of football fans, it is understandable though, United fans are used to seeing their side at the top of the mountain, competing every year and winning consistently.

When the club is not doing so, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of calling for certain players to be dropped from the line-up or even sold. Cooler heads are needed though in the case like Marcus Rashford. While it’s true he’s not currently at the level of some of his peers like Kylian Mbappe, he’s an exceptional talent and must be given the time to fully develop. We’ve seen the worst of Marcus Rashford during the last few months of the current season, but, we’ve also seen the best of him this season as well.

His beautiful finish in the 1-0 away win against Tottenham and his ice-cool penalty against Paris Saint-Germain were highlights. Everyone knows what he can produce when he’s on the top of his game. While it’s understandably frustrating that he’s not developing as fast as many had hoped, patience will be a virtue in this case. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his staff are able to nurture Rashford and harness his talents into a more, productive, consistent performer, Manchester United will have an elite level striker on their hands for the next decade. 

Fan impatience is understandable when the team are struggling as bad as they are. Remembering the good moments of Marcus Rashford should help see more clearly and understand there is an amazing talent there. It’s taking a little longer that originally thought but all good things come to those who wait. 

Written by Joe Hinds

Anthony Martial – Where Did It All Go Wrong?

“Oh Yes! Welcome to Manchester United, Anthony Martial” roared Martin Tyler as he reacted to Anthony Martial’s debut goal for the reds. Few Manchester United fans will forget the scenes when the £36 million signing announced himself to the Stretford End by ghosting passed Liverpool’s defence from the left-wing and tucking the ball away in the bottom right-hand corner. During the 2015/2016 season, Martial went on to score 17 goals in his debut season, instantly establishing himself as a United fan favourite. Martial finished that season as United’s top goal scorer, he was a reliable player for Louis van Gaal.

The following season, under Jose Mourinho, Martial made less of an impact scoring nine goals whilst starting only 28 games in all competitions for United. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović pushed Marcus Rashford out to the wing. Mourinho favoured the Wythenshawe youngster’s hunger and determination over Martial for the majority of games in the 2016/2017 season.

This season was Anthony Martial’s third season in the North West. With only an FA Cup final to play, Martial has started 27 games and scored 12 times this season in all competitions. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez has left Martial competing with another quality player for the same position. It is evident to see that Sanchez is a player who gives 100% even if things are not going his way, which Mourinho clearly admires.

Some will argue that Mourinho is holding Martial back but the truth is that anytime Mourinho has given Martial an opportunity since the arrival of Sanchez, Martial has failed to impress. Like many Manchester United supporters, Mourinho has spoken out on Martial’s attitude. Martial earned a start away to Brighton and Hove Albion due to Romelu Lukaku’s recent injury. United went on to lose that game leaving Mourinho frustrated in his post-match press conference.

“Maybe now you will not ask me why A, B and C do not play so much. People always ask: ‘Why always Lukaku?’ Well, now they know why always Lukaku, and why always this player and why always that player. We are probably not as good as people think we are individually.”

Mourinho is a manager who demands everything and more from his players. Players such as Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Ashley Young and even Antonio Valencia have lacked quality at times this season but they are regular starters regardless as they never lack the effort. Many times, this season Martial was caught looking like he didn’t want to be on the pitch. It is down to this and not Mourinho that has left him playing the role of a squad player.

When Martial was at his best under Van Gaal, he was also playing in a defensive team, he did not have the freedom some say he needs. Rather than freedom the biggest difference from playing under Van Gaal and Mourinho was squad competition. Van Gaal’s United lacked numbers going forward whereas Mourinho brought in Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (another player who could not show the required desire to succeed at Old Trafford).

Then this season, Mourinho brought in Lukaku and Sanchez. Competing against these players, Martial has failed to nail down a regular starting spot in United’s eleven.

This summer there will be numerous articles suggesting Martial is joining other teams. However, there has been no solid evidence yet but it is hard to see where Anthony Martial fits in at United next season. If Martial stays in Manchester he will be competing against Alexis Sanchez who has a big season expected of him in 2018/2019, an ever-improving Jesse Lingard, a favoured Romelu Lukaku, one of United’s most technically gifted players in Juan Mata and the man who has played most minutes under Mourinho, Marcus Rashford.

It would not be unusual either if United brought in a winger to solve their crossing issues on the right flank. It is difficult to see where a player with Martial’s mindset fits into this team as a starter. Unless he can prove his doubters wrong Martial will continue his squad player role at United if he stays another season.

If Martial wishes to leave United, there would be no shortage of suitors. Unlike Martial’s attitude, his quality is not questionable, even in tough spells he has shown flashes of brilliance. The latest rumours surrounding the French man suggests possible moves to Juventus or even Premier League rivals Chelsea. Perhaps a move to a club where he would be guaranteed to start every game would be best for Martial.

