The United number 7 is a shirt that carries plenty of history, albeit in recent times a jersey that was held by gifted yet ultimately lightweight talents. While the club is looking for a worthy successor to don the fabled number 7, José Mourinho is fully aware that a new number 16 could be required sooner rather than later.
The November-December bubble has truly burst. Manchester United’s defeat to Hull City in the League Cup on Thursday night followed successive draws against Stoke City and Liverpool in the Premier League. With each came a consecutively less impressive performance, culminating in a 2-1 loss at Marco Silva’s bottom-dwellers. United’s defeat in Hull was embarrassing, if not disastrous, but manager José Mourinho will have no doubt that his side must quickly turn a patch of poor form around.
Manchester United, as widely expected, is to become the first Premier League club to fully commit to meeting the new Accessible Stadia Guidelines. With work due to start this summer, the club will enable hundreds more disabled fans to attend games – a move that was both widely expected and highly praised when announce this week. Yet, with around 2,600 Season Ticket holders displaced, and Old Trafford’s capacity cut, there is a price to pay for the club’s forward thinking. Beyond the latest remodel, questions still linger about Old Trafford’s future.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s equalizer against Liverpool at Old Trafford is a breathtakingly good goal. His sense to take a couple of steps back into a tiny pocket of space thus giving Antonio Valencia a clear target for a cross demonstrated the instincts of a top-class and experienced striker. His header was placed, inch perfect high into the goal. Make no mistake it was not easy to execute. What shouldn’t get lost in the joy and relief of Ibrahimović’s leveler was his reaction to the goal.
Manchester United failed to record victory against one of the Premier League’s top fives sides on Sunday – it was the fifth time in six matches in this particular group that the Reds have come away with fewer than three points. Defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, together with draws against Arsenal and Liverpool, leaves José Mourinho’s team with the worst head-to-head record between the top six. Progress at Old Trafford is genuine, but save for victory over Spurs, it is largely based on beating those below United in the table. With Champions League qualification far from guaranteed, this pattern is Mourinho’s most critical challenge over the next five months.
It’s nine victories in a row for Manchester United, the longest winning run since the 2008/09 title-winning campaign. Six of those wins have come in the league, yet the Reds remain stuck in sixth place – Mourinho’s men are running to stand still. It is a frustrating anomaly, but there is much more to the team’s turnaround than league standing. After what seems like an eternity, it feels like watching United again. What more could be asked heading into Liverpool’s visit on Sunday?
Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s situation at Old Trafford is an interesting study. The youngster made an impressive start to life at United last season, one of the few bright sparks during the Louis van Gaal era, and it seems only a matter of time before he fully develops into a top-class footballer. The Dutchman is already a fan favourite and there’s widespread clamour for the youngster to get more games under his belt. Yet, his talents have been overlooked by José Mourinho in favour of more experienced pros. Is there a route into the first team?
There’s a lot that can be bought with £89 million. That’s how much it took to free the world’s most talented young midfielder from Juventus this past summer. In some quarters it bought Manchester United an over-rated, over-dabbing, hair- changing vine merchant. The truth is very different of course. Performances increasingly show that United now boasts the best midfielder in the Premier League. Not only that, he might be on another level altogether than his rivals.
How quickly the narrative can change. In November, with Manchester United slipping well off the pace in the Premier League and looking game for an early exit from the Europa League, the pressure began to build on new coach José Mourinho. The Portuguese manager had come off a disastrous season at Chelsea, which ended in his dismissal by Roman Abramovich for the second time. Had the maestro’s mojo truly gone? Certainly, there was plenty of evidence in United’s inconsistent performances and disappointing results to suggest as much. Just a few weeks and eight victories later, nobody will draw that conclusion. Mourinho and United are back.
Whisper it but the outlook is a lot rosier for José Mourinho and his Manchester United side. The Reds have embarked on a seven game winning streak delivering different types of victories in the process… but victories nonetheless.