Friday, 11 August 2017
United Corner- Manchester United, New Season, Increased Expectations (August 11th)
If you were going to grade the 2016/17 season, the first under Jose Mourinho, I think a 'B' would be about right.
While most of us would have hoped for a top four finish and a place back in the Champions League, winning the Europa League does feel a more positive way to do that. Adding the League Cup to the Community Shield won earlier in the season and seeing the likes of Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan improve over the course of the campaign means there is an even better spirit going into the new season.
The summer transfer window work has been solid enough with a central defender, central midfielder and number nine being brought in to add to the squad that has mainly been kept together from last season.
Victor Lindelof may need some time to settle, as the likes of Nemanja Vidic needed when they first arrived at Old Trafford into a position where mistakes are highlighted tenfold compared to most other positions on the pitch. I love the signing of Nemanja Matic which should free up Paul Pogba and increase his influence further up the pitch while Romelu Lukaku is a proven Premier League striker who should be able to help turn a number of Old Trafford draws into Old Trafford wins.
Mourinho would love for one more left sided player to be brought in to give Manchester United more balance and that continues to be a position they are targeting before the end of August.
All in all, it feels a good time to be a Manchester United fan.
Mourinho's history in the second season of previous clubs will only increase the expectations from twelve months ago when most would have accepted a top four finish. This time around, with the money being spent in the last two summer transfer windows, Manchester United fans are hoping they can make a significant leap like Leicester City and Chelsea have in the last couple of seasons and win the Premier League title for the first time since 2013.
I'm not so sure Mourinho is completely happy with the squad when it comes to winning the title, and the Super Cup loss to Real Madrid has shown the even larger gap to the European elite, but I will be expecting a title challenge at least.
That simply means top four is not enough.
Instead I am looking for Manchester United to at least be playing meaningful Premier League games towards the Premier League title in April 2018 and I don't think that is asking too much. Last season the 11 League draws at Old Trafford were an absolute killer for Manchester United and even turning half of those into wins would have meant United finished above Manchester City into 3rd place.
It would have definitely see United a lot closer to Chelsea especially when you consider Mourinho put the Europa League as the priority down the stretch which saw United slip back in the Premier League. By adding Lukaku, I do think Manchester United have a player who has thrived against the weaker opposition in the Premier League and he certainly can turn those draws into wins.
Lukaku has room to improve, but he can do that at Manchester United and I think it looks a good signing, even if I was initially a little skeptical about the move. Now I see a player who is going into his prime years with vast Premier League experience behind him and one who will score goals to help Manchester United win games.
He will need support and I would challenge the wingers and attacking midfielders to chip in with around 60 goals themselves to give Manchester United the platform to challenge for the title. That isn't asking too much of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba as far as I am concerned.
I am looking for big things from Mikhitaryan and Pogba in their second season now they have a little more experience behind them and Manchester United also avoid the extra games that come with the Europa League by being back in the Champions League.
We are all positive at the start of the season and I think Manchester United have been given a boost by the fixture compiler by being offered up a fairly weak start to the season. Before facing Liverpool after the international break in October, Manchester United face West Ham United, Leicester City, Everton and Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, while also heading to Swansea City, Stoke City and Southampton.
From those seven League games, I would expect Manchester United to win six if they want to challenge for the Premier League title and I fully believe they can do that. In previous Championship wining seasons Mourinho has had, his teams do build an early momentum and this gives Manchester United to do that before what looks a tough October/early November when facing three of the top four.
Win the games as expected and Manchester United really could be the title challengers we are all hoping they can be, but failure to win three or more and the pressure will already be on the club.
It would be great if United can add the left sided player they are clearly looking for, but even with the current squad I am excited about the new season ahead.
I would expect the early season team to mix up four at the back and three at the back depending on the team United are facing, although I would be surprised if United do not play all three August games with the same 4-2-3-1 system that Mourinho has loved throughout his career.
Expected Team versus West Ham: De Gea, Valencia, Darmian, Bailly, Jones, Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Lukaku.
There definitely feels an excitement at Old Trafford that may not have been there since the 2012/13 season which ended with the League title. While that may not happen this season, I do think Manchester United are building a really good squad.
A Premier League title challenge, a Quarter Final run in the Champions League and perhaps adding one of the domestic Cups would be the kind of season I would be looking for from Manchester United.
Win one of the top two competitions and it would be an 'A+' season, but there has to be at least be an improvement from last season. Matching last season would not be good enough this time around, but I am excited and ready for the new season.
Finally it is here.