Utd got away with one last season as a Europa League win saved what would otherwise have been a disaster of a season. Despite that at the end of the season Utd had been the second most successful team in England and the future was looking fairly bright.
Before the first game has even started, 2017-18 has started better than last season. For only the second time in the last five seasons Utd will start with the same manager as finished the season before. It’s the sort of consistency in style and leadership which the club has been calling out for since Fergie retired.
Unlike Van Gaal it feels like the players have bonded better with Mourinho and what he is wanting them to do has resonated better also. Something as simple as consistency of management shouldn’t be looked down on when it comes to the team being successful and with this foundation uncertainty should be less.
When I wrote my review of the previous season (click this link to read) I felt that the club needed to shift some of the dead weight, primarily Januzaj and Rooney and thankfully that has happened. Neither player will be a loss for the club, in fact quite the opposite as getting rid of useless players who think they should be starting and cause unrest isn’t really what is needed in a squad.
Utd have for too long carried too many passengers in the squad (some on ridiculous wages) and the clear out has taken longer than it really should have thanks to some bad contracts and signings in the last few years. I respect Rooney’s decision to for once in his career not chase the money and join Everton, where I’m sure he will be as below mediocre as is imaginable.
It seems that every season David De Gea is rumoured to leave Utd for Real Madrid, yet at the start of the season he is still at the club. He seems more settled now and with the squad getting younger and improving as well he is probably more likely to stay than go in the near future. The problem would be that if he had joined Real Madrid two years ago when he was supposed to he would he won two Champions League’s by now, in comparison he’s won a bunch of B level trophies at Utd, you can see where the temptation is. Regardless of all that, De Gea is the best keeper in the Premier League by quite some way, if Mourinho can keep him focused then he will have another fantastic season at the club.
Romero is arguably the Premier League’s best back up keeper and signed a new contract at the end of last season. There isn’t really much you need to say about him, he’s solid and showed in the Europa League that he can show up when called upon. Ideally he wouldn’t need to play this season but if the worst case happens and he does need to be called upon, you know he can do a job. I wouldn’t want him to be the starting keeper long term but as a back up he’s a great option.
I haven’t seen much of Joel Pereira but Mourinho seems to constantly full of praise for him which can only be a positive thing. The chances of him playing much this season I imagine will be slim but the experience of being around the squad will likely be positive for him and if he improves he may even unseat Romero for a game or two.
Utd have the best set of keepers in the league, there’s everything you’d want for a positions depth, a world class talent, a solid back up and a young up and comer, can’t really ask for much more.
Antonio Valencia was in my opinion the Premier League’s best right back last season, he fits what Mourinho likes to do perfectly and even got a run out as the captain a few times as the season came to a close. At 32 Valencia is still a fine figure of a man, with the energy to cover every blade of grass on the right side, something incredibly important when generally speaking Utd play an inverted winger on that side. Valencia has developed into a top right back, my only concern would be that full back isn’t a position which ages well and at 32 he is on the precipice of that age. His physique and athleticism point away from a drop off happening, however you just never know once players get up in age.
Matteo Darmian has had an odd Utd career so far, he struggled in his first year with the change of pace which came with the Premier League, then struggled again to fall into Mourinho’s good books in the first half of the season, only to then become the first choice left back for the second half of the year. Darmian put in a solid season last year but the way he is currently being utilised is very much a stop gap move. I’m disappointed that he hasn’t been able to develop his attacking ability but he has began to adapt to the league better. His versatility and defensive intelligence make him an important squad player, I’m not convinced that he should be a starter though.
If Darmian were to be utilised at right back this season then the depth at the position would be really good, in all likelihood he will play left back (could even be used as a side centre back in a back three) this year which means that either a new player will need to be signed (rumours around Aurier for instance) or someone like Tuanzebe or Fosu-Mensah will need to be switched as cover. The problem with this is that it assumes that Valencia will be able to stay fit the whole season but also that he won’t need much rest, both things are massive gambles.