Another alternative to save Martial’s career could be to go on loan. Yet again there would be no shortage of clubs who would want to take Martial on loan. The idea of a loan came up before with Inter Milan and Wolfsburg both interested. If the forward went on loan at clubs like these he would almost be guaranteed to start week in week out. If he could regain his form and develop a decent goal tally, Mourinho and United would have to sit up and take notice.

Over the next three months, expect to read many transfer rumours surrounding Anthony Martial, many will be weak and some will be solid. In truth, nobody knows what the future holds for Martial. If he rediscovers his form will it be in Manchester? It would be a shame to see a player who possesses such talent, leave the Theatre of Dreams but at the end of the day, Mourinho is clearly a manager who carries no passengers.

Written by Shane Purcell

A Statistical View: Anthony Martial – the prolific Frenchman with the world at his feet

Anthony Martial signed for Manchester United on deadline day in the summer of 2015 from AS Monaco for a then reported fee of £36 million, costing a further £8.5 million just under a year ago after scoring his 25th competitive goal for the Old Trafford club. At the time of his signing, Martial was a relative unknown in the world of football but one with a lot of talent. True to form, the British media reported that United had made a panic buy and Martial was a waste of money.

Martial made his debut for United after the international break at the start of the 2015/16 season with Liverpool heading to Old Trafford in the Premier League. The French teenager made his debut in the 65th minute of the match, replacing Juan Mata. United were leading 1-0 at the time after Daley Blind opened the scoring in the 48th minute. Five minutes after coming on, Ander Herrera scored a penalty putting United 2-0 up in the fixture. Liverpool got a goal back through Christian Benteke in the 84th minute, Martial scoring a sublime goal two minutes later.

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Anthony Martial had announced himself on the stage in the Premier League and the English media were being mocked for writing the player off so soon. The United supporters still sing the song on the terraces, especially once Martial has scored another goal. Martial was one of the bright sparks of European football at the time United signed him and his debut season was going to make him much better, especially with the number of goals he scored. By the end of the 2015/16 season, Martial had registered 17 goals and eight assists in all competitions – in 51 appearances.

The following season, Van Gaal had been sacked and Jose Mourinho was the new manager of the Old Trafford club. Martial was not the same player from the season before with problems on and off the pitch, also talk of the player’s attitude being part of the problem. Mourinho still used the player sparingly, with public criticism part of the was Mourinho dealt with the problem, which currently seems to have brought forward a much better player, than during the 2016/17 season anyway. Martial scored eight goals and assisted eight others, playing 41 times in all competitions.

During the current season, 2017/18, Martial has shown glimpses of the player he can be, which is something which needed to be more consistent. Recently, that has started to happen with the prolific Frenchman showing Mourinho why he should trust him, making the left-wing his own and also playing as the main striker with Romelu Lukaku on the sidelines. Martial has played 32 matches so far this season, so is on course to feature as much as he did in his debut season, scoring 11 goals and eight assists, which is much better than last season.

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Good and bad seasons

The 2015/16 season will be the benchmark for Anthony Martial, making 51 appearances, scoring 17 goals and assisting eight more. The 2016/17 season will be the benchmark for his decline, despite it not being as poor a season as many would believe but the player only made 41 appearances, scoring eight goals and a further eight assists. This current season, Martial has already made 32 appearances, scoring 11 goals and eight assists – so, therefore, has matched the assists made during his debut season, six goals away from matching his eventual feat under Van Gaal.

Martial had both on-field and off-field problems during Mourinho’s debut season at the club, but he did not exactly underperform. He had to get over his problems, both personal and at the club, earn his stripes under a new manager and play in a new system. Under Van Gaal, Martial played mainly in a central role with Radamel Falcao a shadow of his former self and Wayne Rooney fast losing his ability as a striker, under Mourinho, Martial played as a wide man, cutting in to find goals, supporting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was the main striker, until injury hit.

This season, seemingly settled in his left-wing role, despite the odd appearance as a central striker, Martial has quickly settled and has rotated in the role with Marcus Rashford at times, also playing with the Academy graduate in the same team, which was at one time this season, United’s best attacking team. In his debut season, Martial had a total of 98 shots on goal, 39 of those on target, 17 turning into goals. Last season, he had 64 shots on goal, 30 of those on target, eight of them turning into goals. This season, he has 54 shots on goal, 24 on target and 11 of them turning into goals.

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During his debut season at United, Martial averaged 1.63 shots per match in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Europa League. In this three competitions, Martial scored a total of 14 goals and four assists. The following season (2016/17), Martial averaged 1.35 shots per match in the Premier League and the Europa League, scoring five goals and six assists in the two competitions. This season, Martial has averaged 1.70 shots per match in the Premier League and the Champions League, scoring 10 goals and six assists in these two competitions.

