Now that the dust has settled on the 2016/17 season, I feel it is time for reflection. A season of real topsy turvy emotions was ended in winning style, but was it all trophies and champagne over at Old Trafford?
Jose Mourinho had made four signings during the summer. Henrik Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. All four would go on to contribute massively over the course of the season. Mourinho had inherited a team still made up of the previous regimes. Players from the Louis van Gaal, David Moyes and even Sir Alex Ferguson eras, still made up this patch work quilt of a squad. LVG tried to bring in several players at a time, on big wages and transfer fees, but ultimately couldn’t knit the squad together. Mourinho’s signings are surely to be considered a success which is a great foundation on which he can build his own team. His recruitment was spot on, even if a little on the small side. Expect big changes this summer.
The season begun well for United, three wins on the bounce, before succumbing to a Home derby defeat to City. The Charity Shield was already in the bag after a 2-1 victory over Leicester at Wembley. Too many draws were the undoing of United. The Burnley game still sticks in my mind the most. 37 chances created and no goals to show for it, was a frustrating afternoons work, but these draws would be the undoing of a United side who didn’t lose many games until they downed tool in the league to concentrate on the Europa competition.
Winning the League Cup and Europa League would be considered an amazing season by anyones standards, except, we aren’t just anyone. At Manchester United, we expect the team to be competing on all fronts and even though the cups gave us a glimmer of hope, the Premier League is our bread and butter, and this season has been far from good enough. A home victory over Chelsea, the only real highlight of an up and down campaign.
Mourinho made us hard to beat, which is how he has always set up. Having to piece together different back fours at various stages of the season, was sure not to help. The unbeaten run on which United embarked on, has to be one of the most dull in history. 25 games unbeaten is not to be sniffed at, except only winning thirteen of them is where the underlying issue is. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had won United many games with his goals, but could of won so many more. He reminded me a little of Andy Cole, prolific but could of scored so many more. Some of the chances Ibra would miss, were easier than the goals he scored! Paul Pogba, probably hit the woodwork at least ten times, so to see his deflected shot go in his favour, in the Europa Final, was a sweet moment.
Touching on team selection, it was clear that Jose didn’t have the players he wanted in which to play a certain way. Some games, players were sacrificed, in a needs must kind of way. I still don’t think, even after the seasons completion, that Mourinho knew his best eleven, if all players were fit and available. Injuries had played a major part in our season and the selling of Memphis, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, nearly came back to haunt United as the season drew to a close. Fortunately for Mourinho, the gamble of lightening the squad, was one which paid off. It also saw the emergence of some of the younger boys. Fossu-Mensah, Josh Harrop, Demetri Mitchell, Joel Pereira, Angel Gomes and Scott McTominay, all given a chance to get some first team minutes under their belts. Harrop’s debut goal at Home to Palace, on the final day of the season, was that of a seasoned pro. The future is certainly looking bright at Carrington.
All in all, the season provided United with some highs, and some lows, culminating in a return to Champions League football. Mourinho becomes the first United manager, to win silverware during their maiden season, making him the most successful manager in season one, in United’s history, with his two trophy haul. The building blocks are certainly in place. Mourinho probably didn’t expect the job to need so much work doing to it, the club having been through three managers in three seasons, was all at sea on the playing side. Mourinho now has a summer to plan and go again.
The league form needs to improve drastically. Mourinho has showed his players how to win, let hope that next season its with a little more style than pragmatism. Just like my old school reports, United get graded a C this season. Doing ok, but must try harder.