Last season was a total enigma for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. The club, with plenty of squad deficiencies, finished sixth in the Premier League, out of a Champions League spot.
And yet, somehow, Mourinho came out of the previous campaign with three trophies. One of those, the Community Shield, is often cast aside, but even with the other two – the League Cup and the Europa League, a trophy that had eluded Manchester United until last season – Mourinho took a far from stellar Manchester United squad and managed to craft a successful season.
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Now, thanks to specifically targeted summer investment, the squad looks far superior to last year’s, and that has led to higher expectations. The prized possession of the summer is $100 million man Romelu Lukaku, who will take over for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at striker. The aging Wayne Rooney has gone after much fanfare, and instead of replacing the playmaker of days past, Mourinho strengthened the league’s second-best defense even further.
Best, worst case scenarios – Manchester United is suddenly a fearsome club again, at least on paper. The sixth-placed finish last year can be chalked up to not just a squad sporting numerous holes, but also some terrible statistical luck that plagued both Manchester sides all year, and led the Red Devils to miss the top four despite a fantastic unbeaten run. Now, with smart investment, this team is ready to roll, with the Premier League title in its sights.
Worst-case scenario might be just as wild. Jose Mourinho is known for taking clubs to new heights in season two followed by a spectacular implosion in season three. What happens if they skip step two and head right for step three? Romelu Lukaku gets hurt, Mourinho’s whining reaches unforseen levels of annoying, and the team fails to outrun the avalanche as it buries them in Premier League obscurity. We don’t foresee this happening, but it’s a definite possibility, which means there’s some alternative universe out there that will be privy to Mourinho’s blinding season-two Manchester United mushroom cloud.
Best possible XI is…
Valencia — Bailly — Lindelof — Shaw
Matic — Herrera
Mata — Pogba — Rashford
Harsh on a very good midfielder in Carrick, plus quality attackers in Ashley Young and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but this squad is deep and those guys will all get plenty of action. Expect Anthony Martial to rotate in up front and Marouane Fellaini to serve as the prototypical Mourinho closer. If you have a lineup you believe to be better, add it in the comments below.
[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ]
— 6th in Premier League
— Won the Europa League
— Won the Community Shield
— FA Cup 6th Round (lost to Chelsea)
— Won the League Cup
Star player: Romelu Lukaku — While Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were the heart and soul of the squad last season, Lukaku enters the fray as the outright superstar in the locker room. He’s as much of a pure goalscorer as they come, and he will be weighed on heavily to solve the finishing woes that plagued Manchester United all last season. After finally landing as the main man on a premier club, Lukaku now must deliver what is expected of him, and he has the talent around him to take the Premier League by storm.
Coaches’ Corner: Jose Mourinho — In his second season at Manchester United, now is the time that Mourinho will make his presence known. Last season was all about transitioning to this coming campaign. Much like Pep Guardiola, the slack of the first season in charge has run out, and he must bring Manchester United back to its former days of glory, or find himself without a job. It’s that simple.
PST predicts: This is a very, very deep squad that will be able to successfully navigate multiple competitions and fixture congestion, barring an injury crisis like they had mid-last season. The central defense is five-deep and should be able to cover for any injuries that arise, especially in Mourinho’s defense-first tactics. The midfield has plenty of cover. The only thin area is Lukaku, and he will be expected to carry the load. This is a title-challenging team on paper, and Mourinho’s the man to deliver it. It would be hard to envision them finishing outside the top four, and if they do, it would be a massive disappointment.