The footballing world is laced with misleading stats, but here’s one that tells an emphatic – and indeed reliable – story: Manchester United have already had more shots on target this season (146) than in the whole of 2015-16 Premier League campaign (144).
It is widely believed, though not confirmed, that even qualifying for the Champions League wouldn’t have been enough for Louis van Gaal – relieved of his duties soon after winning the FA Cup – to keep his job at Man United last season.
Even the United board, usually insensitive to the general mood of supporters and players, could tell that the Dutchman was dragging this side into a potentially fatal slumber, hallmarked by a style of football that quite literally sent supporters to sleep last season.
But thanks to Jose Mourinho, those peculiar last few days of van Gaal’s uninspiring reign feel like nothing more than a distant memory.
The Portuguese, dubbed by many as the man who should’ve taken over upon Sir Alex Ferguson‘s retirement back in 2013, arrived at Old Trafford with a clear plan. He wanted to make four signings – all picked to fulfil a specific role – and, more importantly, he wanted to play the United way.
And that is exactly what Mourinho has done: Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba were all drafted in and, following a difficult three month transitional period, have formed the backbone of a new-look United side in the past couple of months.
The buoyancy pervading Old Trafford despite United remaining in sixth spot serves as an immense testament to the galvanising effect Mourinho has had since arriving. The 54-year-old, above anything, has restored a sense of individuality and purpose since arriving, encouraging players to express themselves and dominate opponents in a more direct, dynamic way, with Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan and Pogba providing a renewed sense of danger and power going forward.
But forget stats, points and style of play for a second: the most important difference Mourinho has made, and indeed the most glaring piece of evidence suggesting that United have improved since last season, is that, for the first time in a while, going to Old Trafford is an enjoyable experience once again.