It hasn’t taken long for Jose Mourinho to creak back into his rhythm. Most of Manchester United’s supporters were basking in the World Cup’s afterglow when he held his first press conference last week. Little did they know, they were in for a rude awakening.
“Very bad,” Mourinho scowled to journalists when asked how his pre-season preparations had gone. With Alexis Sanchez denied entry to the United States, the Red Devils had been left with just two of the forwards available at the start of this season; Anthony Martial and Juan Mata. The former, though, has since returned to England for the birth of his child and it’s unsure whether he’ll be returning.
After two years of sulking and succour, grumbles about Mourinho are growing. Old Trafford is unlikely to indulge him for much longer. He needs to have a successful season, but what does that look like?
The paradox of improvement
United might have finished second last year, but they were a galaxy away from Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The ultimate aim of this campaign will be to displace their from top spot.
It may not be as unrealistic a target as first thought. The Red Devils are improving rapidly under Mourinho; last year, they finished four places and twelve points higher than the campaign immediately before and it was only a defeat to City in October that put paid to their title aspirations – until that point, United had been in similar form.
Consistency, therefore, will be key. Mourinho cauterised lax mentalities at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid. The passage of time doesn’t make his motivational abilities any weaker. Slowly, his players are adapting to his exacting standards, and results are beginning to reflect that.
Mourinho is full of confidence ahead of the season
What good is a title, though, if it's not won in the right manner? Certain clubs might proclaim to have a 'way' of playing, but at Manchester United it is actually true. 25 years under Sir Alex Ferguson bred a culture of attacking, pro-active football. Teams coming to Old Trafford had expected ninety 90 of punishment from a team of relentless, self-confident winners.
Too often, it hasn't been like that under Mourinho. United fans may forgive a failure to usurp City, so long as their club tacks back to its buccaneering roots. They want to see their team dominate matches, to see a manager fielding a tactic and squad that places causing a threat above nullifying it.
Piecing together the jigsaw
The multi-million pound capture of Fred is a promising start. The former Shakhtar man is an impressive talent, both defensively sound and intelligent offensively from midfield, and he could go some way in providing structure to their build-up in possession. Couple this with the Paul Pogba that played at the World Cup and it looks promising.
Romelu Lukaku, moreover, is maturing after a solid campaign in England and in Russia, whilst Sanchez will finally benefit from a full summer of rest. Injury-free and firing, with a confident Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, it constitutes is a terrifying frontline.
There's no reason why they shouldn't be carving opponents apart. If Mourinho sets them free, they might just help him keep his job.
For all the scowling and salt-and-pepper shrugs, Mourinho's career speaks for itself. He knows what he's doing. Only a fool would write him and his side off yet.
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