It’s crazy to think that when Luke Shaw was signed by Utd that I would be writing about how the club has a left back crisis, however that is exactly what is happening. Shaw is going into his fourth season and he has been a massive disappointment. He often looks overweight, his confidence is terrible and seems to constantly pick up niggling injuries, it really isn’t good enough. It’s hard to not question if his heart is really in it. This is it for Shaw, this is his make or break season, if he doesn’t bring the goods this year then the club needs to sell him and bring someone else in. When you spend £27m on a left back you don’t expect to spend three seasons having a massive gap at the position, yet that’s where Utd are. The criticisms coming from Mourinho are very concerning, and he isn’t the first manager to make them, which is even more concerning, it is becoming a trend.
I wouldn’t say Blind is a left back, however he doesn’t really seem to have a position in this team (he’s a holding midfielder in reality). Blind in many ways is similar to Darmian, he isn’t really good enough to be a starter but is useful to have about because he puts in a reasonable shift and can play numerous positions, the issue being that you wouldn’t really want him to be your starter for the majority of the season. Blind is the sort of guy you need in the squad, someone who can do a job and is happy with their role, he’s a modern day Phil Neville and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Left back is a bit of a mess, you’re looking at the starter at the beginning of the season likely not even being a left back which is never a good sign. I don’t think Blind is best utilised at the position as he doesn’t have the engine to get up and down, Mitchell could be an option but I’m not sure he’s good enough (haven’t seen enough of him to really say) and Shaw…well Shaw is Shaw. Ultimately if Shaw finally shows up this season then Utd are set for ten years, if he doesn’t then there’s a massive weakness in the first eleven.
Eric Bailly had a fantastic first season for the club, he has the perfect kind of athleticism and physique for the Premier League. Bailly is the sort of centre back who can bully opposition strikers and as witnessed from last season he can pretty much play with any partner, an under rated skill. The question for Bailly will be who he is playing next to during the season, last year due to injuries it seemed like a rotating door of different players, the hope would be that he can form a partnership with one of them and create that chemistry which oppositions would fear.
Phil Jones managed to have a good season last year, you can see the ability he has, but…it was the same old story as he couldn’t stay fit. That’s the sad thing about Jones, he is clearly incredibly talented and despite all his injuries I think he has been developing as a defender, particularly on the ball, but it is all meaningless if he can’t stay out of physio’s room. Phil Jones may well turn into one of the biggest what ifs in English football, he should be a stalwart but due to circumstances outwith his control he has never got there.
Smalling isn’t what I’d call my favourite player, he isn’t really Utd quality. The thing about Smalling is that if he’s your fifth choice centre back then he’s actually a pretty damn good option, the problem is that you don’t know what Smalling you’re going to get. He seems to struggle with actually defending, his positioning and intelligence leaves a lot to be desired and often times that costs the team. Unlike Bailly I think Smalling is the type of player who can only play with certain types of centre back partners, the difference between when he’s partnering Blind and someone else is stark. If a good bid came in I’d happily see him go, otherwise he’s a useful back up, if he’s starting then I’m concerned.
Rojo was fantastic last season, sadly he tore his ACL and with that this season is likely going to be wasted. I doubt he’ll be back in contention before January and even by then it will take him a few months before he is really up to scratch and by that time the season will basically be over.
Victor Lindelof was the big defensive signing of the summer, he was rumoured to be coming back in January, however it never materialised. I haven’t really seen much of him play so it probably isn’t fair of me to pass judgement, he’s supposed to be good on the ball and looks like he’s physically capable of handling himself which are both positives. My concern would be that based off some of the goals I saw the team concede in pre-season he didn’t look too great, being at fault for quite a few of them. It’s early in the season and pre-season can often be misleading but it is slightly concerning, hopefully it was just some rust being worked off because Utd can’t afford a passenger at this position.
