Manchester United season preview: Worrying signs under Jose Mourinho
We assess the challenges facing Jose Mourinho as Manchester United prepare for the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Last season: 2nd
Major ins: Diogo Dalot, Fred
Major outs: Daley Blind, Michael Carrick
Key player: Alexis Sanchez
There is tension in the air at Manchester United. Jose Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure throughout pre-season, reeling off a long list of complaints about everything from fixture scheduling to transfers during their tour of the United States. “Everything is really bad,” he said in one of his prickly media appearances.
Mourinho’s mood has dampened any sense of optimism about the new season, and it has also thrown up troubling comparisons with his previous jobs. Is Mourinho suffering from another case of third-season syndrome? Is his Manchester United tenure heading towards a rocky end?
A strong start to the season would put paid to those concerns, and Mourinho’s mood might be improved if he is able to bring in more new faces before the transfer deadline, but at the moment the outlook is far from rosy and supporters are entitled to be worried. Here, we look at three of the key challenges facing Mourinho as the big kick-off draws closer.
Focus on what matters
Mourinho’s outspoken approach to press appearances is nothing new, but the negativity is becoming stifling at United and there is a sense that he is picking battles needlessly. His criticism of Anthony Martial, who left their pre-season tour to attend the birth of his second child, felt too strong.
One of Mourinho’s biggest gripes is that he feels he is not getting the backing he wants in the transfer market, but United have already spent vast sums under his watch. Would he be better served trying to get the best out of what he has already got? His priority should be to steady the ship and focus on improving the team. That’s his best hope of closing the gap on City.
Sort out the defense
Manchester United only conceded 28 Premier League goals last season but it would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for David De Gea. The Spaniard performed wonders for United, making brilliant saves on a regular basis and, according to Opta’s Expected Goals metric, preventing more goals than any other Premier League goalkeeper.
United can’t rely on De Gea to bail them out indefinitely, however, so it’s up to Mourinho to give him more protection. He is hoping to bring in at least one new centre-back, with Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina on his shortlist, but he has already spent a combined total of more than £60m on Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Can he coax improvement from them?
Paul Pogba showed flashes of what he is capable of last season, scoring six goals and providing 10 assists in 27 Premier League appearances, but after two years back at Old Trafford it still feels as though United are waiting to see the very best of him. His strained relationship with Mourinho has not helped, but his performances for France at the World Cup showed what he can do if the circumstances are right.
It’s down to Mourinho to create those same circumstances at United. Pogba has struggled to meet Mourinho’s demands at times in the last two seasons, but he should be helped by the arrival of Fred, who could provide a platform for him to attack with greater freedom.
Phil Thompson’s verdict
I’m not so sure about what’s happening at Manchester United and I think alarm bells will be ringing on a commercial front with the manager and the team not really operating in the way the fans want. I think we will see more of Alexis Sanchez, though. He’s a very good player but he doesn’t like to be told to stay in one position, whereas Mourinho likes structure, so him having a better season that will be crucial. They’ve still got De Gea, the player of the year again, which says everything, but getting a defender in of the quality of Maguire or Alderweireld might be key to really improving them. I think Maguire has all the attributes to be a top defender.