Manchester United’s 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup proved two things to the Red Devils’ faithful.
The first is that their club is much-improved but not yet back to world beater status, and the second is that the Red Devils’ talent is enough to compete with any club on any given night.
[ MORE: Real wins UEFA Super Cup 2-1 ]
No, Cristiano Ronaldo did not start for United and, yes, Real Madrid controlled the first hour of play. But even on a night with a largely absent Paul Pogba and a glaring miss from Romelu Lukaku, United could’ve found themselves going to extra time with Europe’s most successful team.
While this is still a team growing into its best self, United will be expecting much more from Jose Mourinho in Season Two.
Last season saw the Red Devils lift the Europa League and win the League Cup, finishing outside the Top Four as Mourinho chose to prioritize a UEL title as the club’s clearest route back to the UEFA Champions League.
This season, United’s supporters have to feel that Mourinho has assembled the talent to compete for both the Premier League, any Cup competition, and make a deep run in the UCL. That’s miles better than the “hit and hope” of last season, when a buy of Paul Pogba and the hiring of Mourinho conspired to provide long shot dreams in the slumber of Old Trafford faithful.
Mourinho has won everywhere, and will be expected to claim one of the two big trophies that eluded him last season. Whether that’s fair or not, especially on the UCL front, is a debate for another day, but given United’s success in winning the signatures of Lukaku, Pogba, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan while keeping David De Gea in town, wins have to come quickly.
United won’t be tested by a fellow UCL club until Oct. 14’s visit to Liverpool, and the best opposition in the previous seven matches is a mid-September visit by Everton. Compare that to every other Top Four candidate, and United hits the ground with the best chance to pile up early hay in the table.
Apart from surprising and dire results to start the season, this shouldn’t be a season that sees Mourinho’s job status find uncertainty. Yet it can go a long way toward deciding whether he has the potential to spend a long, long time at Old Trafford or fade out after a three- or four-year stint.
Things have changed, again, at United. Now it’s on Mourinho to make a difference.