Tuanzebe broke into the first eleven at the end of last season and looked really good. The kid is a physical beast, looks comfortable on the ball and didn’t look like the moment was too big for him (schooling Alexis Sanchez in one of his first games). It’s hard to not get hyped for a 19 year old who is built like brick shithouse who is also through the youth system, I will try and contain my excitement but promises are easily broken.
On paper the centre back depth looks pretty good! In an ideal world you would have Bailly and Jones line up together as the no nonsense mother fuckers duo and all would be right with the world! In reality you have a centre back who is unlikely to play this season (Rojo), a centre back who is injury prone (Jones), a centre back who is a donkey (Smalling) and two centre backs who are unproven at this level (Lindelof and Tuanzebe). The big question is how good the fitness of the players will be and how well will the players adapt? If both are poor then it could be a problem, if both are good then Utd will be fine, the dilemmas of a season.
Last season when Paul Pogba signed for Utd the world went crazy at how a club could spend that sort of money on a player…now you can’t help but think it looks about right. I don’t think Pogba had quite the impact that some people were hoping him to, however he was instrumental in Utd’s centre last season. I’m expecting big things from Pogba this year, he started to really get into a swagger at the end of last season, looking more comfortable in the league and being a key player in Europe, with a year under his belt and chemistry built with his team mates he should excel this season.
Ander Herrera was Utd’s best player last season and I don’t see him dropping off any time soon. He’s the prototypical Mourinho player, an arsehole who everyone else hates but does his job and does it incredibly well. Herrera will likely line up in a three with Pogba and Matic, something which will allow him to play a more box to box role this season as Matic will be there protecting the backline, which should see Utd get the best out of Herrera.
Speaking of Matic, Utd’s new signing at £40m and one which the club has been calling out for since Owen Hargreaves’ first season. At £40m Utd have overpaid a touch, especially when you consider that Matic is 29, however when you consider how much of a hole the team has at the centre of midfield and in particular at holding midfield then it really is a top notch signing. The other side of this is that in signing Matic Utd have weakened a rival in Chelsea, who for whatever reason have decided that Matic isn’t needed and that selling him to a direct rival is a good idea, I don’t understand why they’ve done that. Matic isn’t a glamorous signing but he is exactly what Utd needed, a guy who generally has good fitness, does his job well and allows the more talented players around him to make things happen, a great signing.
Michael Carrick is now the longest serving player at the club and this season has been handed the captain’s armband, which is great for him and well deserved. Carrick is now 36 and it feels like this will probably be his last season (I have said that for a number of seasons though), ideally I think Carrick would have moved on at the end of last season, however Utd’s depth at central midfield is terrible and to let a player with Carrick’s experience go when there is nothing to replace him would have been unwise. Carrick will likely be nothing but a squad player, as his legs aren’t there any more, but he can still contribute something and is a useful player to have around.
Fellaini isn’t really good enough to play for Utd, his ability on the ball is mediocre and at times he does very frustrating things, despite that Fellaini much like Carrick is an important player in the Utd squad. Fellaini is the sort of player who when things are going well you love him because he gives everything, when things are going poorly it is hard to not get frustrated at him because at this level he just isn’t good enough and is often clumsy. There have been rumours about him being sold but Utd shouldn’t sell him unless there is someone who can come in and replace him because even if he isn’t good enough the depth that he provides is important.
Fosu-Mensah spent the entirety of last season with the squad, yet barely got any game time. He was particularly unlucky that at the end of the season when Mourinho was playing the youngsters that he picked up an injury and missed out on some vital game time. He’s still only 19 so there will be tons of time for him to get better and break into the squad, his versatility will help that and he will likely see time at full back.
Scott McTominay got some game time last season and has played a bit during pre-season and Mourinho seems to like him. It will be interesting to see how he does this season, he has the height which Mourinho will like and seems like a tidy enough player if at times unspectacular, he will need to grasp every opportunity he gets as it will be key to his development.
