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Friday, 3 February 2017

United Corner- Jose Mourinho's First Six Months (February 3rd)

United Corner- Jose Mourinho After Six Months
It has been a tough three seasons for Manchester United and their fans having to endure the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal eras, but the appointment of Jose Mourinho always felt like it was the one that should have been made after Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.

After three years of poor football and poorer signings, I don't think too many could have been surprised that Mourinho had some teething problems at Manchester United although I don't think he has helped himself with snap judgements on players early his time as manager.

The likes of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger have had to work hard to get back into the manager's thinking with the former being a key to Paul Pogba's improvement as the Frenchman has been allowed to concentrate a little more on his attacking development than his defensive work.

Others have still got to prove their worth with Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw the stand out names who look to be fighting for their future at the club. Even Chris Smalling has to wonder if he is going to be the long-term solution at centre half that so many fans thought he would be as he has failed to progress under Mourinho from what was his career best year for Manchester United in Van Gaal's final season.

The changes in the squad have already begun to be made with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay being allowed to move on and those names mentioned perhaps in danger in the summer transfer window. It will mean that very few of the signings made in the last three years are actually a part of the future plans of Jose Mourinho, although I still think Shaw and Martial are capable of changing the manager's mind over the next four months.

Most fans would understand that this is not really a season where Manchester United could really expect to challenge for the title as new faces settle into the squad and the tactics are changed to incorporate a different style. The football has improved in the last few months and Manchester United feel a bit more like the kind of team that most have been used to watching although the next step forward in a bid to once again finish as Champions will likely be taken after another transfer window in the summer.

Even with that in mind, this feels like it could still be a very important season for Manchester United to prove they are a team on the up.

There is plenty of football to be played for that to happen though and Manchester United are in a position between having a really strong season and one that perhaps falls short of expectations. Too many draws in the first three months of the season as well as losses to Manchester City and Chelsea have hurt Manchester United in the Premier League and I am not sure there will be enough in the bank to use in the second half of the season to overhaul the teams above them.

A quick prediction through the rest of the season had me placing United finish in 5th place behind Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool (but above Arsenal which was a surprise to me). It means Manchester United need to make up for some of those draws from earlier in the season by beating teams they are perhaps not favoured to do, although I think we may all regret the draws with Liverpool and Stoke City in January in games Manchester United looked much stronger on paper.

It is the Cup competitions that can offer Jose Mourinho salvation as Manchester United have progressed through to the Last 32 in the Europa League, the Fifth Round of the FA Cup and have an English Football League Cup Final set against Southampton at the end of February.

I never understood why so many in the media thought United should ignore the Europa League when you consider the avenue into the Champions League that the tournament winner receives. This is not a competition loaded with quality and Manchester United are more than good enough to win the Europa League so I am absolutely behind Jose Mourinho's decision to play strong teams in a bid to win it.

Getting into the Champions League is so important for Manchester United and it doesn't matter if that comes from a top four finish or by winning the Europa League. Putting all the eggs in one basket by concentrating solely on the League might have made the current position feel a lot more disappointing than it does so being in the Europa League is an advantage, not a hindrance as some in the media suggested.

That is the case this season when I didn't really expect a title challenge from United, but getting back into the Champions League will be better than trying to win the Premier League with the Europa League commitments next season. One way or another, United must get back into the premier competition of European football.

There is every chance that Manchester United are progressing towards a trophy in the 2016/17 season with the domestic Cup competitions another serious avenue. Of course Manchester United will be big favourites to see off Southampton in the League Cup Final and that has been a trophy that has sparked previous successes for Mourinho in his time with Chelsea.

With improved football on the pitch, there is an improved feeling off the pitch as Manchester United fans do look at this club as one moving in a positive direction. However it does feel that the one factor that is going to determine whether this is a successful season or one of underachievement is going to be whether Manchester United are playing in the Champions League next season or not.

That goal remains in the balance at this moment, but the fixtures are going to be coming thick and fast over the next few weeks which will quickly determine whether Manchester United can achieve what they wanted to do when the season began.

The last few weeks have been a little more difficult as Manchester United have gotten into a habit of starting games slowly and then chasing a way to get back into games. They did that against Liverpool and Stoke City to drop four points in those games and that put the pressure on to make sure they beat Hull City in the League which didn't happen.

Much of that could be blamed on the squad rotation that has been going on and the continuous fall out with Anthony Martial meaning Wayne Rooney is spending far too much time on the field even if he is not starting games. Take away the strike against Stoke City and I would say Rooney has been next to useless over the last few months so how he continues to get in ahead of Martial/Mkhitaryan/Mata (depending on which of those are on the bench) is baffling.

There are seven games for Manchester United in February which means rotation might be needed, but I think Mourinho needs to go back to the settled selections to make sure his side build momentum again. The top four looks a long shot already, but Manchester United can win silverware and so getting things going with a bit more positivity is important.

The overriding feeling is that this is a team that is improving all the time and will be back amongst the elite of England and Europe under Mourinho's guidance. He does need to bring in some more new faces in the transfer window in the summer which can close the gap on those teams above Manchester United but the football has been much more enjoyable and that can make a huge difference compared with some of the turgid stuff the fans had to tolerate over the last three years.

As the song goes, 'something tells me I'm into something good'.

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