Five things 'the special one' has to do to be special again
Manchester United fans are probably still suffering from their Europa League victory celebrations hangover. And rightly so; their Champions League absence has come to an end.
How the mighty have fallen. The great Manchester United sneaked into the Champions League through the back door and celebrated a “treble” that includes the Community Shield. Desperate times call for desperate measures, rival fans say. A meme contrasting Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble – that included the premier league, Champions League and the FA Cup – with Jose Mourinho’s “treble” has been doing the rounds.
Despite the mockery, Mourinho has to be commended for bringing in the silverware in his first season. But United is a really proud club and more will be demanded from Mourinho next season.
To be really considered as the Special One once again, he has some major decisions to make between now and the beginning of the new season in August.
Marounne Fellaini has proved to be nothing but a liability since his move from Everton to United. Not the target man that he was at Everton, given the talent United boast, he has been utilised as a holding midfielder. A position that he will be remembered for dishing out the most elbows to opponents’ faces.
Fellaini’s inability to break down play and thread the ball through the eye of the needle has seen him stifle Paul Pogba’s progress at the club. Although the most expensive player in the world has more than held his own following his return at Old Trafford – even scoring the crucial opener in last week’s Europa League final against Ajax – he has looked suffocated and frustrated at times. Fellaini’s inability to play a defensive role has seen Pogba sit in the middle of the park instead of being the dynamic box-to-box midfielder that bulleted top corner screamers for Juventus. Mourinho must do what his predecessors could not do – sell Fellaini.
Faith in Rashford
Despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s uncertain future and Wayne Rooney misplacing his scoring boots, United may not need to dip into the market looking for a striker. They may have the answer to their possible striker woes in Marcus Rashford. The youngster is a fan favourite and with good reason. He is, after all, the youngest ever scorer in a Manchester derby in the Premier League era. He has, at times, lead the United strike force with the confidence of a seasoned veteran unfazed by the pressures of donning the United shirt let alone leading the line at 18-years-old. With 19 goals in 71 appearances, Rashford can prove to be a gem in United’s locker if given the chance to prove himself.
Play either Mata or Mkhitaryan behind the striker
The talents of Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are undeniable. Both players have proven to assist kings gifted with finding the back of the net occasionally and capable of a defence-splitting pass at any moment. But both players have looked out of sorts at some point in the season and that can be attributed to being played out of position.
From the days of Louis van Gaal, Mata has not been played in his favourite position, which is behind the striker. Some of his best years in the Premier League have come from this very position but United coaches have somehow deemed it fit that he play on the flank.
Similarly, there were instances in the past season where Mkhitaryan was deployed on the flank by Mourinho. A bizarre move since he scored 23 goals in 52 appearances in his final season at Borussia Dortmund in the playmaker slot. Mourinho needs to go into the market for natural wing players instead and play either Mata or Mkhitaryan in that central attacking role.
Fight to keep De Gea
When David de Gea arrived at United he was a fresh-faced teenager that was given the mammoth task of filling the shoes, or rather the gloves, of a legend – Edwin van der Sar. The beginning was rocky; many supporters began to have doubts. Fast forward a few years later and De Gea has proven to be the team’s best player. The 26-year-old shot-stopper was instrumental when the club secured the 2012/13 Premier League, which saw him attract attention from Europe’s biggest clubs.
There is talk of an imminent bid from Real Madrid again and if Mourinho can convince the shot-stopper to stay at the club for another season, he could be as good as a new signing. The Spaniards other honours at the club include the FA Cup, EFL Cup, Europa League and three Community Shield titles.
Strengthen left back and centre back positions
Let us be honest, Luke Shaw has not turned out for United since his big-money move from Southampton. Tipped by many to be the ideal long-term replacement for United legend Patrice Evra, Shaw has failed to come to the party. Many say his progress has been deterred by injuries but, to be fair, his appearances before and after the injury have not been Evra-esque, except for a few games where he won United over with glimpses of his former Southampton self.
Shaw’s performances have left a lot to be desired and Mourinho may have to look for a new leftback. Also, the great Manchester United teams under Ferguson were characterised by strong defensive partnerships, the most dominant perhaps being that of Vidic-Ferdinand.
Since then there has been a lot of chopping and changing in the United back four without any trusted consistent centreback pairing. Mourinho has to get this right if he wants to challenge for anything next season. He made inroads as far as this is concerned by signing Eric Bailly from Villarreal, who has proven to be a solid defender. But consistency is key and there is no United player that looks up for the challenge in the current squad. A solid defender to partner Bailly with may prove to be the perfect antidote.
Players to target