Was this a successful first season for United under José? What were some positives and negatives? What can we build upon for next season? The Red Thoughts team writes Mourinho’s school reports in this end of season round-up.
JIM: It has been a success as we have secured Champions League football and won two trophies. In terms of what we can improve on, we need a new striker and at least one new CB.
RICK: Winning the Europa League made it an excellent season. But we had many opportunities to get into the top 4 easily and our squad clearly isn’t good enough. I don’t blame Mourinho, as he’s done as much as he can with this squad, but they just fail to put the ball in the net.
We got 3 pieces of silverware and 2 trophies this season, but our season has been a story of missed opportunities and failure to take our chances – something only the players themselves are at fault for.
BETS: Yes, it has been a successful season because of the Europa League victory. Mourinho won the Europa League (or UEFA Cup as it was then) in his first season at Porto. They went on to win the Champions League the following season …
Mou is a gambler and his gambling on the Europa League paid off. I didn’t like it – I thought it was too risky – and also it let the Scousers into the Champions League, strengthening their pulling power in the transfer market and their status in general.
He moaned he had no choice and moaned about the number of games we were expected to play but unlike you, Rick, I do think he only has himself to blame for the squad being so thin in the second half of the season. He knew by then that (a) there were going to be injury problems at CB; (b) that Rooney was a spent force and (c) that we would be playing a lot of games. So he really should have bought a CB and backup striker in January, and he shouldn’t have let Schweini, Schneidy and Memphis go.
The biggest problem we had all season was those eight home draws. Was it just a case of poor finishing, or something more tactical? I thought there was something a bit old fashioned about our playing through the target man, and whilst Ibra had a pretty good season, we just weren’t getting the runs off him and ahead of him right often enough. Way too often we had nobody out right to stretch the defence and yes, when we did create a chance, the finishing was then woeful.
RICK: I disagree with your statement about letting players go. If Mourinho doesn’t think they’re good enough then we should let them go. No point keeping them for the sake of it, then when injuries come, they play shit and prevent the youth from coming to the forefront.
We need quite a few players this summer and I expect a lot of transfer activity.
In what everyone is calling a poor season we won 3 trophies; granted, the Community Shield isn’t a major one, but it’s still a trophy none the less. It continues our tradition of winning things. Apart from Chelsea, we’ve done better than all the other PL teams. If you win the PL then you’re the best, but if not, does it really matter what place you finish if you can win a treble and get CL football for the next season? I mean, I know what I’d prefer as a footballer. You always choose trophies, as that’s what you’ll be remembered for when you retire. No one cares about second place, it’s all about winning things and Mourinho, by prioritising the Europa, has kept up the United tradition of winning trophies. I’m just so excited for us going into next season.
HEMOR: Considering we won the Europa League, Capital One Cup and Community Shield, I think this has been a successful season. Of course our EPL was a failure, because even Bournemouth scored on3 more goal than us and they don’t have 1/10th of the quality of players we have, but the season in general (considering all competitions) has been a good one.
Not only did we just win trophies, we won the trophy we have never won before and made history.
FAB: I’d say that Jose has done really well in terms of his player treatment. He’s given almost everyone what they deserve. Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial must grow up, they simply cannot act like kids anymore. They seem to have responded and are trying, especially Martial.
For three years we haven’t had a key figure who would stand up and make sure the players were listening to what the manager said. Wayne Rooney has been trouble, and reading what Gullit said about him, I think we have found the problem.
On the pitch we could have done more. There were sparks without really starting a fire. I am generally speaking about our attacking issues, based on the number of goals scored and how much we depended on Zlatan. By the end of the season, we seemed to have found a balance but we were still dropping a few points. Our league position doesn’t really show our real potential, as I felt that we could have done so much more against the top 5, especially away from home. But you don’t win European trophies every day. That’s a big statement for next season.
In terms of our new signings, everyone said that we would be lucky if Zlatan scored ten goals. How wrong were they? Mkhitaryan started really badly. He is still trying to settle well on the RW and I’d still keep him and Mata to compete for that position. As for Eric Bailly – do I even have to say how amazing he is? I thought that he would struggle a bit in his first season in the PL. So wrong! And last but not least, Paul Pogba – Yeah we get it, he hasn’t been an £89 million signing because he hasn’t scored 100 goals and hasn’t assisted 50 times. There were a few games where he was injured and his calm drifting, great composure and stylish way of keeping the ball went missing. Alongside Herrera he did well.
DAN: Based on my pre-season hopes, I’d say its been a mediocre season. Before a ball was kicked I expected us to be there or thereabouts in the league. I think Jose’s job was saved by the Europa League win, and of course it’s brilliant to win a European trophy, and the fact that it was one we were missing to complete the collection was the icing on the cake. But otherwise it’s been mediocre. We have been defensively solid but haven’t scored enough goals, which is a massive disappointment, and we only picked up 69 points – three more than last season, but finished a place lower. The key investment this summer needs to be forwards; even if Ibrahimovic stays, we need a striker. We also need players behind the strikers to chip in with goals.
CARL: There’s no way you can say it’s been mediocre. Yes, the league finish is disappointing, but there are more tournaments to be played for than simply the league in a season. Jose’s objective this season was to qualify for the CL and he reached it with the bonus of two trophies. It may have come down to a single game in the end, but that’s how it has to be if you’re going via the Europa route. Jose has managed the Europa campaign all season brilliantly, so I’m not sure how you can say his job was saved by the Europa in the end, as if to say like he got lucky or something. Had we not won Europa I’d have agreed with you, but the fact is that we did.
