A mid-season review of Manchester United
With the Premier League season just over the halfway mark, it seems apt to assess how well Manchester United have done so far this season.
The 2016-17 season was a mixed one for the Red Devils, with the elation of winning the EFL Cup and Europa League offset by the disappointment of finishing sixth in the Premier League, which was only one place higher than where they finished in David Moyes' disastrous reign.
United were hampered by an inability to kill off games, particularly against weaker opponents, and a number of damaging draws hampered their league campaign. Their cause wasn't helped either by the injury crisis they faced.
So how have they done so far in the 2017-18 season? The answer is better than last year, but with room for further improvement. Notwithstanding the recent shakiness at the back, Mourinho's side has gotten even better in terms of defending and many consider David de Gea to be the world's best goalkeeper.
The Spaniard already has 15 clean sheets in the league this season, after the latest shut-out against Huddersfield last weekend. That's one more clean sheet than what De Gea managed in the whole of last season, which is an incredible achievement considering there are 12 games still to go in the Premier League this season.
The emergence of young players like Jesse Lingard has also been a huge positive. Lingard has 12 goals in all competitions so far, more than he's managed in any other season and finally looks like he is fulfilling his potential. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have also performed admirably in defence, whilst Mourinho has even managed to repair his relationship with Luke Shaw.
United are through to the last 16 of the Champions League and are favourites to progress against Sevilla. Barring their slip-up against Tottenham, the Red Devils have been on a good run of form in the Premier League of late as well.
The signing of Alexis Sanchez is a masterstroke. The Chilean is exactly the type of player Manchester United have been crying out for: an experienced, direct forward player with energy and desire.
Despite the numerous positives, there are things United need to improve upon. They have already been beaten by Manchester City, Tottenham, and Chelsea this season having played poorly in each of these games. Their record against big sides needs to improve. They need to show the same attacking flair as in their 3-1 win over Arsenal.
A player who has been singled out for criticism, largely due to his non-performances in big games is Romelu Lukaku. This seems a little harsh; the Belgian already has 19 goals in all competitions and is somewhat hindered by Mourinho's defence-minded approach in big games.
Indeed, whilst Manchester United's defence has been a real strength, their attack, though significantly better than last season, still has its shortcomings. A little like last season, United have had enough chances to win games, but ended up drawing or losing them. A recent example might be the 2-2 draw against Leicester, where United were 2-1 up against 10 men, but still conceded a last-minute equaliser.
Their attack also received criticism in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, where at 2-0 down, the Reds never really looked like getting back into the game. United have also produced a handful of other off-key performances this season, most notably in embarrassing defeats to Huddersfield and Bristol City.
The Red Devils look likely to finish a distant second to Manchester City this season, but encouragingly they will still be achieving their best Premier League result in the post-Ferguson era. Mourinho's win percentage at United is nearly 62% and if they can achieve consistency and a better record in big games, the Premier League title may well be returning to Old Trafford next season.