By Andrew Embling
- United need to turn Old Trafford into a fortress once again
- Lukaku is a proven Premier League goalscorer
Last season was a frustrating one for Jose Mourinho and the United faithful.
A League Cup triumph and Europa League victory papered over what was a season of ‘what might have been’ in the Premier League as United failed to challenge for the title.
It was never going to be a perfect storm for United as Mourinho tried to find a way to improve the fortunes of a team that failed to live up to the standards required under Louis van Gaal.
Mourinho needed to fix United’s style of play, breed confidence within the side and strengthen in a number of areas.
Add to that equation the injury problems that blighted Mourinho’s men at times during the season and it was always going to be a tough start to life for the new boss.
Now, with the third transfer window under Mourinho heading towards its close and another pre-season under their belts. Mourinho’s men are once again one of the favourites to lift silverware this time round.
But will it be celebrations or commiserations at United this season?
Premier League Is Top Priority
The Premier League is the one Mourinho wants to win the most. It is one of the most competitive leagues in world football with six or seven sides capable of mounting a challenge and any of the less fancied sides capable of causing an upset.
Consistency is key, and whilst United were tough to beat last season. On far too many occasions they failed to secure the vital win that could have seen them propelled up the league table and in a fight for the title.
Most of those frustrating draws came at home as goalkeepers pulled out top class performances and forwards went missing.
Fortress Old Trafford
For United to challenge this time around they have to turn draws into victories.
Far too many times last season Mourinho’s men failed to kill off the opposition in games they dominated.
Late goals conceded. Missed penalties and poor finishing meant that United lost far too many points at Old Trafford last term.
If they are going to mount a challenge this time out they will need to change their fortunes at the Theatre of Dreams.
Turn it back into a fortress where opposing teams had lost almost before they set foot on the hallowed turf. Such was the aura of invincibility surrounding the home side.
Something that has waned in recent seasons since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson from the dugout.
Last season United were frustrated by their profligacy in front of goal. Thirty-seven shots on goal in a 0-0 draw against Burnley showcased how inconsistent the Red Devils were. Despite creating far more chances than under the tenure of Louis van Gaal.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury compounded things further, but the likes of Marcus Rashford proved they could do the business, albeit in bursts.
With Rashford another year older and wiser. United will be hoping their young charge will continue to improve in front of goal.
But Mourinho has also strengthened his striking options with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku from Everton. Stealing him from under the noses of Chelsea.
Lukaku Is Proven In The Premier League
Lukaku is used to the Premier League and a proven goalscorer. Although Mourinho will hope he can improve his big game stats.
But Lukaku is not just a goalscorer, he leads the line well and on his day bullies defenders.
He is quick, strong and gives United added steel in the spine of the team.
Mourinho will hope that Lukaku can step up in the Champions League. Where he will come up against different styles and a better class of defender.
The Premier League title will be top of the list of priorities and the big Belgian has already been there and done it with an arguably much weaker supply network than the one he will have at Old Trafford.
The signing of Paul Pogba last year was supposed to bring with it instant success. A world record £89 million spent. Yet for many critics Pogba failed to shine.
Part of that reason may have been that Mourinho was forced to play his marquee signing in a more defensive position for much of the season.
With no holding midfielder. Pogba’s forward power was constricted and, whilst there were glimpses of the player everyone knew Pogba to be. The Frenchman’s talent was only seen in fleeting moments throughout the season.
Perhaps that is part of the reason Mourinho has spent £40 million on Nemanja Matic from Chelsea during the close season.
Matic Knows What Mourinho Wants From Him
Matic is a player who Mourinho trusts. Having brought the Serbian back to Chelsea in 2014. It’s no gamble for United, with the midfielder proven in the Premier League and used to the big stage.
The Serbian could have chosen to ply his trade with Italian giants Juventus. But when Mourinho and United came calling there was only one place the midfielder wanted to be – Old Trafford.
Strong, intelligent and good on the ball. Matic will allow Pogba to fly, allowing the Frenchman much more licence to get forward and cause damage in the opponent’s half.
With a midfield including the snappy Ander Herrera. United will be much more structured and stable in the middle of the park.
Pace, Pace And More Pace
United are blessed with players who have an abundance of pace. Rashford, Martial and Mkhitaryan are quick on the ground. But last season they failed to get in behind defences enough.
With the arrival of Lukaku, who himself is no slouch. United must look at ways they can play behind the lines rather than in front.
And if they need guile, then the likes of Juan Mata. Who may not be fleet of foot, but who certainly has a quick and intelligent footballing brain. Can provide the passes for the speedsters that can hurt the opposition.
It will be a big season for Martial. The young Frenchman had a brilliant first season, but last time out he struggled with lack of confidence and consistency.
Martial has the talent to become something special. His footwork in the build-up to Jesse Lingard’s goal against Real Madrid in pre-season a joy to behold. But he will need to produce more if he is to fulfil his potential.
To win the Premier League you have to have a strong defence and United have added to their squad with the arrival of Victor Lindelof from Benfica.
It will take time for the Swede to settle into life in England. He and Eric Bailly could form a partnership for years to come to compare with the Bruce-Pallister or Ferdinand-Vidic combinations.
