José Mourinho has called on his Manchester United squad to score more goals as the Reds seek to regain the Premier League for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. United scored just 54 on the way to sixth place in the league last season. This term, Mourinho wants his team to score more by spreading the burden around, starting with Sunday’s visit to Old Trafford by West Ham United.
Top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted 17 in the league last season – 28 overall – but no other player reached double figures for league goals. Mourinho’s team often struggled to close out matches, drawing 10 times at Old Trafford in the league alone.
That record was, in part, due to Mourinho’s conservative approach, although the Portuguese coach has built teams at Chelsea and Real Madrid that scored freely. The manager does not believe that United can top 100 goals for the campaign, but expects goals from players other than Lukaku in the season ahead. Juan Mata scored six in the league last season, but there was a disappointing return from Marcus Rashford, Antony Martial, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Ibrahimovic netted 17, but no other player reached double figures for league goals last season. Mourinho’s team frequently struggled to close out matches, drawing 1o times at Old Trafford.[/blockquote]
“Real Madrid is out of context because it’s a league, and now even more so, where the top teams are much better than the other teams, where the top teams easily win 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, 5-1, so the 126 goals we scored that season are out of context,” he said.
“In my other clubs, what I had was more people scoring goals – midfield players scoring goals, wingers scoring goals, central defenders good in the air, scoring goals at set-pieces.
“My teams always had the goalscorer – the guy that scores more goals – but then we had the winger that scored 15 goals, the midfield player that scored 10 goals and we had the central defender that scored five goals. And, last season, that didn’t happen much. When the striker was not scoring, the team was in a bit of trouble to win matches. The challenge is to win more matches than we did, by scoring more or conceding less. We lost only one match at home, but too many draws.”
Ibrahimovic may yet return to the United squad when he recovers from a cruciate knee injury, although the club spent more than £75 million on his replacement Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku’s excellent conversion rate for Everton suggests a 30-goal campaign is possible from the Belgian. The acquisition should also enable Mourinho to develop the more direct style that he has often favoured. Ibrahimovic was outstanding on the ball, but the Swede limited United’s ability to move quickly from front to back. Lukaku excels when the game is played in front of him, and less well with the ball at his feet.
Indeed, Mourinho’s squad is now packed with physical players that should be well adjusted to the Premier League – upping the pace and intensity of United’s style, if possibly limiting options for the squad’s more technically minded players.
United finished last season 25 points and some 30 goals behind Premier League winners Chelsea in a disappointing league campaign. The club has finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth since Ferguson left the club in 2013, with a more sustained challenge for the league title expected this time around.
Not that the manager expects an easy run at the title, with Manchester City clear favourites among the bookies and United likely to be in a dogfight for European places.
“In the Premier League I’d say seven teams will fight for the title and 20 fight for the victory in every game, every match,” added Mourinho. ” That’s different to the three other leagues I have worked in. Every opponent wants to win every match, every opponent gives you a hard time.
“The Champions League is obviously more difficult. But also the motivation is higher. My work last season to face teams in the Europa League with commitment was hard, this season it is not hard to motivate for playing Real Madrid, Barcelona, the top English teams, Bayern Munich and Juventus.”
Alongside Lukaku, Mourinho has added Victor Lindelöf and Nemanja Matic to his squad this season. Lukaku and Matic will almost certainly start against West Ham at Old Trafford, with Lindelöf still adjusting to life in the Premier League. The manager still courts one more forward, preferably a left-sided wide player – an acquisition that might limit chances for Martial, a talented forward that Mourinho is yet to fully trust.
“I was thinking of four players but I am not a difficult person to work with, even if it looks different, or you want to make it look so,” Mourinho said. “I understand the reality of the market, of the numbers. My club is doing 75% of what I initially asked very well. I don’t think I am in a position of moaning, crying, contesting or saying I am not happy.”
Javier Hernández returns to Old Trafford for the first time since being sold by Louis van Gaal in June 2015. The Mexican striker, now 30, has spent three seasons away from England, first on loan at Real Madrid and then two campaigns with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.
The striker scored 59 goals in 158 appearances across in four full seasons for United. He joined West Ham for a fee reported to be around £16 million on a three-year contract. Hernández, who will wear the number 17 and his nickname Chicharito in East London, says he may not celebrate if he scores at Old Trafford on Sunday.
“It’s my old club with my old fans and my old stadium, so probably I cannot celebrate,” he told reporters. “But as well it would be my first goal with my comeback with a club that has a lot of confidence in me. In this type of game and with these type of opportunities I will not think about celebration.”
The Mexican is one of five signings made by West Ham manager Slaven Bilic this summer, including Stoke City winger Marko Arnautovic for £20 million and Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan. The Hammers manager is seeking an improvement on last season’s that 11th-place finish – just five points off 17th in a highly crowed mid-table.
In a season of some turmoil at the London Stadium calls grew for Bilic’s dismissal, with West Ham spending much of the campaign near the relegation zone. Bilic’s contract ends after the current season, although the Croat seems unconcerned about his immediate future.
“My contract is for one year and that’s long enough. I don’t think about my contract in a negative way,” he said. “I am a long time in football to know that it doesn’t matter if your contract on paper is one year or five years. Your contract is about the last five games and the next five games.
“If the last five results were good then you can have 10 games. If last five results were bad then you have five games and it is the same for those guys who have a 10-year contract and the same for the guys who are in their last year.”
Team news and potential line-ups
Bar long-term absentees Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young, Mourinho enjoys a fully fit squad for the season opener. United will be augmented by returning centre backs Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who each missed the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid through suspension, while Lukaku, Lindelöf and Matic could all make their competitive debuts for the club.
“Everyone is available except the injuries that everybody knows, so the injuries that come from the previous season,” noted Mourinho. “In this pre-season, we didn’t lose any player. Every one of the 22, plus the goalkeepers, that started the pre-season is ready for Premier League match one.”
Mourinho faces selection choices in both defence and attack for Sunday’s game. Bailly returns to the side, with one from Chris Smalling, Jones or Lindelöf partnering the Ivorian. Smalling and Lindelöf have each struggled for form in pre-season, while Jones has enjoyed strong performances through the summer.
Mourinho is likely to switch to a back-four after last week’s more defensive-minded approach against Madrid, with Antonio Valencia certain to start on the right and Matteo Darmian likely to be picked ahead of Daley Blind on the left.
In midfield the Reds start with this season’s first choice trio of Matic, Pogba and Ander Herrera. The addition of Matic should free both Pogba and Herrera to play in more advanced roles. Meanwhile, in attack, Lukaku will be supported by two from Marcus Rashford, Martial, Mata and Mkhitaryan.
West Ham arrives in Manchester without five first team players – Andy Carroll, Cheikhou Kouyate, Manuel Lanzini, Diafra Sakho and Michail Antonio are all unavailable. Joe Hart is expected to start in goal for the visitors, while former City stalwart Pablo Zabaleta comes in at right-back. Although Hernandez is not yet fully fit, the Mexican should start in attack.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: S Child, A Nunn
Fourth official: N Swarbrick
United 3 – 0 West Ham