Hope, desire and anticipation of trophies was the mood around The Theatre of Dreams when the season started in August. On the back of a Zlatan inspired Community Shield victory, Man United fans looked forward to a title challenge and exciting football like that of the Ferguson-era.
Easy wins in the first few weeks only increased the supporter’s beliefs until the team was humbled by Guardiola’s Man City. The next week proved to be the lowest point in the season with 3 consecutive losses. Yet Mourinho built from that and in his own words ‘got to know the team better.’
The 4-0 humiliation at Chelsea turned out to be the turning point of the season. Mourinho became his pragmatic self, got touchline bans, paid fines and somewhere along the line discovered his strongest 11. A long 25 game unbeaten run in the Premier League followed at the end of which United could have found themselves challenging for that elusive 21st Premier League title but that wasn’t to be.
All through the season United suffered because of not finishing chances. Against Burnley at Old Trafford United took the most shots by a team in one match and still didn’t score a goal. Opposition goalkeepers seemed to play their best matches against United. This gross inconsistency led to 15 draws and the least number of wins for United in the Premier League era. Throughout this time Man United’s defence proved to be a rock and went on to concede just 29 goals in the entire season. By February, United won the EFL Cup which boosted confidence and provided joy to the supporters.
Focus on the Europa League
With title hopes long gone and even the top 4 looking unlikely, Mourinho turned his head towards the Europa League. United’s best performances had come in Europe, with Zlatan and Mkhitaryan most often being the stand out players. The big squad surely helped cope up with the rigours of playing the Europe’s second fiddle competition. The Europa League was declared ‘priority’ and the top 4 challenge took a backseat yet Mourinho showed us why ‘Judas is still number 1’ with tactical master classes against Chelsea and Man City at the Etihad.
Fast forward onto May and United had scrambled over to the Europa League final by a narrow win over Celta Vigo. A first European final for 9 years was just over the horizon. A win against Ajax would salvage a disappointing season with a European trophy in the bag along with Champions League qualification. The dreadful terror attack in Manchester galvanised the team and raised the stakes even higher. With Mourinho winning 11 of his 13 cup finals, confidence was high.
The final was again a Mourinho master class. The youthful and vibrant Ajax were stopped in their tracks and could not create clear-cut opportunities. United were resilient, hard-working and much more experienced. Consequently with goals from Pogba and Mkhitaryan, United won the match. They lifted the only trophy Man United had never won and also became the most successful club in England. The season which started out at the DW stadium in July finished with 3 trophies at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. In his own words ‘there are several poets in football but these poets don’t win.’
A Bright Future
All four summer signings proved to be great especially Zlatan with 28 goals in the season. Valencia and Herrera were the most consistent players. Rashford also deserves a special mention for his hard work. Mkhitaryan and Mata created several opportunities and were widely appreciated. Wayne Rooney was expertly sidelined from the team getting all the respect he deserves.
Mourinho with all his wisdom knows performances of this level will not lead to Premier League or Champions league glory. Mourinho’s most important transfer window lies ahead with several high profile names linked to the club and a reported 200 million£ transfer budget.
United won 3 trophies this season and qualified for the Champions League. That’s much better than renowned ‘poets’ Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino. The supporters can look forward to next season with renewed optimism and hoping for more trophies. The Mourinho syndrome of 3 years is taking shape and it looks the trophy cabinet is going to be bigger.