Manchester United – Reflection & Squad Building

United’s season has been heralded as both a success and a failure. Mourinho has been seen as both, a victorious manager, and one who failed to meet a primary objective, finish in the top 4. So in a season where success and failure have literally been seen side by side at Old Trafford, who is right? – Those who claim finishing sixth in the league is not good enough, or those who say winning the League Cup, Europa League and thus qualifying for the Champions League is more than adequate?

You could argue both are, United have gained entry to the all important Champions League, won a European trophy and a domestic one too. However, finishing so far away from top spot does not fill you with confidence that United will be challenging for the title next season.

You could argue that the league should be the club’s priority, yet last season, or at least towards April, we saw Mourinho start to focus on ensuring the club reached the Europa League final. This seemed to be a case of putting all of his eggs in one basket and could be seen as a move to consolidate his position and end the season on a positive, as well as trying to build momentum for the next season. After all, it’s crucial to have Champions League status when it comes to attracting the very best new recruits. Let’s be clear, his primary objective may have been finish in the top 4, but that was because it was considered minimum requirement in securing Champions League football. Therefore, you could say Mourinho exceeded that target by winning a trophy to ensure we have Champions League nights at Old Trafford next season.

13 months ago United won the FA Cup and then within days fired the winning manager, Louis Van Gaal and replaced him with the self titled ‘Special One’. I’m a United fan and I was excited about the signing of LVG however I was left disappointed by his tenure – his style of football was passive and didn’t get you out of your seat. It seemed that he was focused on getting sides to play like it was 1996 rather than 2016. Fast forward a year and United have won 3 trophies (and the Community Shield, but that doesn’t really count) in 2 seasons, surely it’s a sign that the club is on the right track.

You could argue that the FA Cup victory gave United fans hope, Mourinho added promise and this combination saw big money moves for Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Bailly and the ‘free’ transfer of Zlatan. All of these players would have moved because of the promise that the club is moving forward. However, even though the club did manage to progress in cup competitions, the league campaign was a different story. The club struggled to win games at home, drawing more than they won, and this was the big reason why they didn’t end up challenging for a top 4 spot. So Mourinho will need to figure out what the problems were at Old Trafford and try to fix them.

Mourinho did have United playing with more pace on the wings, full backs were being encouraged to get forward and defensively we didn’t make the mistakes we had been making, so all good. Apart from the fact that once we got into the final third the play would slow down. Ibrahimovic, once injured, was blamed for this, but he did end the season as leading goalscorer at the club, so not all bad right? Fellaini was blamed under LVG for the same thing, the problem is he doesn’t score as many goals and seems to not have a set role/position. This has meant that after a poor season under Moyes and two shaky seasons under LVG, Fellaini became the focus on all things going wrong at United. Even this season he was booed for giving away a penalty when United played Everton after being on the pitch for less than 2 minutes. Although Mourinho seems to have adopted the much maligned midfielder as his ‘Plan B’, the man who, when you need a goal, you send to stand 18 yards away from their goal, so you can fire balls at his hair in the hope one will drop in the box for him or someone around him to finish. Even though Mourinho seems to quite like him, many at Old Trafford still don’t see him as a ‘United player’. Admittedly, his goal against Celta Vigo in the Europa League gave him some breathing room, but it will be interesting to see how long before United fans decide he’s not good enough again.

Mourinho may have lead the club to silverware, but the poor league showing, especially at Old Trafford, will need to be rectified if he wants to keep his titles as Manchester United Manager and the ‘Special One’. United fans have seen this season as a success partly due to Mourinho’s nemesis, and Manchester City manager, not winning anything in his first season at the Etihad. However, City fans believe they are rebuilding with a youthful looking side, as Pep replaces the old guard who brought success to the club. Can United say they are doing the same? So far none of the players who could be reaching the end of their United careers have been moved on the, the likes of Rooney, Young and Smalling all appear to either have a high price tag, a reputation which is damaged, or wage demands over what they deserve.

All the rumours about David De Gea are getting tedious, so hopefully that one won’t drag out all summer and if it does, finger crossed, the fax machine at Old Trafford will be on the blink again come the final hours of the window. Romero will stay as deputy and Joel Castro Pereira will be the number 3 keeper.

With the signing of Lindelof, United now have an abundance of players who can play Centre-back, so as I mentioned United fans would be happy to see Smalling leave. Jones and Rojo would be kept on as cover for Bailly and Lindelof, giving us four centre backs with Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah both being able to play their if needs be.