Martial’s stats in domestic cups are not recorded the same way as they are in the Premier League, Champions League, and the Europa League, so the data is not available for a complete statistical view but based on the date I have, Martial has grown as a player under Mourinho, having more shots on goal per game, 0.35 more than last season and 0.07 more than in his debut season. He has matched both last season and his debut season in terms of assists, in fewer matches, and sits six goals shy of the 17 goals he scored in his debut season, beating the eight from last season.

Many will be quick to slate or defend Martial but last season there was a problem both on and off the pitch which affected his ability during matches, also causing Mourinho to criticise the player, both privately and publicly and this season, the player seems much better for it. Those who say criticism will harm more than fix, are wrong. If we, as human beings, do not know we are doing wrong, we will continue as we are, which is why we have managers and coaches to help make us better.

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This season, Martial has become that player we all knew he could become. He may be a way off being in the final ten of the Ballon d’Or, which was one of the clauses added to his contract when Monaco agreed to sell him but with his development seemingly heading in the right direction and him playing the way he played in his debut season, despite playing the majority of matches as a wide player, rather than through the middle, the Frenchman is starting to achieve the plaudits he deserves.

With United facing Yeovil Town in the Emirates FA Cup on Friday evening, followed by a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, it will be more important for Martial to continue in the zone he is currently in, which seems to see him find his best abilities. If he continues to head in the same direction, his place as United number 11 will grow all the more, him bringing the kind of flair a previous bearer of that famous shirt brought to the club – Ryan Giggs.

There may be no comparison yet, but in terms of achievement, Martial can go all the way. To see players such as Alexis Sanches, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic et al around him, will further inspire him. Now that Mourinho has signed his new long-term contract, continuing to bring out the best of Martial and his teammates will be all the more important on getting United back into that club Sir Alex Ferguson turned them into.

Manchester United have a long-standing problem scoring goals

Manchester United have a long-standing problem in scoring goalsManchester United are not the team they used to be. Gone are the days where a Sir Alex Ferguson side would score goals for fun. If you look at the final three seasons under Ferguson, United scored 78 (2010/11), 89 (2011/12) and 86 (2012/13) Premier League goals. In the three seasons following, United seem to have fallen short, somewhat massively scoring 64 (2013/14), 62 (2014/15) and 49 (2015/16) Premier League goals. During the 2016/17 season which is now heading into the run-in, United have so far scored 43 Premier League goals, half of the tally scored in the 2012/13 season. Something is going drastically wrong for United, despite having the players who should be scoring more goals. If you look back at the last six complete seasons – three under Ferguson, one under David Moyes and two under Louis van Gaal, looking at the top scorers in the league may well show the comparisons. Just looking at the names mentioned in the first three seasons in the comparison could suggest that mistakes were made my the managers following Ferguson, which could be a reason the goal tally has decreased massively.

In the 2010/11 season, 78 goals were scored by United in the Premier League alone with the top three scorers being; Dimitar Berbatov (20), Javier Hernandez (13) and Wayne Rooney (11). The following season, United scored 89 goals in the Premier League, the top three scorers being; Rooney (27), Hernandez (10), Danny Welbeck (9). During the 2012/13 season, Ferguson’s final managing the club, United scored 86 goals, the top three scorers being; Robin van Persie (26), Rooney (12), Hernandez (10). During the 2013/14 season, the first post-Ferguson, under Moyes, United scored 64 Premier League goals, 22 less than the previous season, the top three scorers being; Rooney (17), Van Persie (12), Welbeck (9). Moyes was sacked before the end of that season, with Van Gaal coming in from the start of the 2014/15 season, United scored 62 Premier League goals, two less than the previous season, the top three scorers being; Rooney (12), Van Persie (10), Juan Mata (9). During Van Gaal’s final season, 2015/16, United scored just 49 Premier League goals, 13 less than the previous season, the top three scorers being; Anthony Martial (11), Rooney (8), Mata (6).

Straight away there, you can see that Berbatov (48), Hernandez (37), Welbeck (20), and Van Persie (48) have all left United, which has seen 153 total Premier League goals scored inside the previous six seasons leave the club, with those not being fully replaced. Granted, some of the players were not going to offer great goal tallies, but taking those goals away from the club and not replacing them, will have gone a long way to help United’s decline. Of the three top scorers for each of the six seasons, only Rooney, Mata and Martial remain at the club, all of whom have continued to score, but not at the levels needed to replace the missing goal for United. During the 2016/17 season, the first under Jose Mourinho, United have scored 43 Premier League goals after 29 matches being played with the top three scorers so far being; Zlatan Ibrahimovic (16), Mata (6), Paul Pogba (4) – which shows that the team still lacks the ability to score goals to the standards expected. If Ibrahimovic was not at the club or did not score at the rate he has, United would be much worse for wear in the goal scoring department.

