On Sunday, Jose Mourinho kept himself some good company by becoming the third manager to win the EFL cup four times, after the great Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson. Incidentally, it was also United’s 42nd major accolade in English football, officially making them the most successful club in the land.
The Portuguese has instilled a winning culture at United and he deserves a lot of credit for that, given the two failed regimes before him still fresh in memory. With only one defeat in the last 26 games in all competitions, including a 16-game unbeaten run in the league plus the added bonus of silverware in the bag as early as February, it is fair to say that he has laid a platform on which United can build on their immediate and medium-term future which looks more promising than it has been at any point since May 2013.
The final was once again, a reflection of what Manchester United have become under Jose Mourinho. The Red Devils, despite being second best for large periods in the game, popped up with the winning goal when it absolutely mattered, thanks to 35-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scoring his 25th and 26th goals of the campaign in the final, almost making a mockery of everyone that doubted his abilities, in a way only he could do.
Although United feel a lot comfortable about their chances when their top scorer is firing on all cylinders, it only begs the question, ‘what would they do without him?’ immediately followed by, ‘how long can they keep relying on a 35-year old who may not stay beyond May?’
The solution is not straight forward, it can never be, especially at a club like Manchester United where one bad decision can set the club back two or three years in terms of development. For all their supposed progress, United still have not addressed the goal-scoring issue that has been plaguing their lofty ambitions, in the Premier League in recent seasons.
They are sixth in the league table with only four points separating them and third placed Man City but the gulf in the number of goals scored between the two clubs in Manchester does not make for good viewing in the Red half. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 15 goals in the Premier League making him one of the more prolific forwards this campaign but him aside, there is no consistent alternative source of goals that Mourinho can rely on to deliver when the Swede had a bad day at the office.
Juan Mata comes a distant second with just 6 league goals to his name, followed by Paul Pogba with 4, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and last season’s top scorer Anthony Martial, all chipping in with 3 each. That is a poor return from the supporting cast and perhaps the reason why there is a feeling that United do deserve to be where they are in the league, in contrast to some of Mourinho’s claims about their misfortune.
United need a more proven influence on the goal return from central midfield and they are rightly looking to strengthen that area with a more creative outlet, with names such as Marco Verrati and Toni Kroos being mentioned in the newspapers. As strong a statement as signing one of those two would make, with regard to Man United’s pulling power, it does seem a touch unrealistic given the state of flux that still exists at United, what with not being a regular Champions League fixture they once were – which was only shed more light at, given Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s recent comments about waiting on to see whether they qualify for Europe’s Premier competition before committing to another year.
This is why the recent rumours linking United with Cesc Fabregas should be welcoming. 29-year old Fabregas has been a brilliant midfielder for Arsenal in his early days, captained the side and operated in a deeper midfield role before moving to Barcelona. He played a crucial role in his return to England, this time with Chelsea in the 2014/15 title success with the West London outfit under none other than Jose Mourinho himself. He scored or assisted 21 goals in 33 starts in that successful campaign striking a productive partnership with Diego Costa.
Under Conte this campaign, the Spaniard has had resort to a reduced role with the Italian favoring a two-man central midfield with powerful runners and more defensive-minded Kante and Matic. Even when feeding on scraps of game time, Fabregas has scored or assisted 10 goals already in just 6 Premier League starts – while not a single Man United midfielder has hit double figures yet despite averaging almost twice the minutes on the pitch. Fabregas has created close to 4 chances every 90 minutes so far and replicating a similar rate at United will not only help the forwards increase their goal tally but also chip in himself with vital goals from midfield.
With the added incentive of being well acclimatized to English football and the ideas of the manager – the 29-year old could be a real bargain signing at the value being touted which is close to £27m. He could be a ready made, classic Jose Mourinho type of acquisition who would immediately boost the starting eleven which has solely relied on a 35-year old for goals.
Whether or not Chelsea will be willing to part with one of the better midfielders in the league especially with the suitors being Manchester United, is for another day, but there is no doubt that he would make an instant impact at Old Trafford, should he rejoin Mourinho.