Manchester United: 2016-17 Season Preview


Following in David Moyes’ footsteps, Jose Mourinho opened his “competitive” account as Manchester United manager by winning the traditional season curtain raiser at Wembley, the Community Shield. Mourinho was presented to the press a month earlier, as he embarked on an epic one hour press conference which included thinly veiled digs at Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger, as well as a Rafa Benitez-esque rant about his history of developing youth team players. If anything, Mourinho’s press conference proved one thing: Manchester United are still the biggest draw in town, blowing Pep Guardiola’s unveiling a day prior out of the water.

If the optimistic/deluded (delete as appropriate) United fans are to be believed, this is the job that Mourinho has always wanted, one where he’ll buck the trend present throughout his entire career of spending a couple of years at a club before departing in a blaze of glory/disaster. Do leopards change their spots? We’ll have to wait and see on that one. For the optimists there has to be a guard against the hysteria. People may wish to airbrush history but there were similar joyous and optimistic scenes when Van Gaal joined the club after a successful World Cup campaign, and we all know how that ended.

In terms of player acquisitions Mourinho and the club have acted quickly. The new manager has clearly been keeping an eye on certain players during his enforced break, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn  that he’s been in touch with club officials to discuss transfer strategy. This gives some confidence that the signings have been weighed up carefully. At the time of writing promising defender Eric Bailly, planet-sized ego Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Bundesliga assist-King Henrik Mkhitaryan have all signed on the dotted line. The return of Paul Pogba has reached peak levels of tedium as people pore over whether or not a plane landing at the airport contains a human being.

Again, a cautious attitude is required. The majority of Van Gaal’s players were highly feted upon arrival. Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria were disasters and quickly left the club whereas Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind are all still with the club yet have all failed to fully convince. That was blamed on Van Gaal’s rigid style so it’ll be interesting to see how they perform under the new manager, assuming they are given the chance. Schweinsteiger, the now former German international captain, has been binbagged and forced to train with the stiffs.

Rooney will be an interesting one to watch. It’s no secret that Rooney is on the decline after almost 15 years of top flight football, and has lost the explosiveness that was once a key characteristic. His passing and touch looks poor, and it will be interesting to see how he is handled. Mourinho is, well was, a fan having tried to sign him for Chelsea, although he won’t accept mediocrity from the captain.

United fans will also be keenly keeping an eye on the Marcus Rashford situation and Mourinho’s handling of him could define his tenure. The youngster, who was a surprise inclusion in England’s EURO 2016 squad, has quickly made himself a fans favourite with some important goals. Despite Mourinho’s bizarre list during his opening press conference, he doesn’t have a good track record with young players. Why would he? He’s only remained at clubs for a short period of time and has generally preferred experienced, battle-hardened players. If he’s to remain at United for longer, he’ll need to create a legacy, one involving young players. United have had at least one youth product in each match day squad going back to 1937 and surely this will have to continue, in fact it should have been a stipulation in Mourinho’s contract. Saying that, for his personal development I don’t think it is necessary for Rashford to play every minute of every game. If you look at the development of Ronaldo and Rooney, both were dipped in and out of the team in their formative years, and this probably would’ve been the case with Rashford had he emerged at a more stable time for the club.

What will constitute success at Old Trafford this season? The bare minimum has to be the return of the fight that marked many of Ferguson’s great teams but has been missing during the last three years, as well as the idea of Old Trafford as a fortress. In terms of measuring success, Mourinho’s team will be expected to finish at least in the top four, and put up a strong case for winning the title, even if it ultimately fails. Last season showed that anything can happen, and this could be one of the most open title races in years. Leicester will be desperate to prove that they aren’t a one-season wonder, and have managed to add some shrewd signings as well as, more importantly, keeping the majority of their squad together from last season. Spurs will be there or thereabouts again, Liverpool will be looking to improve under Klopp, and both City and Chelsea have highly regarded continental managers looking to make an immediate impact.

Cup runs, and a possible trophy, would be advantageous, although it remains to be seen how seriously the club take the foray into the Europa League. Personally I’d take it seriously. Liverpool’s run to the final last season galvanised their campaign, and I’m sceptical about how much it affects your league form, as compared to competing in the Champions League every Tuesday or Wednesday. Success breeds success and surely players would rather be playing than training? With the new signings and several promising youngsters, the squad should be deep enough both in terms of quality and quanity, to have a real go on all fronts.

One thing is for sure, Mourinho will ruffle a few feathers and reawaken the legendary ABU Nation that was so prevalent during Fergie’s tenure. The Portuguese will be hoping he can emulate the Scot’s triumphs on the pitch as well.

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