Analysing Jose Mourinho's signings and Manchester United's chances in the upcoming season
A detailed analysis of Manchester United's chances ahead of the 2017/18 season.
The sledgehammer is about to hit the anvil at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho is in his second season at a football club. Historically, Mourinho did extraordinarily well in his second season at every single club he has ever managed.
At Porto, he lifted the holy grail: the UEFA Champions League trophy. At Chelsea, he won the Premier League for the second consecutive season, shattering records in the process. At Inter Milan the story was, even more, extraordinary – he did a historic treble winning the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League in 2009-10.
At Real Madrid, he won the La Liga in 2011-12 and then he came back to Chelsea and won the Premier League again in 2014-15 – all in his second seasons with the clubs.
Now he is in his second full season at Manchester United. There is an air of expectancy already. It’s Mourinho, it’s his second season, he’s got the players, he’s got the second best defensive record from the previous season in the Premier League (only a bit shy of Tottenham Hotspur’s record), he’s in the Champions League after winning the Europa League.
The tide seems to be turning. The sledgehammer is about to hit the anvil. Will the Old Trafford faithful be singing “Glory, glory Man United” with all their enthusiasm?
In truth, it’s been a tough year for Manchester. With tragedy striking the city not so long ago, the people of Manchester need something great to sing and cheer about. Manchester United needs to bring back the glory days. But how has Mourinho designed his squad in the run-up to the ever so expectant 2017-18 season?
Romelu Lukaku has been signed from Everton for £75 million signalling United’s intent. The Red Devils craved a striker like Lukaku, someone young, who can hit the back of the net consistently. But an analysis of the Belgian striker reveals quite a few details.
Lukaku scores a lot of goals against smaller teams
Romelu Lukaku is known to bully the defences of smaller mid-table and bottom half teams. His record against teams in the lower strata of the Premier League is a very solid one. More than anything else this suits Manchester United a lot.
The Red Devils struggled to find the net against smaller teams with tighter, compact and body-on-the line defences last season. This was a huge source of frustration for the Old Trafford faithful and that’s what made them fall behind the pack in the Premier League last season.
Now with Lukaku in the side, United have got a striker who can bully and barge his way through those tighter defences and score.
Age and time on his side
On the flip side, Lukaku is only 24-years-old and does have a lot of time on his side to develop into a world class striker. He already possesses an exemplary record.
He’s got the physicality, he’s got the ability and attributes and he’s at a big club who will play in Europe. All he has to do now is improve his game under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho and deliver consistently. He has the makings of a striker who could restore glory at Old Trafford.
The ideal Jose Mourinho striker
Jose Mourinho has signed Lukaku because he suits his tactics and his gameplay style. The Belgian can be used in a plethora of ways by Mourinho, much like Didier Drogba at Chelsea.
Mourinho is possibly setting up a direct route of play – ping in balls for the Belgian to hold it up using his strength and physical prowess and bring his team-mates into play. The Portuguese can also use Lukaku’s speed on the counter-attack to do serious damage.
The Belgian seems to go into hibernation in some phases of the season. A slumbering giant, Lukaku at times deceives in the goal scoring department. Back in September 2016, Lukaku had not scored for Everton in 13 games, dating back to March of the previous campaign – his longest goal drought in English football.
He then replied in swashbuckling fashion by banging a hat-trick in eleven minutes of the second half against Sunderland. Then by 9th December 2016, he went five league games without a goal.
It seems that he repeats this in cycles – not score for five games and then hit a brace or a hat-trick against a team in the bottom half of the table.
There is a huge question mark whether he will continue to repeat this cycle at Old Trafford as well and it's a question nobody is asking. It’s a huge problem for Jose Mourinho to address. If his main striker is unable to deliver consistently, United could fall off the pace in the title race.
Performances against top defenders
The 24-year-old Belgian is physically strong but in the games against defenders of top quality i.e in the world class bracket, he seems to always struggle and come off second best. Against Chelsea and their top class defence in the Premier League, Lukaku’s record is abysmal. In six games against the Stamford Bridge outfit, he has failed to score a single goal.
