With the Europa League final win over Ajax, Manchester United ended their exhausting campaign by grabbing the third piece of silverware in Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge. What seemed like a disappointing campaign not too long ago has overnight turned into a successful one thanks to a maiden Europa League title.
The trophy not only made the Red Devils the first English club to have all the major club honours in their possession but also granted them a direct route to the Champions League group stage next season. Although United’s Premier League adventure left a lot to be desired with, their excellent cup form this term has certainly saved them the blushes.
FA COMMUNITY SHIELD: Winners
PREMIER LEAGUE: 6th
FA CUP: Quarter-finals
EFL CUP: Winners
UEFA Europa League: Winners
Following the conclusion of the season, Manchester United’s win-draw-loss record reads 36-19-9. Over the course of 64 matches played across five different competitions, the Red Devils netted 105 goals and shipped 45. Like a typical Jose Mourinho side, there were a plenty of cleansheets as well with United accruing 29 shutouts in all. 16 of those came when David De Gea stood between the sticks for the Red Devils. The cleansheet in the Europa League final was Sergio Romero’s 12th of the campaign while Joel Perreira’s first senior start last weekend ended with a shutout of his own.
|TOURNAMENT||MATCHES||GOALS FOR||GOALS AGAINST||CLEANSHEETS|
Despite being out of action for the past one month, Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended the season as the club’s undisputed top-scorer with 28 goals. Both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford finished a distant second with 11 goals each. Juan Mata was the third-highest scorer with 10 strikes to his name. Remaining thirteen players who found the back of the net had a single-digit goal haul.
* One own goal was scored by Brad Jones of Feyenoord
Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney provided a joint-high 10 assists this season. Marcus Rashford made the highest number of appearances with 52 but it was Paul Pogba who spent the most time on the pitch clocking 4349 minutes having played only a match less than the teenager.
The four summer acquisitions — Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba not only added quantity but also enhanced the quality of the squad and the fact is vindicated by the three new additions to Manchester United’s packed trophy cabinet. While Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late match-winning strikes helped the Mancunians lift the Community Shield and EFL Cup, goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were the difference in the Europa League final win. Eric Bailly who was suspended for the showpiece match in Stockholm, made some vital contributions to ensure a smooth passage for the Red Devils en route to the final. In short, the £146mn transfer fee spent on recruiting this quartet has proven to be worth every single penny.
Talking about the squad in general, Jose Mourinho was spoilt for choices at the beginning of the season. The Portuguese is known to trust and stick with a certain bunch of personnel throughout the campaign but this so-many-to-chose-from situation led him to chop and change his starting eleven frequently during the first-half of the season. Players like Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay who were barely getting minutes were moved on in the winter transfer window and Bastian Schweinsteiger, another 2015 summer signing, followed the suit couple of months later.
However, this decision of his almost came back to haunt him as the injuries piled up along with the fixtures in the second-half of the season. As a consequence, Mourinho was forced to abandon the idea of pursuing a top-four finish in the league and focused all his energy on securing Europa League glory which also provided an added incentive of Champions League football. Although many were bemused by the Portuguese’s idea to shun the league, his decision stands vindicated now.
The areas where Manchester United currently needs an upgrade are in the midfield and forward line. They will probably need another centre-back as Marcos Rojo is expected to be out of action until October. Though Mourinho handed the youngsters a chance to impress towards the end of the season, the general consensus is the Manchester United manager may not be looking at the academy prospects as a long-term solution. Jose Mourinho’s track record with the youngsters itself suggests they stand a little chance of becoming first-team regulars. However, the squad doesn’t need a major overhaul. A few right additions would cover all the bases ahead of the next season.
STANDOUT PERFORMER – ANDER HERRERA
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Valencia have a strong case in this regard but it fizzles out in front of Ander Herrera’s claim. Prior to Mourinho’s arrival, the Spaniard was never a guaranteed starter under Van Gaal as the former manager doubted Herrera’s defensive work-rate. Initially under Mourinho, it wasn’t a smooth sailing either with the Portuguese chopping and changing the lineup in search of the best possible combination. But once he settled on a stable eleven that included Herrera, the 27-year-old thrived with every passing game. Jose’s decision to hand him a defensive-minded role in the team contrary to Herrera’s attack-minded mentality turned out to be the watershed moment in his Old Trafford career and even culminated into a maiden Spain call-up for him.
Ander Herrera Premier League stats for #mufc this season:
Most interceptions (82)
Most tackles won (63)
Most assists (6)
— Red Army! (@RedorDead07) May 20, 2017
The former Athletic Bilbao man has made 50 appearances this season, racking up 2 goals and supplying 10 assists in the process. Herrera’s standout performance came against champions Chelsea when he stifled Eden Hazard with his amazing man-marking skills alongside contributing a goal and an assist, serving as the perfect revenge for the red card he earned in the same fixture a month earlier. And the midfielder was duly rewarded for his consistent displays winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year honour, thus bringing an end to his compatriot David De Gea’s three-year reign as the club’s best player. A season to remember for effervescent Ander Herrera.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS
The first and foremost strength of Manchester United is obviously the defence. Only Tottenham Hotspur conceded fewer goals in Premier League than Manchester United in the recently concluded season. The Red Devils shipped only 8 goals en route to the Europa League title.
— Jack (@jcksn98) May 24, 2017
A quality squad depth when all personnel are available is another strong point of this team. It could have been an even better campaign for Manchester United had they not suffered from serious injury concerns in the latter half of the season.
It has to be finishing. At 9.1%, Manchester United had the fifth-worst conversion rate of all Premier League sides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed the most number of big chances in the league this term with 18 — at least five more than any player. Paul Pogba hit the post on 6 occasions. This profligacy in front of goal resulted in a lot of draws and consequently, points being dropped. Mourinho will need to address this problem if they are to mount a serious challenge on all fronts next term.
WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT SEASON?
With Manchester United certainly going to aim high next season, expect some high-profile arrivals in the summer that would boost the club’s ambition of competing toe-to-toe with the European football elites on the pitch. Jose Mourinho boasts a proud record of always winning the league in his second season wherever he has been since his Porto days.
Manchester United next season, if it were me. I’ll let Ed take care of the targets. But it’s clear 2 defenders are required. 2-3 MF’s/FW’s. pic.twitter.com/LANyeCwd9X
— Adam Joseph (@AdamJosephSport) May 25, 2017
Keeping that in mind coupled with his transfer expertise, next season could be the one when the Red Devils finally end the wait to bring home the league title. Though it’s not a given that the Old Trafford outfit will win the league next time around, some of the positive changes this season clearly alludes to the fact that regaining the Premier League crown is no more a far-fetched thought. The squad depth, defence and midfield is already there, only the goals are needed to make the necessary step up.
Expected finishing position = 1st