DAN: But for me, in the grand scheme of things, some of the performances have been on the poor side – we have drawn too many games and I feel the Europa League sort of glossed over it. Yes, we picked up injures to key players throughout the season, but look at some of the teams we played in the Europa League. How many of them did we really put to the sword? With the class we have in the squad we should have done better and in some of the league games we showed a lack of imagination. This has crept in over the past few years.
CARL: We haven’t been tearing teams apart nor finishing very high since Ferguson retired, we can’t be looking at things from the same perspective as when he was here. We’ll get there, but Jose needs more time. A lot of these players you still wouldn’t trust and rely on to play the Jose way, but they’ve improved as the season has progressed and the Europa final was indicative of that. We did not have enough goals in this side with Zlatan injured, Jose did what he had to in order to get us over the line and reach the primary objective in the last couple of months – he wrote off the league and prioritised Europa.
I have every faith he’ll bring in those missing pieces of the jigsaw this Summer and I think we need to just write off this season’s league campaign as a lesson learnt for Jose in just what he has to work with.
DAN: But there were games this season where you would expect us to bully teams and we didn’t – we were far too lethargic at times and didn’t move the ball quickly enough.
BETS: I agree Dan. You could see the difference when the youngsters played against Palace. There was a buzz, hunger, energy. We have really fast players in the likes of Martial and Mkhi but they play like they’re in a daze.
DAN: Thats it. Look at how we use to break – clipped over the top, Ronaldo was off after it, gets to the ball, looks up and Rooney, Tevez, Park are all backing him up. Look at it now -Rashford chases a ball over the top, the ball ends up going backwards, teams get behind the ball – everything has been so scripted for years. From Moyes’ “get it wide, stick it in the mixer” to Van Gaal’s possession for possession’s sake, we need the creative players to show a bit more desire when they get a chance to break and score. The smaller sides have been getting braver over the years as we are easy to plan for, so they play the numbers game and aim to get a chance and keep it tight.
REX: My review of the season is quite simple. We need more goals. Whichever way Jose gets to that, I’ll take it. That’s the difference between us finishing where we finished in the league and being champions on his first run.
So we did well, not great, but a good enough season with plenty to look forward to.
If I were to criticise something it would be to say the tactical approach actually hindered us. We were set up to be so defensively sound that forward movement was limited, especially from our mids, who needed to get in the box. Half the time we didn’t deliver any decent crosses then when we did, no one, or just one player attacked it. So a lot more is needed from the middle of the park all the way to the wings. Sometimes simplicity is key. Get it to the middle, get it wide, early cross and players rush in to head it in.
COREY: I think this has been a poor season. Maybe poor is the wrong word, it has been an underwhelming season.
My criteria going into this season was top 4, and much better performances out of the players. Yes, we won Europa, and yes, we won the Charity Shield. But lets be honest with ourselves, nobody gave a rats ass about those trophies at the start of the season. I remember most of us saying we should just play youth in the Europa, and that the sooner we were knocked out the better. A couple of seasons ago we were making fun of the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea for playing in the Europa.
So the season was poor. I think Jose’s team management was poor, there clearly was not enough rotation when we did have enough players, and then when players started getting fatigued and injured, only then did the rotation come out of necessity.
I think the style of play and players’ performances were also poor. We all knew heading into the season that Jose parks the bus. We all hoped that United would change Jose. We started off the season nice and attacking, however, as the season progressed we saw our team slowly become more and more negative.
So in both regards Jose failed. I think had we failed to win the Europa, he would be under immense pressure right now. Champions League might just have bought him more time, but this summer transfer window will really be the deciding factor on how patient we are with him next season.
Don’t get me wrong, I am proud we won the Europa, and that we secured a spot in the Champions League. I am merely saying, that heading into the season, none of us cared about Europa, and that Jose’s minimum goal was top 4, which he did not achieve.
I think next season, top 4 is a must. If he fails to make the top 4, then his job will be in question. Period. He got lucky this season because we managed to secure Champions League through Europa. Next season, every draw and every loss, every missed opportunity, will be scrutinised by the the fans and the media.
CARL: I agree that our league standing doesn’t suggest we’ve progressed, but I think this season has been a learning curve for Mourinho and he’ll now have a better understanding of what we need in this window to improve. This squad requires 3 or 4 top quality players to advance us to the next level and Mourinho’s tactics that everyone liked to criticise this year will start to pay off on more of a consistent basis then. Not being clinical enough was where it all fell apart for us and culminated in too many draws, but tactically I believe we were every bit as solid and balanced as Chelsea this season, at least until the injuries piled up.
REX: I think both situations can be solved with a bigger squad. I think he trusted in the players’ health too much this season. A squad of 23 players is not enough if you genuinely want to challenge for all 4 trophies. That’s the bottom line. Especially if you don’t trust the kids to provide cover, which he obviously doesn’t.
CARL: I think you can work with a 23 and be OK, lots of sides do it and are OK. Our problem has been a lack of quality in depth and some players we’re heavily dependent on shouldn’t really be key players, but rather squad players.
REX: You can, if as you say they are all high quality replacements. But as we stand, we have a LOT of players that are just meh…and you can’t sell them all at once. So he either sacrifices certain competitions like the EFL cup and maybe even the FA cup at times and just focus on the big 2, or we might have to go through this again next season, because in 23 man teams, there are going to be players who would have to play almost game in, game out.
BETS: You guys are forgetting that for half the season it was only a 20 man squad. 23 was always going to be tight, but 20 was never going to work from January. He should have replaced the 3 he sold/let go. Or not allowed them to leave.