On the right side Valencia has made that position his own and United have been linked with Fabinhio from Monaco who can play as a RB or Holding Midfielder, whilst Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe can also provide cover. Even if United don’t sign a new Right Back, I think you can expect Darmian to be on his way back to Italy. He had started to show last season that he can be a versatile squad player, but he is not up to the standard needed to be a success at a top Premier League side.

On the left side; I wouldn’t expect any major changes, Shaw didn’t have a great season with Jose, but hopefully he will come back determined to get his place back both for Club and Country. Blind will be able to provide cover when needed along with Rojo, so we should be set at the back. That would mean Ashley Young would be the man to leave and could be a good signing for a mid-table club.

The midfield is an interesting dilemma for Mourinho; he rates Carrick but knows he can’t play every game; Pogba struggled to influence games the way he was expected too; Herrera was fantastic, but can make silly tackles and get himself in trouble; Fellaini is Fellaini; and then he has Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe, who can both play in there breaking up the play. If the stories are true, then this midfield will be joined by Matic from Chelsea shortly. We know Mourinho rates Matic highly, so this is probably a deal which will be done, but it will be interesting to see how much Chelsea want for their midfielder. With United also being linked with a whole range of players it will be interesting to see who will be Mourinho’s starting midfield, and if they can have a bigger influence on the upcoming season than those who were playing last year.

Matic

The attacking area of the side is one which is likely to see the biggest shake up. Mata, Martial, Rashford, Lingard and Mkhitaryan are all going to stay and play a big part at the club this season, the manager will want more goals from all 5 of them, which I feel he is probably entitled to ask for. United also have Januzaj, who made a big impression in his first season and then has not lived up-to the promise, both at Old Trafford and last season at Sunderland, and is likely to be sold. Then there is Andreas Pereira who had been tipped for a while to make the first team, but has only made 5 appearances for United and was loaned out to Granada who were relegated from La Liga this season. However, with Pereira now entering the final year of his contract, Jose will probably keep him around to give a chance as United will need to see if they want to keep him beyond his current deal. They could all be joined by Croatian Winger Ivan Perisic, a story which caught many United fans off-guard and has split opinion. Perisic is talented, but seems to be a bit of a journey man, he has had 5 clubs in a career lasting 10 years. He would add something which was lacking at the club last season – a natural attacking winger – but at the expense of which player? We will have to see if Mourinho believes that he wants that 50 million pound headache.

United have ‘released’ Zlatan, however, he is still recuperating from his injury at Carrington and could be resigned once his recovery has been analysed. I personally cannot see this happening myself, unless United find themselves struggling for goals next season, or they fail to sign any of the players on the list that Mourinho gave to Ed Woodward before the season ended. I believe Zlatan will move to the MLS once his recovery has been completed, but may be loaned to a European side in January for a few months to get some game time.

That then leaves Rooney, who has now reached the point where I reckon most United fans will say it’s time for him to go, but where can he go? China isn’t as lucrative as it was 12 months ago, Premier League sides will want to spend their money on someone who will guarantee a return on investment, so it leaves the MLS, but even then it’s doubtful Rooney would want to uproot his family and move away from the North West, so it could mean he stays at the club and, if he does, he’ll probably find himself as the 4th choice striker.

So that means there are potentially a few spots open up front for new forwards, the press all feel that Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata will be the man who United sign, whilst talk of Andrea Belotti was rife at the end of the season, but this seems to have calmed down recently. Morata would be a good signing and he is someone who has had a partnership with Pogba when they were both at Juventus. Belotti would be a slightly bigger risk for United but he did score 28 goals in 38 appearances last year for Torino so has goalscoring potential.

As with every season United are also linked to transfers which have as much chance of happening as Leicester winning the league…like that could ever happen. Well this season I dont think any of these moves will happen but its always fun to discuss them. Ronaldo’s recent talk of leaving Real Madrid has seen the press link him with a return to United, yet I don’t think United will want to part with £100 plus million for a player who is now over 30. Ideally, I would like United to move for Lukaku, but you get the feeling that it would need Mourinho to almost apologise to Lukaku and rebuild their damaged relationship from when they were both at Chelsea. Harry Kane is another move I have mentioned previously; however, it would be a shock to see that move happen, not just because Danel Levy would demand a fee which would make even the richest club in the world cry, but because Kane seems happy at Spurs, so I don’t think he would want to leave.

Thank you if you have managed to stick with this to the end, don’t worry this is the end, if you have any thoughts or opinions you’d like to share then please do so below.

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