Utd’s centre midfield is a bit up and down, assuming that Pogba, Herrera and Matic are going to start then that looks like the best central midfield in the Premier League. The problem is that beyond those three players the quality drops off dramatically. Fellaini isn’t really good enough and Carrick doesn’t have the legs to play more than a bit role. It could be a big season for Fosu-Mensah and McTominay (possibly Tuanzebe in this role too) as if Utd don’t sign another player they may be needed more than expected and that would be a concern for the club.
Mkhitaryan had an up and down season last year, which in many ways was expected as he did the exact same thing when he first moved to Dortmund. Utd don’t have the best wingers and although I wouldn’t say it is Mkhi’s best position, it is a position he can play in. If Utd get the Mkhi who won the Bundesliga Player of the Year then it will be having a brand new player, if he delivers what he gave at the back end of last season then he will be a solid option in the first eleven.
Juan Mata is the sort of guy that you just want to give a cuddle to, with his little cute smile and adorableness. I really like Mata but I’m not sure he really fits into what Mourinho does, he plays mainly out wide but he doesn’t have the defensive ability or the discipline to stay wide to be an effective winger. Mata’s a good guy to have around the squad and there’s no doubt that he is a player with quality, however he is a number ten in a team which is likely to play without a ten for most of the season.
Anthony Martial was set to have a massive season last year and it never actually happened. A mix of struggling to adjust to the new manager’s style and personal problems getting in the way of his football contributed to that poor season as Martial went from one of the world’s best prospects to a guy who could be a season away from being moved on. There is no doubt that Martial is an incredible talent, his dribbling is world class, he has an eye for goal and pace, the problem I still have with Martial is that his defensive ability is lacking (very important if he’s playing the wing), he sometimes drifts out of games and worst of all he really needs to work on his movement off the ball. By no means is he the finished product, he still needs to work on many aspects of his game, but if he can get his head together he could be very special this season, he’s still only 21 after all.
Lingard is a prototypical squad player, not really good enough to start but can be effective in his limited role. He seems like a nice guy, has decent chemistry with the other attackers and is certainly a trier. The problem with Lingard hasn’t really changed, his end product isn’t good enough and he is still too slight, he gives you something but he’s not too dissimilar to Fellaini, a useful squad player but not the sort of player you really want to see lined up on a regular basis.
Ashley Young is still a Utd player!!! Good for him, he is another player who isn’t really good enough but is the sort of guy who it’s useful to have about the place because he is versatile and doesn’t really seem to be too fussed if he plays or not. You know at some point in the season Young will sneak his way into the team and play solid for five games before getting injured for a couple of months and repeating the cycle.
Andreas Pereira seemed to do well at Granada last season and was heavily involved in Utd’s pre-season tour of America, both good signs that he may be ready to step up to the first team. Pereira can be utilised as an attacker or deeper in midfield and that versatility will help him get some minutes this season. He’s 21 and it’s the sort of age where you would expect him to start doing something in the first team, so this season should be really important for him if he is to make it. I would say that he is more talented than Lingard, what he’ll need to do is show why he should be playing in front of him and when he does get those chances show why he should be starting the next game. He’s not technically a signing but his return to the club this season could be an under rated moment, it will be interesting to see if he sinks or swims.
Utd have a lot of talented attackers, yet despite that don’t really have any actual wingers. Each of the players above are better suited in other positions and there isn’t really one who has the delivery skills you’d expect of a winger. There is a lot of talent in this area though and depending on the formation which Mourinho utilises there certainly should be a lot of creativity and options to utilise. Another player who is more of an out and out winger wouldn’t go amiss but Utd could probably get away without it.
