Manchester United: Premier League Preview 2018/19
There’s a pervasive sense of doom and gloom encapsulating Old Trafford in what could be Mourinho’s final season at the club.
Raindrops keep falling on his head. Why else would Jose Mourinho be so gloomy? After all, he’s the steward at one of the world’s greatest football clubs. He’s a serial winner of the Champions League, a man synonymous with success.
At least, he was until recently. In the last twelve months in particular, the Portuguese has devolved into a grumpy advocate of footballing stodge, a nose-holder who seems ill-at-ease in his own job.
The malcontent shows no sign of stopping. Whether it be lamenting his team’s poor pre-season or snapping at unsuspecting journalists, it looks like we’re in for another year of Jose’s tantrums.
2017/18 Season Review
When one considers Manchester United’s previous campaign, there appears little reason to be grumpy. Sure, they were painful to watch, but the progression in the side is clear. United scored more goals and finished higher than ever under Mourinho, and were an undisputed second behind Manchester City.
An embarrassing exit to Sevilla in the Champions League provided the nadir. United should have done better in Europe, but were stymied by the manager’s safety-first approach.
A promising first year from Romelu Lukaku was offset by continuing criticism over Paul Pogba. When, if ever, were the club going to see value from his £90 million transfer?
Fee: £52 million
If you haven’t heard of Fred, don’t worry. A prolonged spell in the Ukraine, coupled with an international doping ban, means the Brazilian’s ascent has gone largely unnoticed to those whose eyes focus on closer matters.
Scholars of the game in Eastern Europe, however, will tell you about Fred’s incessant stamina and creativity. They’ll tell you, too, about his wonderful passing range and ruthlessness from set pieces. They’ll also tell you that he is exactly what United’s midfield has bene lacking.
Fee: £17 million
Antonio Valencia shouldn’t be fearful of his starting spot – for now anyway. Diogo Dalot is injured until September, but he is seen as the successor to United’s right back spot in the longer term.
Full of pace and with an appetite to get forward, the Portuguese can also play at left back as well as deputise in the midfield positions. Blessed with impressive stamina and fantastic work-rate, Dalot is Mourinho’s dream.
Fee: 1.7 million
A bench-filler, with commendable league experience with Stoke.
Nobody will mourn Daley Blind’s departure for too long. In truth, the Dutchman failed to make a lasting impression at Old Trafford.
Michael Carrick’s exit is more symbolic. At the time of writing, the club has avoided the kind of moves that could destabilise the squad.
Mourinho has deviated little from a defensive 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 throughout his time at Old Trafford. The signature of Fred gives him a more mobile option alongside Pogba than Juan Mata, but there is unlikely to be any systemic change.
Jesse Lingard hauled himself to the fore during the last campaign, and is likely to retain his spot on the right of a three-man forward line alongside Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Much will depend on Pogba, and whether he can replicate the kind of disciplined performances that brought France to the World Cup in Russia.
Mourinho has already confirmed that Valencia, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw will start the season as United’s back four, but Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof will hope to make their way into the starting XI.
The Key Question: Can they knock City off their perch?
United’s starting XI is full of power and potency, but too often they have lacked creativity and zeal in attack.
Mourinho may be dogmatic, but he is no fool; this is a squad that is made increasingly in his image, with a strong centre-forward augmented by a hard-working and disciplined midfield.
It remains to be seen, however, whether that will be enough to derail Pep Guardiola in the other half of the city. Should his side get complacent, expect Manchester United to be snapping ferociously at their heels.
Premier League champions and semi-finalists in Europe.
More stodgy football, Mourinho’s departure and a finish outside the top four coupled with another dismal failure in the Champions League.
Third place and an improved Champions League run. City look too good, and their manager is too restless, to allow United to catch them up. Expect plenty of tears and tantrums as Mourinho throws everything at his most-bitter rival.
It probably won’t be enough, but failure to win the league should be offset by a much-improved stint in the Champions League. The quarter-finals are an absolute minimum.
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