Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager of 26 years, in 2013, it would be fair to say that the club have not picked up where the legendary manager left off. Ferguson amassed an incredible 38 trophies, including a record 13 Premier Leagues and two Uefa Champions Leagues.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2017/18 season and the club are already on their third permanent manager since Ferguson’s departure following the dismissals of both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal in 2014 and 2016 respectively. With only one FA Cup win and Champions League qualification being achieved once in three years, the owners turned to who many expected would replace Ferguson in the first place, former Premier League and Champions League winner, José Mourinho.
Mourinho wasted little time putting his stamp on the team, with big money signings such as Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin leaving the club for less than they were bought for. Manchester United also spent over £160 million in the summer of 2016, breaking then world record transfer fee by signing Paul Pogba from Juventus for £94.5 million and acquiring the services of striker Zlatan Ibrahimović from PSG.
Manchester United did fail in their attempt to mount a serious title challenge but they still managed to win the League Cup for a fifth time, as well as winning the Uefa Europa League for the first time in their history, thus guaranteeing Champions League qualification despite finishing sixth in the league.
However, perhaps the main goal given to Mourinho was to return the club to where they belong, amongst Europe’s elite, even if that meant sacrificing a serious title challenge in the league. Having gained Champions League qualification for the 2017/18 season, Manchester United wasted little time in adding the final touches to complete Mourinho’s ‘winning formula’, adding Everton striker Romelu Lukaku in early July for in excess of £70 million.
Lukaku had scored 85 goals in 176 Premier League games for Everton and West Brom. The latter was where, ironically, he scored a perfect hat-trick against Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge of the club in a 5-5 draw. Mourinho also signed Nemanja Matić, who was a crucial part of Mourinho’s Premier League winners with Chelsea in the 2014/15 season.
United’s season got off to the best possible start with four wins in their opening five games in the league, scoring 16 goals in the process, conceding only two goals – both coming in the 2-2 draw with Stoke City. This is the first time since the 2012/13 season that United have remained unbeaten in their opening five league fixtures – a rather sobering fact when you consider that under Sir Alex Ferguson, they didn’t finish outside of the top three in 21 consecutive seasons.
United also received a favourable group in the Champions League, being drawn alongside Portuguese champions Benfica, Swiss champions FC Basel and Russian side, CSKA Moscow. Basel came to Old Trafford on matchday 0ne and were convincingly beaten 3-0 to give Mourinho as good a start as he could have hoped for.
Last season, even with Ibrahimović’s impressive 17 Premier League goals in his debut season, United still drew 15 of their 38 league games. With eight of those draws coming at home, Old Trafford was branded the ‘Theatre of Draws’ by pundits and fans alike.
Mourinho will want to reinstall the ‘fear factor’ that once existed amongst teams who came to Old Trafford, who would have already have written the game off in their season and just expected to keep the score respectable.
Nowadays, due to United’s slight decline in recent years, most teams in the league come to Old Trafford with optimism of not just keeping the score respectable, but of not leaving empty handed and I think many believe that José Mourinho is just the man to change that.
Image courtesy of Sean Macentee