They will be challenging Man City for the title… because on paper they probably have the second or third best squad in the PL. Lukaku, Sanchez, Pogba, Bailly, De Gea, Martial, Rashford, Mata, Matic… Yeah, you get the point. United’s current situation regarding a lack of incomings this summer isn’t as bad as Jose Mourinho is making out (more on that further down) and if they can get their act together and stop squandering chances, they’ll cut the 19-point gap to Man City from last season.
Most likely Jose Mourinho will be out before December and they’ll be in midtable… it seemed ridiculous to write that sentence, but right now it really isn’t. Is it? Mourinho is approaching meltdown mode in his third season at United. Just like at other clubs he has hung around long enough to upset plenty of people and he appears to be quickly running out of friends on the board, among his squad and just about everywhere else. The fact that he’s one of the favorties with the bookmakers to be the first PL manager to be out of job this season says it all.
Ranking their offseason: 2/10 – Couldn’t have really gone much worse for Mourinho’s` men as his constant complaints about most of their squad not being on their U.S. tour has whipped up a severe air of negativity around the Red Devils. Add that into lacklustre displays against the San Jose Earthquakes, AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich and there’s not a good vibe heading into the new season. Mourinho slamming the quality of United’s young players on the tour will not do wonders for their confidence, plus the likes of Lukaku and Pogba rushing back from their summer break early (as Mourinho hinted he’d like them to do) will likely create tension.
Star man: Romelu Lukaku – He scored four times for Belgium this summer at the World Cup but the most impressive thing about his displays was the timing of his runs and how unselfish he was. Lukaku scored 27 goals in all competitions in his debut season at United, which was pretty good going and kind of flew under the radar. David De Gea is always a star for United but he had a few wobbles over the summer, while Alexis Sanchez looks refreshed after his summer off with Chile not at the World Cup. All three will be key to United’s success but Lukaku’s goals are vital and if Mourinho can figure out where to play Pogba, he will become a star.
Coaches’ Corner: Ah, yes, the old third-season syndrome is kicking in once again for Mr. Mourinho as he has publicly slammed his club for failing to buy the players he wants, plus has had a pop at rivals for spending too much. Add to that his grumpier than usual demeanour (yes, that is possible) and losing his top assistant Rui Faria over the summer, and you have the start of what is now becoming a predictable demise. Mourinho will still set his teams up to grind out wins but United’s supporters could soon turn on both him and Chief Executive Ed Woodward if they have a slow start to the season.
PST predicts: Finishing in the top four may well be a struggle for United this season considering Liverpool have bought well, Tottenham have kept hold of their stars and Manchester City look irresistible, plus Arsenal and Chelsea will be there or thereabouts. United will focus on going far in the UEFA Champions League and finishing in the top four and the latter will probably be as good as it gets.
Imagine playing in a single game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or at least another year in the lower leagues.
That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.
Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.
Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.
The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.
The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.
They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.
Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.
Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.
According to a report by the Daily Mail, on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone could be a popular figure come the summer as Premier League clubs look to make a change in net.
The report states that West Ham could be the early favorite for the 25-year-old netminder, as the Hammers are looking to move on from England starter Joe Hart. With Johnstone also in the mix for the England job before the 2018 World Cup, Hart could be threatened by the Manchester United youth product on two fronts. Another England shot-stopper Jack Butland proclaimed Johnstone is in direct competition for a spot on the World Cup roster despite remaining currently uncapped.
“I don’t live too far away from Sam and I bump into him a lot,” Butland said of his fellow countryman. “It is great to see him playing consistently. He has found a home and a club that cares for him, which is so important. There is more than just me, Joe, and Jordan [Pickford] fighting for the England shirt – Sam is firmly in the mix as well.”
Johnstone has spent this season on loan at Championship side Aston Villa, where the Claret & Blue sit in a playoff position. They have allowed just 37 goals this season, joint-fourth best in the league, with Johnstone in goal for every minute of the campaign.
Hart, meanwhile, has struggled with the Hammers. The England number 1 lost his starting job to Adrian in early December before starting West Ham’s most recent Premier League match before the international break, a 3-0 loss to Burnley. The Hammers sit in 17th position in the Premier League, just two points above safety, and relegation could mean Hart’s departure, although there’s a feeling that he may leave even if the Hammers do manage to stay up.
Johnstone has been sent out on loan seven times in his six professional years with Manchester United, but could potentially find a permanent home this summer if the right club comes calling.