Manchester United are set to make a significant improvement on their sixth-place finish in the Premier League at the end of 2017/18 season, but the current sentiment around Old Trafford is not one of happiness or excitement following a lacklustre exit in the Champions League and the chasm that separates them from local rivals and runaway league leaders, Manchester City.
Comparing results to previous seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, the conclusion would be that United have made great strides domestically. There have been just five league draws and defeats and 23 goals conceded this term, which is a marked improvement on the tenures of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, and Mourinho’s debut season when the Red Devils languished outside the top four and had to rely on Europa League success to qualify for the Champions League.
Why is there an air of discontent? Mourinho’s style of play and combative post-match comments have done little to warm him to fans, who expect the club to play with confidence and flair, especially at home. The defeat to Sevilla was a low point, and it is very likely that United will never adopt an ”attack, attack, attack” mindset under Mourinho, who so often defaults to a defensive “win or draw at all costs” strategy when playing big sides.
The first half against Liverpool was a step in the right direction as the exciting Marcus Rashford bagged a quick brace, but it was followed by a mediocre second 45 minutes. United then produced a workmanlike performance to see off Brighton to advance to the last four of the FA Cup, which will now be a primary focus as the club looks to salvage something from the season.
It is perhaps a testament to the expectations at Old Trafford that United may well secure a trophy and second place while it being deemed a less-than-vintage campaign overall. The Champions League defeat aside, United have rarely been dominated by teams domestically, and they will offer great value for those placing a bet on the FA Cup at Stakers.com in the coming weeks. Spurs are a tough obstacle, but big cup games are where Mourinho has traditionally earned his money.
Let’s not forget that the Portuguese brought home two trophies last term in the Europa League and League Cup. While the Premier League and Champions League have been the barometer of success for United, winning any silverware is important in an era where so many top clubs are now competitive. Both Spurs and Liverpool have won plaudits for their style of play, but it has been ten years and six years respectively since those teams tasted success in any competition.
That is arguably the best argument for Mourinho getting it right next season. He is a proven winner. Attentions will quickly turn to what needs to be done to haul in City and get the club being competitive among the elite in Europe. More money will need to spent, and big names such as Gareth Bale could be brought in. Mourinho has publicly blasted players this season, and he will have to manage the ins and outs carefully to overhaul the squad in order to compete on several fronts. Luke Shaw and Marouane Fellaini are likely to leave, while Michael Carrick will retire.
Mourinho has won numerous league titles and cups and the Champions League on two occasions during his 17-year managerial career. While he has lost some of the sparkle that brought success at his early clubs such as Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, he is still the best man for the task at hand at United, and he certainly has the ability to get it right in 2018/19. It is now up to him to prove it.