In eight games against Tottenham Hotspur(the side with the best defensive record in 2016/17) he scored just one goal. These are the best defenders in the country and Lukaku has clearly struggled against them.
Can he prove this wrong against the Chiellinis, Varanes and Bonuccis in the UEFA Champions League next season? Another huge question mark.
Lukaku doesn’t drop deep to help out his team-mates and plays higher up the pitch, battling with centre-backs and pulls wide. He isn’t the best at bringing his team-mates into play with his passing and isn’t the most decisive or skilful of players.
All internet memes aside, Lukaku’s first touch is something that needs a lot of working on. He loses possession far too easily and gives away the ball cheaply on numerous occasions.
Mourinho has to work on Lukaku
Mourinho will have to work on Lukaku’s game to make sure that he can bring the best out of the striker. He’s not the finished product yet and needs a bit of working on. He’s also got the gauntlet of a blockbuster price-tag and whether he has the mental makeup to overcome the pressure and deliver remains to be seen.
Victor Lindelof has been signed from Benfica for £39 million and that brings much needed defensive solidarity for Manchester United. But how good is he?
A ball playing centre-back
Lindelof is good on the ball and can distribute from the back. Apart from his defensive qualities, the Swede can play the ball out of defence with ease which is something United need. There was always the lack of a proper ball playing defender after Rio Ferdinand left Old Trafford and Lindelof could change that come next season.
A week-in, week-out defensive partner for Eric Bailly
Manchester United’s defence was heavily rotated by Jose Mourinho last season, almost as if he didn’t know who the right partner for Eric Bailly was.
The pair should be able to combine well together in the heart of the Red Devils’ defence and this could bring much-needed stability to Mourinho’s back line. Lindelof could become the defender Mourinho picks week-in and week-out alongside Eric Bailly.
Adaptability to the Premier League
Victor Lindelof isn’t tried and tested in the Premier League and coming from the Portuguese league, it could take him some time to adapt. He needs to step his game up a few notches to handle the rigours of the league.
Once the season starts next month, the Old Trafford faithful will know just how good the Swedish centre-back is and whether Mourinho picks him as a starter for the majority of the games.
Manchester United’s chances in 2017/18
Going into next season, United sure do have the squad to win big things. However, the side need their creative players to perform to the best of their ability. The only three creative players in the side are Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata.
The trio have found it difficult to hit the heights they did at their previous clubs and haven’t been consistent enough in a United jersey. If the trio can score 8-10 goals a piece and register 15 or more assists like they have done in the past for their old clubs, then United could win big.
If however, they perform like they did last season then it simply won't do. Lukaku needs service and the creative midfielders need to feed him with key passes and create a lot of chances.
Further, this United side are far, far too narrow at the moment and don't have enough output coming from the wings. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, wing-play was very important and with the help of top-class wingers, through the years, United created a very high number of chances for their strikers.
Mourinho’s United, on the other hand, do not have a single winger to whip in crosses and provide some sort of threat down the flanks. The Portuguese manager is either playing strikers or number 10's out wide and this is proving costly for the Red Devils.
Apart from this Mourinho is leaving all the wing-play and crossing to the United full-backs who again haven't performed to the best of their ability last season. They don't have a notable crosser of the ball, except maybe Antonio Valencia.
Mourinho has time to sign a winger before the transfer window shuts and he should seriously consider signing the Croat or any player in a similar mould to give the team more width. United need to play more from the flanks with out and out wingers in order to feed Lukaku and the runners from midfield.
In all, a lot hinges on how the new signings and the rest of the team perform come August when the season kicks-off. If the team with Mourinho’s tactical nous, perform to the best of their ability, potential, talent and skill and give a 100% each game, then Manchester United could lift a major trophy or two in 2017/18.
Will Mourinho conquer all before him in his second season at Old Trafford? The sledgehammer is coming down and the sword is being cast on the anvil, but how sharply will the newly forged blade penetrate the armour of teams in the Premier League and in Europe? Only time will tell.