Bailly will learn from his first season in England and was the standout performer at the back last season. Whilst Marcos Rojo is still recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the final part of last season.
Rojo surprised everyone with his performances last season and he will be a welcome return once he gets back to full fitness.
Can Valencia Carry On Where He Left Off Last Season?
Another standout last season was Antonio Valencia. Who proved that he could make the transition to full back on a regular basis.
He will have an important role again this season. It could also be a big season for Luke Shaw who has been blighted by injury since arriving at Old Trafford.
If Shaw can find the form that made United pay big money for him from Southampton and Valencia can rediscover his form of last season it will give Mourinho options.
The United boss has been changing things up during pre-season. Sometimes playing with three at the back, sometimes with four. As he looks to give himself options with his formations.
Keeping De Gea
One big bonus for Mourinho is that he seems to have once again kept Real Madrid at bay in their hunt for David De Gea.
Rumours ran rife during the early part of the close season that Madrid were once again to come calling for the United stopper.
De Gea is clearly relaxed about his situation and happy to stay in Manchester. Whilst Madrid seemingly now want to keep faith with Keylor Navas.
De Gea has proved his worth over the past few seasons with a string of outstanding contributions. Which have propelled him to one of the top keepers in world football.
But should United need to call upon the services of another keeper during the season. Which undoubtedly they will in the domestic cup competitions. They also have a top class back up in the guise of Sergio Romero.
The Argentine international had an outstanding season last time out. Helping United to win the Europa League and has recently signed a new contract at Old Trafford.
Champions Chelsea will remain a threat, adding the likes of Alvaro Morata and Bakayoko to their ranks. But Diego Costa is on his way out after a disagreement with Conte and Morata may need time to adjust to the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
Noisy neighbours Manchester City have spent big during the summer as Pep Guardiola rings the changes.
City have shelled out over £200 million on Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo as they look to mount a challenge themselves after a disappointing season last time out.
United, though, may have the psychological edge over their nearest foes after a 2-0 win during their pre-season tour of the US.
Whilst that result is hardly anything to judge the coming season on. It will give the United players confidence that they can beat their rivals when it matters.
Liverpool Could Lose Their Greatest Asset
Liverpool have failed to secure the signings they were looking for so far this season. With just a couple of arrivals.
And they could still lose their best player with Coutinho a target for Barcelona as the Catalans look to replace Neymar following his move to PSG.
Whilst Coutinho would command a fee close to £80 million in the current climate. Any delay in the transfer market may leave Klopp’s side short on time to bring in the targets they want to replace the Brazilian.
Liverpool have looked dangerous in pre-season, helped by the return to full fitness of Sadio Mane. But the Champions League is back on the fixture list for Klopp’s men and they may find that the rigours of European as well as domestic football hinders their chances of challenging for the top silverware.
Arsenal Have Spent Big On Lacazette
Arsenal have spent big on a new striker, but have yet to dip their toe fully into the transfer window.
There is continued speculation on Arsenal Wenger’s position with a large section of the fans wanting to wave goodbye to their manager despite him signing a new contract.
Much will depend on whether the Gunners can resolve the ongoing saga involving want-a-way Alexis Sanchez. Who is the subject of interest from a number of clubs rumoured to be Bayern Munich, big spending PSG and Manchester City.
With the Europa League leaving Wenger with the problematic Thursday and Sunday matches. Resources could be stretched too far for the Gunners to mount a real challenge for top spot.
Tottenham Are Yet To Make Any Additions To Their Squad
Tottenham have been slow in the transfer market this summer. Whilst they’ve so far retained all their key players, they will need to strengthen further to give themselves a change to make the breakthrough and win the title.
Having come so close in the past two seasons. any loss of either Harry Kane or Dele Alli for a long period would severely restrict their chances of becoming champions with very little quality back up in place.
Pochettino does have them well drilled and they will believe they can go further again this year. Without reinforcements though they may find that they once again fail to reach the summit this time out.
It looks like a battle between the two Manchester clubs for the Premier League title this season and much will depend on how their new signings bed in.
If Mourinho can get his troops firing from the start and if the big players, such as Paul Pogba, can step up to the plate then they might just have enough to bring the Premier League trophy back home to Old Trafford for the first time since Sir Alex’s retirement.
Need A Favourable Champions League Draw
The Champions League will be a tougher proposition and, whilst a lot will depend on the group draw, United do have the capabilities to get through to the knock-out rounds.
But there are stronger sides in Europe right now. Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus are all powerful contenders and don’t have the issue of the Christmas fixture congestion that English clubs face.
United will make progress, but if they come up against one of the top sides they may find it tough to get past the quarter finals.
Domestic Cups Will Be Third And Fourth Priority
Mourinho may well play a shadow side in the FA Cup and League Cup with these of less importance than the league and European competitions.
The United boss may use one or both competitions to keep players fresh and blood some of the talented youth prospects coming through such as Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay and Demetri Mitchell.
But Mourinho also likes to use the League Cup as a way to kick start the winning of silverware and he will want to retain the trophy he won last year. His first major silverware as United boss. After all, success does breed success.
The United boss will take both domestic cup competitions seriously, but won’t let them get in the way if his side are fighting for the title.
Premier League: Champions
FA Cup: Quarter finals
League Cup: Quarter-finals
Champions League: Quarter finals