Manchester United 2017/18 Season Preview: Will they reclaim the English throne?
Manchester United started off the 2017/18 season with a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. While certainly nothing to be ashamed of, the loss to the Champions of Europe underlined just how far Manchester United are from getting back to the elite stage they believe is theirs.
However, before we dig into the detailed preview of the forthcoming season, let's see how the Red Devils fared last time around.
Quick recap of 2016/17
League position: 6th
Total points: 69
Europa League: Winners
FA Cup: Semifinals
EFL Cup: Winners
Top scorer in PL: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (17 goals)
One stat that defined last season: A 25 match unbeaten run that included 12 draws showed how defensively solid and offensively ineffective the team was.
One match that defined last season: Manchester United 0-0 Burnley; a game in which the the home side registered 38 shots on goal. 38.
Transfers so far:
Romelu Lukaku (from Everton): €84.7 million
Nemanja Matic (from Chelsea): €44.7 million
Victor Lindelof (from Benfica): €35 million
All three signings look like they'll slot automatically into the starting XI, and increase the quality on show whilst doing so. While Lukaku and Matic are well adjusted to the famed hustle and blind of the English game, Lindelof may take a month or two to catch up, but the Swede is a talented young centre-back and he should slot in nicely in the tough-as-nails United defence.
Returned from loan - Sam Johnstone, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, and Andreas Perreira
Andreas Perreira played well on loan with hapless Granada in La Liga, and he will prove to be a useful option off the bench for Mourinho with his neat passing and ability to transition from defence to attack in a heartbeat.
Main remaining targets this window: Ivan Perisic (Internazionale), Serge Aurier (PSG), Fabinho (AS Monaco)... and maybe even Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Adnan Januzaj (to Real Sociedad): €8.5 million
Wayne Rooney (to Everton): Free transfer (as part of the Romelu Lukaku transfer)
While the sale of Adnan Janzaj will surprise no-one, it's still a sad sight to see a much vaunted young talent haplessly lose his way within the United set-up due to a lack of temperament.
Wayne Rooney's departure, meanwhile, had a number of fans mourning the exit of a bonafide club legend, but truth be told most of those mourners have been wishing for his exit for quite a while now. Mourinho, and the club, deserves a round of applause for the way they managed the situation - and for the respect (much earned) that they gave good ol' Wazza.
Loaned out - Sam Johnstone (to Aston Villa), Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Leeds), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Crystal Palace
Released as free agent - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (There is, though, talk that the Swede might be bought back on once he recovers from his ACL tear)
Net Spend: €155.90
In the eyes of many, all this big-spending needs a higher league finish to justify.
Probable Starting XI:
With a squad depth that most sides can but dream of, Manchester United are spoilt for choice when it comes to the starting XI, especially when it comes to the attacking third
If either Messrs. Ivan Perisic or Gareth Bale come in (both far from likely as it stands), they will walk into the lineup at the expense of either Rashford or Mkhitaryan. Juan Mata and Anthony Martial too can fill in from the wings, while Rashford is a terror in a more central role.
Jesse Lingard is a useful option on either wing and shares a great connection with fellow Academy graduates Rashford and Pogba.
In midfield, Michael Carrick could be used to unlock testy defences while opposition managers still haven't found an effective technique to shackle the ultimate plan B that is Marouane Fellaini.
Meanwhile, Andreas Perreira could just prove to be an X-factor this season.
In the back, United may be short of right-back options especially with Timothy Fosu-Mensah leaving on loan to Crystal Palace. Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw remain major injury concerns - and will be back only late this year - but with Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind, left-back shouldn't be a major headache.
However, pre-season (and the first half of the UEFA Super Cup) indicated that United may actually try a back three at times too. If so, this could be how they go about it -
Romelu Lukaku's previous five league seasons had a return of 17, 15, 10, 18, and 25 goals (from 2012/13 to 2016/17) and the lad's only 24 years old. He's improved every season he's been in the league, and United's problem with not being able to close out games should be put to bed by the big Belgian. As he showed in the Super Cup, he's capable of both the sublime and the frustrating - but his signing definitely strengthens United's attack.
The presence of Nemanja Matic should, in theory, free up Paul Pogba to do what he does best - and the creative energy of the young Frenchman could be hard to contain for most Premier League sides.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan looks like he's returning to the kind of form that made him the best player in Bundesliga a couple of years ago, and the Armenian's canny football mind - supplemented by the effervescent Juan Mata - should add more than a dash of creativity to the team.
As they say on Stretford End, Dave Saves, and it's a major boost that their Spanish keeper remains their no. 1 - David De Gea wins United points by his lonesome at times.
Oh, and never underestimate the power of a Jose Mourinho second season.
The team can still appear a little dull in attack - especially on the wings... their preferred wingers are Anthony Martial., Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - all of whom are much more comfortable cutting in rather than holding the width. This can make United narrower than is ideal at times and can lend their attack a certain amount of one-dimensionality. This is why they were so interested in Ivan Perisic - and Ed Woodward and co. may be well advised to keep at the pursuit of Perisic and his ilk.
The defence can appear surprisingly frail at times (looking at you, Chris "Mike" Smalling) and left-back is still a position that can be improved upon - none of the current crop provide the kind of attacking purpose (and extreme pace) that Antonio Valencia brings to the party.
Jose Mourinho's tendency to have his teams sit back too deep may, though, be their biggest weakness... as they showed in the Super Cup (and for large parts of last season) they can be a treat to watch when moving forward - some better finishing, and things will be a whole lot different this time around.
While most experts predict a league triumph for United's "noisy" neighbours (and for good reason), I am going to go out on a limb and say that the combined might of United's deep squad and Jose Mourinho's 2nd season magic will be enough tom return the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford for the first time since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
A quarterfinal run in the UEFA Champions League also appears to be on the cards; though they will struggle if they draw one of Europe's super-elite before that; United are still very much a work-in-progress and it might take the final third of the season for them to fully hit top gear.