Manchester United have had an eye-catching summer as they have made three high-profile signings to date and hope to make more before the end of the season. In his first season in charge, Jose Mourinho managed to win two trophies and has taken the club back into the Champions League, but an improvement is needed in the league if he is to secure his own position. United finished 6th last season and didn’t come close to a title challenge. A similar performance won’t be accepted this season and the pressure is on the Portuguese manager to deliver a significant improvement.
Their problems last year developed from an inability to kill matches off, as they regularly dropped points at home and this prevented them from competing at the top end of the division. Mourinho did make them defensively solid, as the team kept the joint most clean sheets in the league with 17. However, they weren’t clinical enough in the final third and that will need to be corrected this year. Throughout his career, the United boss has always delivered a strong second season in charge of a club and often wins the league title. A similar achievement at Old Trafford would re-establish the club as a force within Europe and that would be welcomed after several years on the outside.
The pre-season has shown that Manchester United will be more flexible in terms of formations and that will be welcomed by supporters as they did become predictable at times last season. The new signings have been the focus of attention, but the club have some talented youngsters that have impressed during the friendly matches. This is an exciting time to be a United fan and they can have genuine hopes of a title challenge for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The headline signing was Romelu Lukaku, as the Belgian striker arrived from Everton in a £75 million deal. There was a lot of interest in the striker and it was believed that Chelsea were the most likely destination for him, but United managed to beat their rivals to his signature, which was a huge psychological blow to deliver during the off-season. Last season, he scored 25 goals for the Toffees and he will be hoping for a similar return at Old Trafford. A lot of his goals come against the lesser sides in the division, but that is what United need as it was in matches that they expected to win that they struggled last season.
Nemanja Matic is an interesting signing and he has been brought in to free Paul Pogba in the middle of the park. The Frenchman was restricted in attack last season, but the arrival of the former Chelsea midfielder should correct that. It is a rare case of a signing designed to improve a player already owned by the club rather than for what he can offer the side himself.
The final addition made so far is Victor Lindelof. Despite their impressive defensive record, United didn’t settle on a first-choice back four and that will have annoyed Mourinho. The Swedish international is built for the English game as he is dominant in the air and good in possession. Despite his size, he is mobile across the ground and he should develop a good partnership with Eric Bailly.
How are they expected to line up?
They now possess a squad that offers Mourinho with several different options, but his trusted 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 is likely to remain as the go-to formation for the manager. David De Gea has stayed for another season, which is a huge boost. Antionio Valencia, Bailly and Lindelof are almost guaranteed starters this season, but the left-back spot offers problems. There are several players that could be used there, but the most likely is probably Daley Blind.
A midfield trio of Matic, Ander Herrera and Pogba offers a lot of excitement, as it is well balanced and should provide the club’s record signing with the platform to push on this season in an attacking sense. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial have had strong pre-seasons, while Lukaku will lead the line. United will rotate and they will have plenty of other options in the squad. This is just one way they could line-up.
How do they start the season?
If Manchester United are to challenge for the title, they need a strong start and they have been gifted a nice set of fixtures to open the season. Their opening six matches see them play West Ham, Swansea City, Leicester City, Stoke City, Everton and Southampton. Although there are a couple of tricky matches, they should be confident of taking a high points total to start the season on the front foot. Last season, it was matches such as these that tripped them up, which is vital they change that habit early into the new campaign.
Manchester United are slowly waking up under Jose Mourinho and three trophies during the last two seasons shows that the winning mentality is being re-established in the squad. They will be a better side this season and a top-four finish seems very likely. A title push isn’t beyond them, but the top-six is so close in ability that it is harder to win the league than it was during United’s dominant period under Sir Alex Ferguson. They will certainly be in the picture and if things fall into place, they have the talent to go all the way.
Prediction: Title challenge