LONDON (Reuters) - Although they won two major trophies last season, a sixth-placed Premier League finish cannot be heralded as a success for a club of Manchester United’s size and pedigree.
With the new season fast approaching, however, there is an air of optimism around Old Trafford with a squad now bearing the resemblance of one on which Jose Mourinho can work his magic. Mourinho identified two key positions to strengthen in the close season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals needed replacing, long term, and in Romelu Lukaku, Mourinho has a direct, channel-running hitman with a scoring record to rival the very best.
Mourinho is not a possession-based coach. United strolled to Europa League glory against Ajax in May with under 31 percent of the ball.
Lukaku has the engine to make the runs for Paul Pogba to pick with his long, ranging passes on the counter, but can still act as that first line of defence to appease his cautious manager. “Some people said they (United) did not play good football, but we are not in the circus," former United full back Patrice Evra told MUTV.
“If you want to enjoy football then, yes 2008 was great and different, but people have to forget that and concentrate on this current Manchester United team.” This United team now comes complete with Mourinho’s piece de resistance from his summer transfer activity. Whether it was Costinha at Porto - a player Mourinho described as his “assistant coach on the pitch”, or Claude Makelele at Chelsea, that holding midfielder is the one Mourinho has built his teams around. Nemanja Matic, who anchored Chelsea to Premier League glory under Mourinho in 2014-15, completed his move to United on Monday and Mourinho has his fulcrum once again. “Nemanja is a Jose Mourinho player,” Mourinho said. “He represents everything we want in a footballer." With Victor Lindelof providing addition defensive cover, all the pieces are in place.
The formation Mourinho will deploy remains unclear, but the fact he has so many options is a cause for great excitement among United fans.
After a first season of transition, this is a now Mourinho team.
The football may not always be the most attractive, but his conservative focus has proven successful throughout Europe.
Mourinho has the personnel to exert this style of play, and should his new arrivals produce the goods, a serious title tilt could well be on the cards.
Editing by Ed Osmond