By Matthew Galea
With yet another international break interrupting the Premier League season, it seems as good a time as ever to offer some broader thoughts on Jose Mourinho’s start to life at Manchester United.
Overall, I think it would be fair to say it has been a good start.
The former Chelsea man arrived at United with many expecting him to instantly transform the club into title challengers once again and winning the Premier League was adopted as the club’s objective from his first press conference.
As far as I am concerned, every United manager should be wanting to win the Premier League at the start of the season, and while being five points off top-spot after seven games is not ideal, it hardly means United’s chances are dead in the water.
Personally, I do not expect us to win the league, but if that is the goal and we fall short to finish anywhere in the top four, then I would consider that a good start.
But back to this season.
Manchester United have been a mixed bag, sure, but really outside of one horrendous week it has been a lot more good than bad.
Clearly, winning the Community Shield against Leicester and thereafter the first three Premier League games set the tone and even increased expectation surrounding United.
The signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly further enhanced United’s supposed title prospects and that, combined with the strong start to the season, was always going to set United up for a flaw.
A shocking first-half against an admittedly brilliant Manchester City fired the first warning shots, before further losses to Feyenoord and then – rather shockingly – Watford resulted in United’s season supposedly being in tatters.
United’s response to those struggles have been promising, with two dominant Premier League performances in as many weeks – a 4-1 thrashing of Leicester City and a 1-1 draw against Stoke City in which United missed at least three golden opportunities – and a professional Europa League performance against Zorya.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s seasons were almost always defined by their reaction to poor performances and Mourinho has shown a strong response thus far. The draw with Stoke was a disappointing result, but for the most part it was not a disappointing performance.
In addition, Mourinho has already overseen an undoubted improvement in the quality of the squad, too. Pogba – regardless off his price tag – has helped United to control almost every game he has played and lead a massive improvement in midfield.
Sure, he went missing against City and Watford, but there is no denying he has been a beast in midfield since, helping United to dominate and control proceedings in the middle of the park.
There has undoubtedly been some fact finding for Mourinho elsewhere around the ground as he continues to determine which players will form part of his long-term vision at the club, but Mourinho has been fair in giving a number of players a chance to shine and fair in dropping those who have not.
Wayne Rooney was first in line play as a number 10 and when his form dropped and the team suffered as a result, Mourinho benched him, and played Juan Mata in his place – despite the conception that he does not like the Spaniard.
Mata has taken that chance, and by all reports will continue to play as United’s main number 10 until either his form drops or Rooney forces his way into that position in lesser competitions.
Similarly, Ander Herrera has proven himself as Mourinho’s best option alongside Pogba, outperforming Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin, and as such, he has been rewarded with constant starts in that position.
If I was grading Mourinho across the fields of results, squad management, transfers and then overall performance, I’d be inclined to score him at the very least an A- in everything besides results.
Even then, a record of 4-1-2 in the league, progression in the EFL Cup and a record of 1-1 in the Europa League is hardly anything to cry about.
He has been fair with his team selections, he has improved the squad through the transfer market and overall performances have ranged from good to very good – with one bad week the only outlier thus far.