Jose Mourinho begins his new era with Manchester United away to Bournemouth this Sunday, and surrounded by numerous high-profile signings, enters the lions den with the intent of winning the league.
A sturdy pre-season in which a 4-1 humbling by Borussia Dortmund was the only major setback, Mourinho returns to the Premier League with critics to answer and a reputation to restore.
Some point out that he has simply utilised Manchester United’s vast finances to bankroll his expensively assembled squad, but in this modern sporting era where money talks, that is what is expected if a club as enormous as United want to compete across competitions.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like Leicester, who do not need a fat wallet to play their opponents off the park on their way to winning the title, but they are very few and far between.
Mourinho is not so shortsighted and aimless as to spend such a gargantuan sum on four star players in order to just achieve success in England. He wants to dominate Europe again, and put United back amongst the teams that are feared in the Champions League.
Signing the likes of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will probably do that for you. Nevertheless, questions still need to be answered ahead of the new season. Here’s the best five.
1. Where will Paul Pogba play?
Pogba hugely struggled to adapt to Didier Deschamps tinkering of the French formation during the European Championships, with the 4-2-3-1 he employed a tactic that the midfielder did not cope well with. Jose Mourinho has been favouring the exact same formation during pre-season, and the suggestion is that Pogba will partner Morgan Schneiderlin in a double-pivot in front of the defence.
Alas, unlike with the France side, where neither Blaise Matuidi or Pogba felt comfortable attempting defensive roles, Schneiderlin is more than adept at this side of the game. It is here where the ideal pivot will come into play in a feature which is being recognised across the Premier League through various clubs signings.
Take Arsenal, for example. Granit Xhaka will partner with Mohamed Elneny or Francis Coquelin, with one being employed as the defensive agent whilst the other puts the ball in motion and advances the play. The same can be said for Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can at Liverpool. Alternatively, Mourinho could opt for a 4-3-3, but that is unlikely considering it would not suit Wayne Rooney, the team’s captain.
In a 4-2-3-1, the beautifully crafted trio of Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan can occupy the space behind the forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would be the most obvious candidate for this position. As such, Schneiderlin sits in the ‘holding role’ whilst Pogba can distribute the ball to any of the attackers that lie in front of him.
2. Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival hamper the development of Marcus Rashford?
The Swede’s signing for United following four years in Paris is highly regarded as a wonderful addition and perhaps it is – his debut goal in both pre-season and competitively against Leicester in the Community Shield certainly suggests that.
However, Mourinho is not known to be kind in terms of handing opportunities to young players, even if he claims otherwise, and whether he deploys a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, neither formation suits Rashford if Ibrahimovic is involved, which he surely will be.
Rashford could possibly be utilised in the number ten rule where Rooney will play as his surging runs may favour, but with Ibra around, the Englishman’s chance of leading the Manchester United line has been snuffed out, if only temporarily.
This will be the first real challenge that the 18-year-old will encounter since his phenomenal breakthrough. The hope is present that such a test will be overcome. If Rashford learns to adapt, he will become invaluable to Jose Mourinho.
3. Will youth players have opportunities under Jose Mourinho?
One does wonder. In pre-season, the former Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager was almost frivolous (in his own nature, anyway) at presenting United’s youngsters with the platform to impress, and more than one have certainly caught the eye. One such young man is Axel Tuanzebe, a centre-back who came on against Wigan and won over his new manager in just ten minutes.
Nevertheless, the top flight is a very different beast to the warm-up games the likes of Tuanzebe engage in, and they are unlikely to feature as much as we witnessed under Louis van Gaal. Despite Mourinho’s kind words on a number of the club’s promising individuals, Paddy McNair and Duncan Love’s departure to Sunderland should tell you all you need to know about Mourinho’s plans to incorporate youth players into his star-studded team.
4. How will Eric Bailly perform in the Premier League?
Bailly’s man-of-the-match performance against Leicester is a sign of things to come from the Ivory Coast centre-back, culminating what had been an impressive pre-season for the £30 million signing from Villareal.
However, too many centre-backs have arrived with a treasure chest of promise from various foreign leagues and failed to deliver over the long-term in what is a very tough division to recover in if one starts poorly.
His partner, Chris Smalling, enjoyed a strong 2015/16 campaign and in general is a player who has been a revelation at the back despite many of his critics doubting his credentials to be deserving of a place at the club earlier in his time with United.
Bailly looks like a very promising player, but the 22-year-old will need to forge a rock-solid partnership with Smalling to fully accustom and succeed in the Premier League.
The ability to work in a team is a trait that most managers value highly in a player, and it is integral for Bailly to strike up relationships with his fellow defenders to solve what had previously been a seriously questionable defence.
The large proportion of the United faithful are cautiously optimistic that Mourinho’s first signing could be amongst the Premier League’s best in the coming season.
5. Is the squad title-worthy?
We can make educated guesses on the matter about how such a player will reinvigorate the team’s offensive threat from a particular area of the pitch, but all the matters when one is looking for a club with title credentials is the deadly, killer instinct in front of goal and the resilient nature required to hold firm when waves upon waves of counter-attacks plague a team.
Between the sticks, Mourinho has a world class goalkeeper in the form of David de Gea, and Luke Shaw’s return will provide a fresh boost in a position where van Gaal had to operate with what was available. Unfortunately, the options accessible were not always up to scratch, with a shake of the head visible from fans when Marcos Rojo’s name is mentioned.
At right-back, Matteo Darmian faces a make-or-break season where he could be permanently ousted from the team by Antonio Valencia. Moving forward, United’s options in each position are sometimes mesmerising.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play in a variety of roles, and Marcus Rashford offers wonderful support for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Wayne Rooney can produce moments of wonder occasionally, but the real magician is Anthony Martial, who is bound to be a threat from the left with Shaw supporting him on the flank.
After Mourinho’s signings this summer, it is difficult to see why his team would not be at the very least challenging for the title.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.
Read More About: andreas Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe, eric bailly, Manchester United Champions League, manchester united news, manchester united transfer news, Manchester United zlatan ibrahimovic, marcus rashford news, Paul Pogba