One of the criticisms in a long list that Jose Mourinho has faced throughout his career is his lack of trust in young players. Although in 2017/18 with his continued faith in Marcus Rashford, shrewd management of Anthony Martial and outstanding use of Jesse Lingard (young, in terms of top-flight experience) – the Portuguese is proving them all wrong. And rather quietly so.
It has been a weird campaign for the Red Devils, I called this spooky in November and nothing much has changed since I did so. There is still a mild sense of dissatisfaction, a chip on the shoulder among fans – despite the results and the position. For most of this season, Manchester United have been in the top two, second – to be precise – a stark contrast to last season when United spent close to five months in 6th, to finish 6th in the league.
As for the players, contrary to the general opinion which is often skewed by the results of other clubs, there has been an improvement in all areas of the pitch. United have won 14 games in the league, compared to 11 at the same stage last season with 6 more points, scored more and conceded less and four places ahead.
The defensive record in particular over the past six months has been impressive given the number of changes at the back the club has had to adjust to with two of their first choice centre-halves in Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling suffering injuries that has rendered the Red Devils slightly more susceptible to set plays than they usually are. Not to mention the fact that United do not play with natural full-backs at full-back – courtesy of two 30 plus-year-old former wingers Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, there is something comforting about the system in place that keeps them tight at the back more than most.
That is not to say that Manchester United have not got a natural full-back in their ranks. At only 22, with the world at his feet, Mourinho has at his disposal the naturally gifted Luke Shaw who is once again beginning to show signs of life at Manchester United.
Having started in the last four games for the Red Devils and lasting the whole 90 minutes in every single outing, Luke Shaw, once coveted by Mourinho whilst he was manager of Chelsea – could finally have in his hands the player who could add immense value to his system which has relied on energetic and attack-minded full-backs a la Ashley Cole, Zanetti and Marcelo.
Admittedly, it is way too early and foolish to put the 22-year old anywhere near the likes of the aforementioned, but there is no doubting the potential of the £30-million worth left-back – to become whatever he wants to become in the game. Under Jose Mourinho and at Manchester United, he has had a tough time often merely down to ill-fortune – yet he has persisted through the injuries and a resulting lack of match fitness to work hard and force himself back into the manager’s plans.
However, fact remains is that four impressive displays in isolation should not be enough for Mourinho and Ed Woodward who led the whole Luke Shaw pursuit in the Summer of 2014, to stop looking for reinforcements and it does seem like Manchester United could be in the market for a new left-back in the Summer, if not January featuring names such as Danny Rose, Ryan Sessegnon, Alex Sandro and Kieran Tierney.
But with the way the former Southampton man has begun his career revival under Mourinho, it would not be too unreasonable to claim that Manchester United could and should probably have that money spent elsewhere in the Summer.