When the Premier League kicks off in under a month’s time, the pressure will be on Manchester United and Jose Mourinho from minute one. Five years without a title is a long time for England’s most successful club and worsened by the two titles that rivals Manchester City have picked up in that period.
Two seasons in it is now or never for Mourinho to deliver the title that he went to Old Trafford to win. Should he fail, then questions about his suitability, which some inside the Theatre of Dreams are have already raised, will be plentiful.
Mourinho himself will be fighting against his own history and the perceived third season syndrome that has followed him throughout his career.
‘Third Season Syndrome’
At Porto, it was his rise to fame that stopped a third season, however, his glorious Chelsea spell ended quite differently.
Another quick exit followed from Inter Milan before his Real Madrid spell crashed down in the third season with mutiny across the decks. He didn’t make it past Christmas in the third season of his second spell at Stamford Bridge before the walls came crashing down again.
He will be keen to prove the doubters wrong in Manchester but if he is to do so, he may have to adapt or face death. The Premier League he once dominated is changing in front of him. Next season, England’s top flight promises to be a feast of attacking football, thus, Mourinho will have to change his approach to keep up with the rest of the top six.
Goals, goals, goals
Manchester City already set the standard last season, racking up the biggest points tally the league has ever seen in a dominant campaign that saw them score a record 106 goals and manage a record goal difference.
With Riyad Mahrez added to their ranks and more signings likely, it is hard to envision them not impressing once again. Attacking football is their ethos under Pep Guardiola’s leadership.
Liverpool have a similar philosophy under Jurgen Klopp. The German has often prioritised attack over the defence during his time on Merseyside and that is not likely to end soon. They were the second highest goalscorers in the Premier League last season and even if Mohammed Salah manages half of the campaign he did last year they are likely to post big numbers again. The addition of Fabinho and Naby Keita to their midfield, plus the bonus of having Virgil Van Dijk settled into their defence is only likely to help the Reds attacking stars flourish further.
Even Tottenham, who are the more balanced side of the top six and do not have the attacking talents of their rivals, outscored Manchester United last season. That brings us to fifth-placed Chelsea, a side who scored six fewer goals than United last season. That is unlikely to remain the same next season. With Antonio Conte out the door and Maurizio Sarri his replacement, attacking football will now be on the cards.
Sarri is a manager who abhors defensive football, having once declared that he would rather return to working in a bank than watch his team defend and counter-attack. Under his leadership, Napoli became one of the best-attacking sides in Europe, outscoring even Juventus in Serie A over his three seasons in charge.
He will be determined to bring that style of football to England and relish the chance to take on Guardiola and City, a team they crossed swords with in the Champions League last season, in the Premier League.
With the attacking talents he has at his disposal at Stamford Bridge and a midfield that will be bolstered by Jorginho, the Xavi of his system, it is hard to see Chelsea failing to flourish.
Mourinho has to adapt
Wherever Mourinho turns next season he will be met with the sight of attacking football. The Premier League has adapted and goals have been defined as winning titles. The defensive pragmatism that Mourinho once dominated England with has been laid by the wayside. Of course, Mourinho will relish the opportunity to prove that statement as false, as he has always done, but the signs are there he knows he has to adapt.
Alexis Sanchez has already been added to bolster an impressive forward line, while the addition of Fred in midfield, alongside Nemanja Matic, should bring out the best in Paul Pogba. Manchester United fans will be hoping that is the case. With Guardiola, Klopp, Sarri and even Pochettino, the top six will be as strong as it has ever been.
Attacking football will be the order of the day and both Mourinho and United will have to adapt to avoid the third season curse coming back to haunt them both.