Manchester United’s season has been one of frustrating but gradual improvement under José Mourinho’s stewardship. Little by little the last vestiges of Louis van Gaal’s philosophy is being chipped away, to be replaced with a style of football that’s more in-keeping with the demands of United supporters.
For a while it appeared that Henrikh Mkhitarayan’s Manchester United career would never get beyond the “what if?” stage. The Armenian seemed destined for an ignominious exit, with José Mourinho unimpressed. Yet, the summer signing from Borussia Dortmund is now in the team, making a second Premier League start against Everton, months after that fateful début against Manchester City in September. Then came that spectacular goal in Ukraine on Thursday. It may be too soon to start celebrating, but there are signs that the tide is slowly turning in Mkhitarayan’s favour. Can he can finally light up Old Trafford? One hopes – and for a long time to come.
There’s a lot to be said about Manchester United’s current plight. For all the so-called dominance on the pitch, results aren’t coming José Mourinho’s way. Increasingly the Europa League looks like United’s best route to Champions League football next season. In common with Thursday’s victory, United’s best results this season have come with Michael Carrick in the team. So how can Mourinho extract the most from his ageing midfielder?
These are strange times at Manchester United. Strange and unsettling times. The worst that could be said about United’s defeat at Fenerbahçe on Thursday is that the result wasn’t unexpected. Victory would have been met with relief such has been United’s form and poor away record in Europe. Instead, José Mourinho will have to pick through the wreckage of this latest set-back and try to steady the ship.
August 2014. Cast your mind back to Louis van Gaal’s Premier League first game as manager, against Swansea City at Old Trafford. The take away from the match was United going down to the Swans, but it also marked Jesse Lingard’s competitive début. Like Van Gaal, Lingard suffered a match to forget, though for completely different reasons, with the youth team graduate heading off after 24 minutes because of a knee injury. It’s a metaphor for Lingard’s career.
Statler and Waldorf have finished watching Manchester United’s humbling at Stamford Bridge by Chelsea. Are they fans of the Red Devils? Probably not, but if there’s an opportunity to have a good moan the pair are always game for a whinge.
There are a couple of things to be said about United’s last transfer window. First, it was the most successful window that the club has enjoyed since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Yet, there is still work to be done to fine tune the squad. One position is at centre-back, and more specifically who should partner the impressive Eric Bailly.
“Exclusive! Water is wet! Grass is green! The world is round!” Statements of a similar ilk greeted the news that Phil Jones has suffered yet another injury. This time around the Manchester United defender is out with a knee injury that will see the Lancastrian sidelined for a month. Yet another setback for Jones who is struggling to salvage his Old Trafford career. The defender’s injury history has become a sick joke. The real question becomes: when does the laughter stop?
On the surface José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to be polar opposites; the brash Portuguese man of war against the Catalan revolutionary, the pragmatist versus the visionary, the provocateur of “anti-football” dancing with the purveyor of “tiki-taka.”
When José Mourinho waltzed into Old Trafford eyes were quickly cast at the playing squad. Who would be retained; who would be shipped out? There were a few names that immediately stood out as destined for the chop, but after the Community Shield and first couple of Premier League fixtures a number of these unlikely lads have stepped up to prove their worth to the Portuguese manager. Some could become components in a potentially successful season.