Premier League 2018-19: August preview for Manchester United
It's the start of another Premier League season and as for the Manchester United fans, another season in the hope for the return of PL title in the post-Ferguson era.
After a dismal reign of David Moyes and the boring football of Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho was entrusted to bring back United to their glory ways. For this, Mourinho brought back Paul Pogba for a then-record sum, along with a number of key players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and others.
Mourinho was successful in his first season, winning the League Cup and the Europa League, but finishing a lowly sixth. The second season was rather disastrous, even though United finished runners-up to city rivals, Manchester City, there was a huge gap between the two and United crashed out of the Champions League and League Cup too, followed by the loss in FA Cup final. Yet another trophy-less season.
For his third season, Mourinho has already started bemoaning over the lack of acquisition of transfer targets and the lack of first team players for the preseason (due to the World Cup). United were on the lookout for a central defensive figure throughout the transfer window, with the names of Toby Alderveireld, Jerome Boateng and Harry Maguire doing the rounds. A winger, especially a right sided one, was expected to join United.
Ed Woodward failed to get any of these targets, much to the chagrin of Mourinho. Only additions to the squad were midfielder Fred, young full-back Diogo Dalot and backup keeper Lee Grant. Add to this, the FIFA World Cup; wherein a number of United's first team players were involved till the final weekend of the tournament. Their delayed return to the squad training and absence from the preseason has added to Mourinho's woes.
With Manchester United under-prepared coming into a new season (with a host of main players suffering from fatigue too!), United and Mourinho really have a huge task of turning this season into a successful one. Their PL form shall indicate whether Mourinho successfully completes his third season at Manchester United or not.
Match 1 - Manchester United vs Leicester City (11th August)
Manchester United get their season underway by hosting former champs Leicester City at Old Trafford. Mourinho has already stated that up to 10 first team players shall be missing from the United's matchday squad.
Ander Herrera, who was injured against Bayern, and Nemanja Matic are among six players ruled out of the game with injury. Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Sergio Romero and Diogo Dalot also sidelined. As far as the rest are concerned, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini are very unlikely to feature as they only returned to training this week.
However, players such as Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Phil Jones, who returned earlier, have a better chance of being included in the squad. One can expect that the fringe players, such as Andreas Pereira, could make an appearance for the team, after an impressive preseason. David de Gea is expected to start, along with Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Ander Hererra and Alexis Sanchez as the sure starters.
Expect Mourinho to start this match defensive minded - to sit back and attack during counters. With not a lot of goals to be expected, unlike last season, Mourinho should be looking for a draw. But, one can still hope to see some exciting flair from Sanchez and hope for a goal or an assist. Claude Puel would be starting a life without Riyad Mahrez, their main creative and attacking threat. United won this fixture comfortably last season, but nothing can be said for this term.
Match 2 - Brighton & Hove Albion vs Manchester United (19th August)
By now, Mourinho would be having players such as Pogba and Young back into the first team plans and would be hoping to start them. He would be looking on playing the three-man midfield, with Pereira, Pogba and Fred marshalling the midfield. With Alexis Sanchez on the left and Marcus Rashford or Juan Mata taking the role on the right, it's expected that Lukaku would start up front.
Mourinho would be looking to start his season from this match and expect to play the free-flowing 4-3-3 formation to complement Pogba's abilities and talents. While the defence isn't expected to change much, one can foresee Young to slot back into the right-back role if Darmian fails to impress Mourinho with Shaw retaining the left-back position.
Brighton has made ten signings this summer, in a bid to stay in the top flight. Brighton did cause an upset last season, winning their home game against Manchester United. Chris Hughton will be hoping to cause an upset this time around too. But Mourinho might just remove a leaf from his tactical masterclass book and sway the result in his favour.
Match 3 - Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur (28th August)
The most important match this month would be against Spurs. A clash against a top-6 rival was the last thing Mourinho would've wanted without a fully fit squad. He would definitely want his key players such as Hererra, Valencia and Matic back into the first team plans - whose values are only realized during their absence.
United played with a 3-4-3 formation in the same fixture last season. Mourinho can be expected to either play with this formation or continue with the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 formation to help Fred adapt to the English game. For a successful season, United need to win points against the top-6 and Mourinho would be hoping to utilize the best from his squad.
Mauricio Pochhetino and Daniel Levy didn't make any signings this summer window, the first team ever to do so. But they still have a wealth of talent amongst their ranks - Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris.
They're expected to probably have the same lineup as last season and can be very lethal during attacks and set-pieces. Mourinho bettered Mauricio in the same fixture last season and in order to save his reputation, he'll go out all guns firing for this one.