He’s done it again. Jose Mourinho has pulled off another spell from his book of the dark arts to salvage a mediocre season, at best for Manchester United. A very calculated, risk-free approach ensured that an attacking Ajax side was essentially nullified, epitomised by Kasper Dolberg’s second touch of the game coming only from the kick-off following Paul Pogba’s opener.
By sealing the club’s first Europa League title in their illustrious history, Mourinho has got them back into the Champions League and became the first United manager to win two major trophies in his first season. Regardless of how flattering that might sound, United have had a nightmare season without a shadow of a doubt.
The fact that a 64-game-season’s success ultimately came down to one emotional night at Stockholm speaks volumes. An underwhelming league performance being forgiven due to the trophies and Champions League qualification; such was the nature of this season. And no one knows this fact better than the Portuguese himself.
What he would also know, is that it would be foolish to think this squad won’t need much of an upgrade come summer. Realistically, there is a massive room for improvement for a squad challenging for three domestic crowns as well as the elite European competition. “It is a giant club, but not a giant team,” were Mourinho’s words after the victory at
Stockholm, when quizzed about potential summer business. It is the clearest indication till date that a big summer awaits Old Trafford.
The liabilities/unsuitable players in the squad during the season have either been sold if they failed to prove themselves. Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger were considered unnecessary luxuries and sold in the winter. Marcos Rojo and Marouane Fellaini are players who have vastly improved under the former Chelsea boss.
So where does Manchester United need further strengthening?
Chris Smalling put in a very, very effective shift in the final but keeping him at the club beyond the summer would be a crime. United are aiming to assault every competition possible to regain their status as a top European club. And a top European club would never have Smalling in their presumably esteemed starting XI. He was directly responsible for more than seven of the goals that United conceded in the league, and was virtually on a suicide mission during their visit to Stamford Bridge.
Jones is another curious case altogether. The player who was once touted to have the potential to grow into ‘one of the best players to have ever played for Manchester United’ by Sir Alex himself is a warrior on occasion, a self-parody on most others.
There are other vacant slots in the team that need addressing either at the first team level or in the capacity of able deputies. Luke Shaw has failed to nail down a regular berth in the team, losing out to a puzzling rotation system featuring Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Ashley Young and Matteo Darmian.
Rojo is now a first choice centre-back, Blind is the utility man (whose best performance came in the Europa League final), Young’s future is in question. Matteo Darmian is the only one worth making a case for in this list, but is a natural right back and should be deployed as a deputy for either of the full backs, provided United obtain the services of someone else. Benjamin Mendy, for instance, would be a good example, the player who ran riot on City’s right flank in the Champions League.
Although a now-improved Darmian is a worthy squad player, United need more firepower in that regard. With Carrick’s imminent yet understandably reduced minutes next season, they need to go all out for a commanding presence in the middle of the park.
Herrera and Pogba have galvanised their slots in the team as the catalysts in the middle third. And even with the presence of 6’4” Fellaini, they need another warrior to share the burden. With another potentially another 60-game season on the horizon, this is absolutely essential.
Another important factor pointing out the need for an experienced head in midfield is to guide the ever-improving academy prospects, who have impressed at times this season. This, of course, is only valid should Carrick choose to hang his boots up. The likes of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe and Scott McTominay would benefit from such a move.
It is uncanny how a team that spent more than £130 million in the summer relied solely on the free transfer Zlatan Ibrahimovic for goals. The Swede icon’s 28 goals are the highest at the club by a mile, and attacking reinforcements are the most crucial requirements at the club. Whether he decides to return to Manchester upon recovery or not, that shouldn’t change their summer plans.
The most abysmal statistic out of a whole lot of them for United would be the fact that Bournemouth, a club that earned promotion just over two years ago has scored more Premier League goals than Manchester United. Now that Champions League qualification has been sealed, Ed Woodward will be expected to bring in a few big name signings without a doubt and United faithful will hope that they will bring along goals with them.
Pogba’s cryptic yet suggestive social media activity after the win at Stockholm has sent their fanbase into a frenzy regarding the potential arrival of Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has long been linked with a move to Old Trafford and now, it is starting to look more like ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
A few more big names in the market such as Andrea Belotti of Torino are making rounds on social media, but whoever it is that they are secretly (or not) targeting, it is certain that beefing up the attacking cavalry at Old Trafford is imminent.
Mourinho has admitted that he has left the summer business completely in the trustworthy hands of Ed Woodward, with the club reportedly willing to spend upward of £200m this summer.
The pragmatic Portuguese knows better than anyone that he cannot berate the FA for their fatigue or injuries, and most importantly, Jose has to bring in plenty of goals. He has a history of making high-profile signings wherever he has managed (except Porto). Now he has the treasured money of the Glazers to spend and as long as he delivers above expectations, and not hang on to a lifeline like he has this season.Published 25 May 2017, 19:40 IST