Mourinho’s traditional second season league success at all the past football clubs he has managed, will definitely not repeat itself this year. The Premier League is out of bounds and by the time of writing this article, Manchester City has the Premier League wrapped up. There are no two ways about it, the title is theirs (unfortunately).
Pep Guardiola’s table-toppers have taken 89 per cent of the points on offer to them this term and their lead over second-placed United resembles much more bigger than a ‘big gap’. Just a short word on City…it hurts being a United supporter and see our second biggest rivals (after Liverpool) play such wonderful football and literally beating Arsenal 3-0 last Sunday in the Carabao Cup final, without literally getting out of second gear. Guardiola has managed to get this team as the best in Europe in his second season.
An important cup this year is the FA Cup. It is imperative for United to at least get into the final as City capitulated at the DW Stadium against a Wigan team 46 places below them in the English league league.
It was a reminder that Guardiola and City, for all the quality they’ve shown this season, are not invincible.Now talk of an improbable quadruple has stopped, it’s time to look at the far more likely prospect that come May the Blues will be celebrating a Premier League and Carabao Cup double.
Of course, such success would normally constitute a superb season – but Guardiola will doubtless struggle to see it that way if Jose Mourinho one-ups him in the trophy stakes for a second successive campaign. United have been dour at times under the Portuguese and the bottom line is clearly have not shown the amount of progression that City have under Guardiola.
But, that being said, they’re still very much in the running to win two trophies of their own. United put in a long due performance against Chelsea last weekend, or if critics would suggest, they only played well in the second half. It was a great performance in that second half, with all players showing personality and playing to the their abilities for once. We saw a powerful performance from Lukaku, and Pogba looked very much at home in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Mentioning Lukaku, he could finish the season with 30 goals, not bad for a lone center forward in a cautious system that can leave him isolated. Thirty goals would be a completely acceptable return for a striker in his first season at a club.
Going back over the past decade, Manchester United’s season-by-season best goal returns have been 28 (Zlatan Ibrahimovic), 17 (Anthony Martial), 14 and 19 (Wayne Rooney), 30 (Robin van Persie), 34 (Rooney), 21 (Dimitar Berbatov), 34 (Rooney) and 26 (Cristiano Ronaldo).
So the rising wave of criticism of Lukaku should take into account his contribution of 21 goals (including Uefa Super Cup) and six assists in 39 games, with a minimum 13 games to play and the possibility of more in the FA Cup and Champions League. Thirty is achievable and very respectable.
The demands are high because this is United, where standards should be high, and because Ibrahimovic’s 28-goal return reminded Old Trafford again of the joys of a prolific center forward. Ibrahimovic, a more charismatic presence, was more clinical than Lukaku is now, but again there has to be mitigation as the Belgian is still only 24 and United are less dynamic this year.
There is inevitable focus on the £75 million that Lukaku cost, increasing expectations when really he deserves to be judged more properly on his second season, especially if José Mourinho works more closely to his strengths. The delivery from Antonio Valencia in particular has been poor and crosses and cutbacks have always been something that Lukaku has enjoyed.
A favorable FA Cup quarter-final draw at home to Brighton puts the Reds in pole position to reach April’s Wembley semi-finals, while Sevilla, although in resurgent form, represent easier opposition than Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League.
United are now the team to beat in the Cup following City’s unexpected exit and have strong pedigree in the competition, having won it for a 12th time in 2016.
Only Arsenal, with 13 wins, has enjoyed more success. It would be a great achievement if we could match Arsenal’s success.
Meanwhile, on the continental front the Reds have lost just once in their last 17 fixtures – a sequence of games that includes May’s Europa League win over Ajax in Stockholm.
They haven’t tasted defeat in a European game at Old Trafford since 2013 and in Mourinho, who was the man to mastermind that loss during his spell as Real Madrid boss, United have a manager whose CV boasts two Champions League successes, a Europa League triumph and a UEFA Cup win. Put simply, Mourinho knows how to get the job done in Europe and I am sure that we will overcome Sevilla in the Champions league last 16. I also agree with Mourinho, that it is at the quarterfinal stage, a team would be able to sniff some success at Europe. At the moment it is too early, but with a favorablequarterfinal draw, I am sure that anything is possible even if the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, PSG and Man City look to be on a different level from Man United.
Having a look at the previous games, United where very disappointing against Newcastle (away) and Spurs (also away), where we lost both games without playing half as well as we should. When a United team loses, there will always be some serious questions, which shall be asked, especially the defense. Smalling was made the scapegoat after the Newcastle defeat, and Jones and Rojo have been mostly not available for selection. Bailly has just returned to the first team fold, and I hope he can have a clean run of games. Luke Shaw is also fit, and had some outstanding performances but Mourinho prefers Young to Shaw, and I think it this trend is likely to continue till the end of the season. But I see Shaw coming back strong to the team next year.
If United do manage to complete a Champions League and FA Cup double in May, Mourinho will be able to legitimately claim bragging rights over his old foe for a second successive summer even though City would have won the league by a comfortable margin.