As 2017 draws to a close, its time to take stock of Manchester United’s second season under Jose Mourinho at the halfway stage.
Despite the media’s strange obsession with the ‘brand’ of football supposedly being played out by Jose’s team, United fans have cause to be positive. Sitting in second place, the dour, negative football served by the team, has them as the second top scorers in the league, and with the joint best defensive record in the division, crisis indeed.
Forget about Manchester City: only themselves can stop a premier league title heading to the Etihad. Finishing as runners-up would be seen by most as a strong step in the right direction, following on from last years 7th place finish, and the dark years post Fergie, under Moyes, and perhaps less so under Van Gaal.
Whatever your thoughts about Mourinho’s style of play, he knows how to get a result.
Fans have moaned about the way the team played away at Anfield, and at home to City, but Jose played to get a result. The view that United would have never played this way under Sir Alex, is one that has almost become folklore over the years: the United fan, wearing rose tinted glasses, looking back fondly to years gone by, conveniently forgetting the number of times United stank the place out at Anfield or failed to turn up in the derby, most noticeably in the Munich anniversary game. Who can forget United, facing the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final in 2008, the bus firmly parked, just waiting for a moment of brilliance, which thankfully came from the boot of Paul Scholes, to send the Red Devils through?
The only problem facing Mourinho’s team this season is the brilliance of City. As much as United fans hate to say it, they are playing fantastic football, combined with the element of luck needed to turn draws into wins, as highlighted by Raheem Sterling shinning one in against Huddersfield. Mourinho has consistently stated that he only looks one game at a time, concentrating on getting his own business done, and getting spiky when asked about City.
Another issue is the current United squad, it’s a mish-mash of players spanning four managers.
It was highlighted at the weekend, against West Brom, that the majority of the starting line up were at Old Trafford under Sir Alex. Lingard, Smalling, Jones, Young, Valencia and De Gea. Mata was a Moyes signing, Rashford was discovered — albeit with a degree of good fortune — by LVG, who also signed Herrera. Only Lukaku and Matic were actually Jose Mourinho players. It’s perhaps unfair, therefore, to criticise the manager, and maybe we should be giving him more praise for getting the team where they are.
Ignoring the press, who are painting Pep as a new footballing visionary, the future is looking bright for United. New fans seem to get confused, seeing football, with all its hype, money and celebrity status as an entertainment business, when ultimately a team’s success is judged on results and trophies. I’d much rather come home from the match having ground out a 1-0 win than watch us batter a team for 90 minutes but fail to score; something which happened far too often last season.
Mourinho most definitely has United going in the right direction, a few more of his own players through the door in January or the summer, and United will be serious contenders again.