If there is one thing that is absolutely certain with football, it is change.
Not long ago were Manchester United facing some serious questions about an identity that was supposedly lost – both on and off the pitch, particularly the reaction to the 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge ranged from panicked frenzy to a foregone conclusion that Jose Mourinho’s days as a world class manager were coming to a screeching halt. Fast forward to Christmas, United may not have actually climbed the league table per se, but they find themselves on a ten game unbeaten run in all competitions with 3 wins on the bounce in the Premier League – the first time that has happened since August, the opening month of the campaign. That dispiriting loss in West London somehow seems to have happened ages ago. The fact that only league-leaders Chelsea have accrued more points in the last 6 games in the league than Mourinho’s rejuvenated Manchester United suggests they are now getting the results that their performances in the last few weeks have warranted.
The most interesting development at United besides winning football matches with an improved consistency is the idea that they are finally playing in the image of their manager. It’s not only easier now to name the starting eleven of the Red Devils but the eleven that go on the pitch, home or away, clearly seem to know what their manager wants from them – the latter, in particular, was never realized for the majority of the last two unsuccessful regimes. That also perhaps explains how United have managed to cope with the absences of three of their first choice back four in Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw for almost the entirety of this brilliant period the club are enjoying.
Not only on the pitch, but Mourinho has been making the right noises outside Old Trafford too. His emphasis on the football that Manchester United are in some ways obliged to play in the post match interviews will have pleased the hierarchy as much as the mini shirt giveaway at the Hawthorns which is sure to go down well with the hardcore away support, the lifeblood of any football club. Mourinho, unlike Louis van Gaal and David Moyes before him, has already managed to create that goodwill among the players and supporters and they do seem to look like a tight-knit group more than they ever did in the last three years, a solid basis of all the successful teams that the Portuguese has built in his glittering managerial career.
But the most impressive aspect of Mourinho since he has taken over the reins, has been his ability to address the gaping holes in the squad – with bold and straightforward signings. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan starting to win games on their own, Pogba and Bailly have proved how valuable they could be to Manchester United in the medium to long term future of the club – a future that Jose Mourinho surely wants to be a part of.
Mourinho’s extensive scouting network and knowledge of footballing talent especially in Portugal, is sure to come in handy and make his job a touch easier as Manchester United close in on another young 22-year old Swedish center-half Victor Lindelof, partly to provide cover for the Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly who will miss the first six weeks of 2017 with the AFCON on the horizon but primarily to bolster the club’s defensive options which needed a retooling ever since they last won the league in 2013.
The towering Swede, a center half who is equally adept at right back, has quickly become a vital cog in the Benfica setup – playing a crucial role in the start of this year helping the Eagles win the league by starting 14 of their last 15 games, a run in which they only lost once. He has started 13 of Benfica’s first 14 games this campaign and Rui Vitoria’s team has lost only one of those – and Lindelof has yet to receive a single booking after 1170 minutes of league football at the heart of their back four which is testament to his composure and the nickname ‘iceman’ that he has been given by his teammates.
Chances are that United by the end of January could end up having three to four very promising center-halves and really young ones at that to build the side around for the future which certainly looks anything but dull.