Manchester City may well end up as the Premier League champions come May, but that is by no means the end for Mourinho and his Red Devils.
At the start of the season, many believed that this was the year when the two Manchester juggernauts would go head-to-head for the Premier League title. After Chelsea’s excellent title triumph in Antonio Conte’s debut season, much was expected from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Halfway through the season, it’s fair to say that only one has been able to deliver, while the other is playing catch up.
United’s expectations at the start of the season were to win the title. With the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Everton and Victor Lindelof from Benfica, the early signs were that this group of players could blow away any team put in front of them. The likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba were in a different class of form. Mourinho’s reunion with Nemanja Matic was also a shrewd move on Mourinho’s part and Conte’s mistake to let Matic leave for one of their rivals.
However, now that the season has settled down and the fog has cleared, it is Manchester City that are top of the league and deserve to be where they are. However, one cannot and must ignore the fact that United have improved on last season’s performances this season in a big way.
United’s improvement seen in individual players
One of the players who deserves a lot of praise for his displays this season is none other than the man from Warrington, Jesse Lingard. With seven goals and four assists in the league so far, Lingard has come far from being just a squad player at United. He has performed and delivered in big games for Jose Mourinho’s men.
One would not have expected such improvement from Lingard, however, he’s proved his doubters wrong and proved that he is more than worthy of the United jersey and is a key component of the squad as a whole.
Apart from Lingard, the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have also improved on their output from the wings and in attacking areas. Martial has looked positive this season and seems to have overcome his personal troubles from last season. As for Rashford, after a bright start to the season, it seems as though the young Englishman is going through a bad spell of form.
Second is better than fighting for fourth place
For much of last season, Mourinho’s Red Devils were left struggling to fight for a top-four finish. They failed to achieve a top-four finish, however, they did win the UEFA Europa League against Ajax. That victory against the Dutch giants ensured that United would make a return to Europe’s elite the following season.
This year, United battle with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool in the fight for second place behind the Citizens. Recent draws against the likes of Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton have weakened United’s claim on second place. However, there are a lot of games still to play and the Red Devils should resume their domestic campaign with renewed hope after returning from their camp in Dubai.
After struggling against lesser sides more than the top six last year, Mourinho’s boys have been able to sweep away mid-table sides on most occasions this season. The ‘4-0 FC’ was a name given to the club early in the season, thanks to their excellent performances. It’s time for Mourinho’s Red Army to continue marching with pride and swagger and give the faithful United fans a good season and an enjoyable campaign.
The negativity needs to tone down
There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the season as a whole from certain sections of United fans. Fans have directed their ire towards Mourinho’s tactics and the performances of certain individuals that have let down the team. United’s defeat to Bristol City in the Carabao Cup was a stunning result, however, what needs to be acknowledged is that, on the day, Bristol were the better team and that United were just not good enough.
Mourinho’s comments saying that, “ For some of us it was like one more day in the office, probably a day for some of them where they don’t even want to come to the office”, showed how disappointed he was in some players and that their lack of match spirit allowed the result to get away. Not that the Carabao cup is very high on the list of priorities for the Red Devils but as holders of the competition, the general expectation is for them to at least reach the final once again.
All disappointments aside, United are doing well when you put their results in perspective with regard to last season. They’ve smoothly qualified from the Champions League group stages and have received favorable draws in the FA Cup and Europe with Yeovil Town and Sevilla their upcoming opponents in the coming months.
Last season, United lacked pace in the final third due to Zlatan’s presence and now thanks to Lukaku, that problem has been solved as well. With 17 goals and four assists in all competitions, it is fair to say that Lukaku has done alright and that there is a lot of room for improvement with him. What’s been impressive is his work for the team as well. He tracks back and defends for the team as well, joining the midfield when necessary and allowing runners beyond him to get into spaces, a typical Mourinho-like center-forward. Alvaro Morata may have been the ideal striker that United wanted, but nobody can really complain about the way Lukaku has shown his commitment to the Red Devils.
Goals for the rest of the season
Manchester City are too far ahead to even think of challenging for the title at the moment, therefore the Red Devils must do their best to make sure they finish as high they possibly can, which is second place in the league.
Results have to improve against their fellow top-four rivals, including the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs who will all prove difficult tests for this United side. Mourinho’s men have to find a consistency in their results as well, that unbeaten run ending at the hands of City must have been a difficult fact to accept but they must take it as a lesson and keep going in the league, while focussing on their own results rather than how well their cross-town rivals are doing.
Winning the FA Cup should be a priority, it’s a classic competition and there’s always a sense of pride with it, Mourinho has won it only once in his career, he will hope to change history by winning it again.
United are by no means expected to win the Champions League, but a quarter-final or semi-final finish would do a world of good for the likes of Rashford, Martial and Lingard, all of whom will be the pillars of United’s success in the coming years. It is important these group of players get the hunger for winning trophies and not just fighting for the top four places.
Next season will be another story, another few signings but hopefully better years are coming for Jose Mourinho and United, but this year’s farewell to the league title is just not the end of the world.