It would suffice to say that it has been an interesting month or so at Old Trafford, especially for Jose Mourinho. Well, if you are bringing Mourinho into the equation then it might as well do some good to take the club into the equation as well as the manager is only the representative of the club, arguably the most important one at it too. December was a torrid month for United, the richest football club in the World as stated by INDOBET888 as they started off with a loss to Manchester City in the derby and almost effectively lose out on in the title race. Over the course of the month, United endured an indifferent run of form that saw them lose out on points to the likes of Leicester, Southampton and Burnley. It seemed that Jose was losing out on his touch and United, not heading in the right direction, especially with their neighbours, the same noisy ones as Sir Alex labelled them, making all the noise and in the right stead.
Fast forwarding a month, it now is a distant memory, a blip in what is Jose Mourinho’s toughest test of them all- bringing Manchester United back on track to the domestic and an European superpower that they were under the reign of the most successful manager in Premier League history. The January transfer window has given United a much needed boost in terms of morale as they completed the transfer of Alexis Sanchez, after what seemed like a definite move to the blue half of Manchester for the want-away Chilean from the Emirates. In that process, Ed Woodward managed to offload a player in Henrikh MKhitaryan that had lost out on his way under Jose Mourinho here at the Theatre of Dreams.
The highlight though, even intriguingly so, was the extension of contract for Jose Mourinho as he put pen to paper on a three year contract. Mourinho looked a happy man and determinedly so to ensure that he stays at United and bring them up to the stage where the fans and representatives of the club alike believe where the club should be.
There is a positive vibe surrounding Manchester United right now, a sense that can be associated with thinking that the club is moving in the right direction. Jose Mourinho has spent his fair share of money and in the process has cleared a number of players out from the club. Despite that, there is still a lot to be done with this squad- chopping out further more players who just do not make the cut for a club that aspires to be amongst the elite.
This is even more of a problem, once again due to the fact that a certain Pep Guardiola has done the clearing out process in a much quicker, efficient and ruthless manner that has helped propel his club to the heights it is currently scaling now. On top of that, Guardiola has been afforded the complete control of the club’s transfer activities, right from the beginning of his tenure last season and now, and the club is reaping the rewards.
City completed the signing of Aymeric Laporte before the deadline passed in the transfer window for a club record fee in the region of 60 million Euros. The fact that Guardiola has been afforded such backup in terms of support from the club’s hierarchy and monetary resources has been cited by many as a reason for Guardiola being able to elevate City’s status.
It would be foolish though, to narrow it down to just that, as to why City are a level above United and just about any other club in the league. Mourinho has had his fair share of backing in the transfer market and to an extent, been able to get all of his transfer targets. The club’s signing of Alexis Sanchez is just further proof that United are ready to make a plunge into the market and acquire marquee players if need be.
United’s recent buys have been interesting to the say very least. In many ways, they reflect and even mirror the appointment of Jose Mourinho as the club’s manager one and a half seasons back. Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic are the prime examples of this, two players who are nowhere near being young and on the wrong end of the 20’s. Both of them probably have a couple more seasons of being able to perform at the highest level. That should not worry United though, as the age factor would have definitely been taken into consideration before the club made a move for them.
The approach United have taken with regard to transfers indicates that they are serious about wanting to stay within touch of City and also ensure that they have a platform for achieving success over the next few years. United’s brand appeal and marketing strategies will always ensure that the influx of cash is never a problem. This approach can yield short term success and with the young spine in the team already set- Bailly, Pogba, Martial and Lukaku- all 24 or under- means that there can be a certain amount of chopping and changing around this spine.
Jose’s prime concern now should be to ensure that there is harmony within the squad and that the arrival of Alexis Sanchez does not affect the other egos within the squad. With Mourinho’s previous history of having fallen out with the big names in the squad and leaving in not the most pleasant of conditions, it is paramount to United’s fortunes for the next half a decade or so to ensure that another exodus and rebuilding of squad is not necessary after Jose leaves.
Jose Mourinho’s contract extension is a good indicator that he has been promised of what he needs in the summer. Something has got to give over the summer- Jose will get the players he wants and in return be expected to hand meaningful silverware, or he throws a tantrum and it all spirals down the all too familiar path that has been previously witnessed, and more than just once.
From a tactical standpoint, there are deep rooted issues that have plagued United under Mourinho’s reign. The general team play in the final third has been found wanting one too many times. Furthermore this United side have not mastered breaking out of a deep block and countering with precision the way Jose’s Inter or Chelsea did. The team often relies on the quality of the individuals up front and do not exhibit clear attacking patterns as one would like them to.
It would be foolish to dismiss that United lack real attacking prowess under Mourinho as they have scored their fair share of goals under the Portuguese manager this season. Rather, there has to be an improved setup in possession play as a whole, a deeper issue than what comes to surface.
The tactical problems that persist with Manchester United right now is down to Mourinho. He has had his fair share of criticism and rightly so. His persistence with the 4-2-3-1 has proved to be detrimental for United as they have been found wanting in the centre due to Pogba’s (lack of) positional awareness. It would do well for United and Jose that they play a 4-3-3 and bring the best out of Pogba by playing him as the LCM with no/minimal defensive responsibilities.
Building the team around Pogba is the best bet for United’s push for silverware in any front. While Sanchez, Martial and even Lukaku possess enough quality to have the team to be built around them as explained here, it is no secret that Pogba can have a far more lasting impact on the game and elevate everyone around him as well. Also, the 4-3-3 seems to offer United much more stability than the 4-2-3-1.
Mourinho’s work at United deserves much more credit than he is given for the work he has done with this United squad. The team needed a lot of work to be brought to the top tier of clubs playing in the Premier League. The fans of the club are at fault for housing unrealistic ambitions of the squad right now at the club, or at least over the last three seasons or so post Ferguson’s departure. Mourinho’s presence at the club has elevated United’s status and aura, making them favorites for the Premier League trophy this season, even when they were not necessarily so with the squad stretching it too thin for one’s liking in terms of quality to outmuscle City and win the league.
The improvement United have made under Mourinho is commendable. They are a force to be reckoned with the quality at their disposal. The swagger that you would associate with a United side is back under Jose. Only time will tell whether he can go on to win silverware and establish himself as a great here at OT or whether this tenure will be remembered as the one where he lost his grandeur and touch as one of the greatest managers of this era.