The big signing of this summer so far has been Romelu Lukaku, who came for a cool £75m. Naturally Utd have slightly overpaid for him but in this market there aren’t many players who are coming for the correct sort of price. Utd were desperately needing a striker who could consistently score goals, Lukaku should be able to do that. Utd have picked up one of the Premier League’s best strikers and a guy who can physically bully defenders, something traditionally Mourinho has looked for in his players. I like Lukaku but I still think there are many areas which he can improve on. His passing isn’t good enough, his hold up play isn’t at the level desired and he can be out footballed by defenders. Having said all that you are signing a player who is physically dominant, is a proven goalscorer in a worst team, is great in the air, has a good injury record and is still only 24. Lukaku, much like Matic, is an incredibly vital signing for Utd who were down to one striker before he signed. Lukaku is an instant starter and I’m sure he’ll have a good season, I’d be surprised if he scored less than 25 league goals this season.
Marcus Rashford did well at the back end of last season when he was allowed to play up front after Ibra’s injury, yet despite his good play a new striker has come in and jumped ahead of him again. It’s a shame for Rashford who will now be pushed out wide or reduced to a bench role to accommodate Lukaku because he is developing into a top talent. The thing I love about Rashford above all else is that he puts the work in, it is an under rated skill to have the desire to improve and put the work in which is required to do that, but Rashford has exactly that. The other thing which Rashford is fantastic at is his ability to step up in big games, he seems to relish the opportunity to have his name in the headlines, it was shown in his first season and even more so last season when his performances were a big reason for Utd making the final and winning the Europa League. It says everything that you’re disappointed about a 19 year old only being utilised as a squad player, that tells you how good Rashford is. Yes he has areas he needs to improve but with the attitude he has and the work rate on top of that, he should be absolutely fine.
In Lukaku and Rashford Utd have two brilliant young strikers, the problem is that in an ideal world you would go into the season with three strikers, Utd only have two. This is further worsened by the chances that Rashford will likely play a lot of games out wide, meaning that the striker options off the bench will be very limited. Martial will be there as an option (and I guess Ashley Young…) but it’s not an ideal situation. It will be interesting to see what happens with Ibrahimovic as I imagine he’d like to come back this season (particularly if the team is doing well) but he won’t be ready until the earliest January. With that being the case it wouldn’t shock me if he re-signed in January and gave the team that depth to run out the end of the season. If this scenario were to happen then Utd would have the best trio of strikers in the Premier League, it probably won’t but would be quite the sight to see.
On paper the squad looks pretty good, three big holes have been filled in the transfer window and some dead weight has been shifted. Utd have on the main a very young team and more than that Utd now look like a team that could kick the shit out of you. It is no surprise that a Mourinho team would be physically intimidating, however I’m surprised at how quickly he’s managed to turn this team into that because prior to him coming I would say that Utd had become quite lightweight. If Utd had someone who could actually deliver a good cross or set piece then this team could score numerous headers and bully teams in the boxes.
Mourinho’s record in his second season with clubs is quite remarkable, having won five league titles and two Champions Leagues. This being his second season with Utd points to exciting things and there is no doubt that the team is in a better place than it has been since Fergie left. I think the biggest positive for Utd is that the teams who are at the top haven’t really improved (with the exception of City) as of writing.
The question for Utd this season is what is the aim? I think the chances of doing anything in Europe are slim, however making it through the group stages is a must, which means that the success of the season will lie with the Premier League. I don’t think Utd need to win the league to have had a successful season, however a genuine title challenge is a must. Fergie was the last Utd manager to have a team put in a genuine title challenge and that was five season ago, and unless the team goes on to win the Champions League (doubtful) this season will be a failure without a genuine title challenge.
I expect the two Manchester clubs to be a cut above the rest of the teams in the league. City have spent crazy amounts of money and bought several new players, Utd will need to hope that City have a slow start due to players struggling to fit in and build chemistry because I struggle to see them having another disaster of a season. The positives for Utd is that I think the club has the best squad in the league and has developed a first eleven which has good players at each position, unlike City who are the definition of a glass cannon. It should be very interesting.
Congrats on making it all the way as it has been a very long post as I slowly break down each player in the Utd squad for the upcoming season. So why not take a little bit of extra time and share your thoughts about how you think Utd will get on in the coming season? The goods, the bads and the Fellainis, all are welcome.