After United lifted the UEFA Europa League trophy, instantly Mourinho’s first season at the helm was considered a huge success after he secured the club a return to the elite competition, the UEFA Champions League. At the start of the season, a return to Europe’s top competition was the target for Mourinho, but after a 6th placed finish, the Portuguese coach threw all his eggs in one basket and focused on prioritising the Europa League with just 3 Premier League games left. It was a gamble that paid off as goals from Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swiftly saw off the threat of a youthful Ajax side in Stockholm.
It was a victory of pragmatism, and a performance which showed that Mourinho is merely focused on results rather than becoming football’s William Wordsworth. United soaked up pressure from Ajax’ attacks and killed them at vital moments, in a professional and swift manner. Now United have the luxury of playing Champions League next season, Mourinho will be aiming over the summer to take United to the next level… or even United’s Chief Executive Ed Woodward, seeing as Mourinho is on his summer break.
After an up and down Premier League season, United have a lot to work on if they have any dream of bringing the Premier League back to Old Trafford.
As a fantastic season has drawn to a close, this is my End of Season report on Manchester United:
What is your overall verdict on the Season, hit or miss?
Personally, I see this season as a hit simply because our main target at the start of the season has been reached, and that was to secure Champions League football. Certainly, we secured it through the back door but you gotta be in it to win it, and we did. The Premier League has been a hit and miss throughout, but I have always thought we were never going to challenge for the Premier League title as many predicted at the start of the season. This has been a season of merely, laying the foundations and Mourinho has done that with aplomb. We look a much better outfit in defence that under Van Gaal and Moyes, Mourinho has eradicated the silly and unnecessary mistakes; players such as Rojo, Bailly, Blind and Phil Jones have certainly raised their game due to the tactical pragmatism of Mourinho – a coach well known for his defensive mind-set and focus.
However, its our attack that needs work. We’ve played some scintillating football at times but our finishing has really let us down. Our inability to kill teams off in the final third probably was the main we didn’t finish as high as we would have wanted, and I’m sure Mourinho will be solely focusing on attending to that issue during the summer transfer window.
What’s your highlight of the season?
Winning the Europa League. As simple as that. As a United fan, I don’t think I would have been able to cope without another season of Champions League football. Mourinho got the job done in Stockholm. It was nice seeing us lift a major trophy as well as the League Cup – another highlight considering the way in which we had to struggle against the pressures of Southampton – it is a trophy that has merely eluded us for so many years. At the end of the day, it is about winning trophies despite our disappointing league position – to see us lifting our third trophy in two years was a joy to behold. United is a club so richly blessed with Major Honours and it was good to carry on that tradition.
Also, the signing of elite players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic (I really do hope he stays next season), Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan showed that we could compete with the best financially even without the allure of Champions League football.
What is your lowlight?
Our finishing. Diabolical. Frustrating. Disheartening. Imagine where would be if we would have won like 10 or 11 of those 15 games, we would have been up there fighting with the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham for the League title, however, it wasn’t to be. It is a major problem we must address in this summers window.
Who’s your Player of the Season?
Ander Herrera. I was thinking Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Valencia, but then I thought the Spanish midfielder has been ever-present for us this season – Deserved winner of the Manchester United Player of the Season award too – a player who has been perfectly moulded into the Mourinho-type midfield destroyer. When Herrera joined the club 3 years ago, he was considered an attacking midfielder. Van Gaal couldn’t see no use of him in his starting XI, and his self-proclaimed “philosophy” suffered as a result – a philosophy so hell-bent on possession football and movement which required the abilities of Herrera, who is blessed with that midfield thrust and an eye for the extraordinary pass (just check his assist for Mkhitaryan against Tottenham and for Rashford against Chelsea). Only God knows why Van Gaal couldn’t realise his mesmeric abilities in the midfield. He has been called upon to change his style under Jose Mourinho and he has duly delivered. His passion, determination and fighting spirit on the pitch has been outstanding. Add in his passing abilities and he has turned into the perfect midfielder this season. Captain of United in the making? I wouldn’t put it past him.
Most Improved Player?
Marcos Rojo. Let me be honest, when Van Gaal bought him, I couldn’t see anything special but a rashness in his game that would get him in trouble every time he flies in for a tackle. I hardly knew him anyway, but under Mourinho this season, the Argentine has finally found his feat (well not literally, seeing as his season ended prematurely because of a bad knee injury). Under Mourinho’s guidance, Rojo has dominated the air, his opponents and the threat around with an assuredness and composure that was so far-fetched when he joined in 2014. I would have picked Antonio Valencia for this gong, but Rojo has impressed me the most.
Best Goal of the Season?
Simply Amazing. Don’t care what Olivier Giroud thinks. Henrikh Mkhitaryan did it first.
What areas need to be strengthened for next term?
Definitely a Prolific Striker, a goal scoring winger, a defensive midfielder and probably a centre back too. Mourinho knows what he needs to do, who am I to comment?
If money was no object and you could sign any player in World Football, who would it be and how would they fit into your team?
Neymar. My favourite player in World Football. I really enjoy watching this guy play football, his ability to take on his marker with consummate ease is a sight to behold. We have been linked with him in the past couple of transfer windows. Although the interest seems far fetched, I would love to see him at Old Trafford sometime in the future. I don’t think he will become a one club man and stay at Barcelona for the rest of his career, I feel the Premier League needs someone with his extravagant abilities and I’m sure he would love to test himself in England too.
United still is the place to fulfil dreams and ambitions and Neymar will be the centre of those lofty ambitions. He hasn’t got that ‘main man’ tag at Barcelona because of Lionel Messi, so why not become the main man at Manchester United and become the best player in the world just like Cristiano Ronaldo did. Even winning the Ballon D’or.
There is no better place to achieve that than at Old Trafford.
What would represent a successful season next year?
Well, that does depend of whether Mourinho secures his top targets this summer, that is why I feel this summers window could be United’s biggest yet. If we do secure those targets for next season, then why not go far in the Champions League as well as winning the Premier League? Mourinho has won the League title at every club he has been at in his managerial career, and I am hugely confident he will carry on that trend during his time at Old Trafford. We won three trophies in an otherwise average season to be fair, with a team/squad that is not fully moulded into the Mourinho image. Imagine what we could next season if Mourinho successfully tunes his squad into the way he wants next season.
There will be difficult obstacles in his way such as Pep Guardiola across the city at the Etihad, as well as Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Champions Chelsea all battling it out to win the Premier League next season. But you have to ‘beat the best to be the best’. Mourinho has been there, done that on many occasions in his decorated managerial career, who’s to say he can’t achieve another next season at Manchester United.
It promises to be another magnificent battle of the new and improved ‘Top 6’ next term. I for one cannot wait.