Is Paul Pogba really the final piece of the Manchester United jigsaw?
It still seems a bit strange seeing Jose Mourinho prowling the touchline in Manchester United attire. It will probably take a while before the oddness wears off, particularly for Chelsea fans. The ‘Special One’ and the Red Devils found each other in somewhat strange circumstances.
Had Jose first moved to Old Trafford when he actually wanted (June 2013, straight after Ferguson’s retirement) it would have been a more natural choice for both. He was still considered by many the best manager on the planet, while the Red Devils had just cantered to title number 20.
Now, though, it feels both are slightly on their knees and need each other – badly. Even now, no-one has really worked out just what happened to Mourinho and Chelsea in the first part of last season before his dismissal, but it was a real blot on his record, and he now needs success more than ever.
Meanwhile, Manchester United won the first major trophy of the post-Fergie era, but failure to make the Champions League again, was probably the real lasting effect of another poor to average season under Louis van Gaal. Both are desperate for success, but both will need to adapt from their usual traits.
The youth policy has always been a core to Manchester United, yet Jose usually puts his faith in experience. Galatico-esque glamour signings are not historically Mourinho’s style, but a world record fee has just been shelled to land Paul Pogba. Whilst this finally wrapped up one of the summers longest-running transfer sagas, the question now has to be is United’s business done?
Whilst the squad undoubtedly looks much stronger than at any other point since Ferguson left, is it now ready to challenge again for the Premier League.
No doubt the four signings so far look shrewd moves. Only one though is a defender, Eric Bailly, whose deal was agreed before the window had even opened. Bailly has looked assured in pre-season, particularly when bringing the ball out from the back. If it does take him time to adapt to the pace of the Premier League though, United may want to look at bringing in another defender to make centre-half a position where they have real strength in depth.
Chris Smalling looks a certain starter after an outstanding season last year, but Marcus Rojo has struggled with injuries since moving to Manchester. Daley Blind did look good at times in 2015/16, but is his long-term future really as a centre-back? It doesn’t look likely. Phil Jones has had a desperate time of late and Mourinho may not trust the former Blackburn defender with pushing the Smalling for a place.
Similar issues lie at right-back. Antonio Valencia has looked in pretty good form in pre-season, but is not a natural defender. Matteo Darmian had an average debut season, but will probably need greater competition. It shouldn’t be forgotten that United also have a potentially gruelling Europa League campaign, meaning they could be in for a long season.
If Jose does get anything like the sort of luck with injuries his predecessor had, then greater defensive options are a must. Throughout his career, the special one has always built his team on a top-class defence. When he first arrived in England, the back four was a priority, so he brought Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira with him from Porto. This, combined with the signing of Petr Cech, led to Chelsea conceding just 16 goals in the entire league season.
Yet this summer Mourinho seems to have prioritised the attacking problems at United, perhaps part of the new Jose we are now seeing after the Chelsea debacle. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does give the squad a slightly unbalanced look ahead of the new campaign.
A trim is particularly crucial in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger looks already on the verge, but more need to follow. Marouane Fellaini, Ashley Young, and Morgan Schneiderlin should follow, and as at Chelsea, if Jose thinks there is no need for Juan Mata, then he should cash in early. This could free up funds and squad space to re-invest in defensive areas, which would give the United side a more complete, ‘Mourinho-esque’ look.
Pogba will be brilliant, of course he will. Are him and the other new signings enough for a title tilt? Probably not yet, although Mourinho has a habit of winning title’s in his second season at a club. If he can find the final pieces of the jigsaw over the next few transfer windows, it won’t be any different this time.
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