Managers at the club post-Ferguson have tried to solve the problems in declining goals with David Moyes bringing in Juan Mata in January 2014, paying £37.1 million to Chelsea with the Spaniard scoring 27 Premier League goals to date. Louis van Gaal paid £59.7 million to Real Madrid for Angel Di Maria, who left a year later, scoring three Premier League goals. That summer also saw a loan deal for Radamel Falcao, who scored just four Premier League goals. These were players that should have made an impact but didn’t – something which will be looked back upon with disgust by many, especially in the amount spent on these players wages. The following summer, still looking for reinforcement, Van Gaal brought in Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven for £25 million, the Dutchman scoring just twice in the Premier League and sold to Lyon by Mourinho 18 months later. Anthony Martial arrived on transfer deadline day for £36 million, scoring 14 Premier League goals to date and the third most successful new signing, other than Ibrahimovic, of course. It is a start for United, but work needs to be done to find the balance in the team, and more importantly, the goals.

Former Manchester United captain and right-back Gary Neville, now working for Sky Sports, spoke about the lack of goals being scored by the club after the 0-0 draw against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Saturday. United should be doing so much better than they are. They are on a 20 match unbeaten run in the league this season, but when you dissect that, you see United have won only half of those matches, drawing the other half. If you look at United’s results in the league this season, you will see a total of twelve draws in the 29 matches played, nine of those being at Old Trafford, three on the road. United sit in fifth place, three points clear of Arsenal, meaning a win for them on Wednesday evening, will sink United back into sixth place once more. United are four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, meaning their chances of earning a top four place this season are getting slimmer as each game, or draw if you look at it that way, passes. Neville spoke to Sky Sports about United’s lack of goals, saying:

“The good thing is when you can easily identify your problem. They have had too many draws against teams they should be beating. They just lack that killer instinct.

“Against Burnley they had something like 35 shots. It has happened so many times. The Bournemouth game was incredible. If you add those dropped points up and add them to their current tally, they would be in serious business.

“In some ways, when you can easily identify your weaknesses and where you need to strengthen, that’s a good thing. I’m sure that is how Jose will be looking at it.

“At this moment in time too many mistakes have been made and I think Jose will know that. His frustration with his strikers after the game on Saturday was real.

“They need quality, more subtlety and more killer instinct in the final third. The positive is he knows where to improve. He needs players capable of winning matches for him. The ones currently up top are not doing that.

“I think he’s lining it up. You think about the sales of Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay for around £40 million.

“There’s talk of Antoine Griezmann and I’m sure other clubs will be after him as well, but Jose must be lining up for another big summer.

“It’s not just the attack because there are some shortcomings in defence too. They need a centre-back, they need a holding midfielder. I think five or six will come in, with two or three going.”

Jamie Carragher, Neville’s counterpart on Monday Night Football at Sky Sports, also spoke about the subject, lauding Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his part in United’s somewhat success this season, but also suggesting that other players need to feel embarrassed that a 35-year-old striker in the twilight of his career has in effect shown them up. Carragher told Sky Sports:

“Zlatan has that personality and presence but I feel it’s a bit embarrassing for those other players that they need a 35-year-old centre-forward.

“It’s a big worry, the fact these young players go in there and can’t seem to cope, it doesn’t bode well for them and I think that’s Mourinho’s frustration.

“When you play at the top-level, if you get a chance you must take it.”

Rio Ferdinand, another former captain and central defender at Manchester United also spoke of the problem his former side have faced this season, and the previous three. Speaking to BT Sport after the 1-1 draw with Everton at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, Ferdinand spoke about his former club not putting teams away, especially at home, which is something they seem to be struggling with.

“At home, you’ve got to put teams away. Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] had chances in the first half and he should score. Balls flashed across the six-yard box but there was no player there to finish it off.

“There’s little details that define teams and at the moment they haven’t got that ruthless cutting edge in this team. That’s the thing that’s holding them back.”

Jose Mourinho seems to have his work cut out this summer to find the balance that other Premier League teams seem to have in their squads. United need goals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is being linked with LA Galaxy again, just a week after saying he never leaves a job unfinished, which will see United lose more goals, needing correct investment in the right players to bring that to the club. There is a decent core of the team with the likes of Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who are all youthful enough to stabilise the team for the next few seasons at least. Mourinho has spoken about an interesting summer which may not bring him his first options, but there will be something happening to improve the team ahead of the new season, where Mourinho’s side will be expected to contend for the Premier League title, which is destined to head to London this season, with Chelsea in the driving seat and Tottenham Hotspur in with a chance, albeit through the back door, to challenge Antonio Conte’s team this season.

copyright: JW