Football News: Manchester United Season Review

 

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Manchester United Season Review
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Manchester United Season Review

On the one hand a Community Shield, Europa League and EFL Cup treble is a good return but that was against the backdrop of finishing just 6th in the Premier League, despite an enormous summer outlay on players. With Louis van Gaal sent packing in the summer, replaced by Jose Mourinho, it might be thought that at least there would be more attacking thrust, but it does not seem that much really changed in that regard.

Jose did as Jose does, parking the bus and going long ball when he feels the opponent is strong, which resulted in a team that drew more games than any other in the league and was outscored by Bournemouth. On the plus side, the decision to play what sometimes amounted to a back 8 gave the Red Devils an excellent defensive record, only Tottenham Hotspur conceded less last season. Defensive solidity at the expense of attacking thrust is not really what United have become known for, nor is the route one ball to Marouane Fellaini a tactic that is seen as the 'United Way'.

The question is whether that pragmatism, to concentrate on not conceding first and foremost, rather than on going for wins, cost the team a chance to get the top four or whether it actually kept them in contention? No one really can know for sure, but the important thing in the future will be those trophies in cabinet.


Jose Mourinho

One thing Mourinho guarantees is trophies, and last season he added 3 more to United's trophy room, though none of the 3 would be considered the trophies the team had set out at the start of the season with the aim of winning. For most other clubs, that would be seen as a good season, especially when added to Champions League qualification. However United are not most other clubs, and any club breaking the then world record transfer fee to sign a player does not aim to finish the season in 6th place.

Added to that, there is Mourinho's tendency to park the bus against teams that he feels present a bigger threat than his own team, while moaning loudly and incessantly about any team that employs similar tactics. It is difficult to like a hypocrite, which has lessened his achievements in the eyes of many. That makes it difficult to dispassionately examine his performance and that of the team over the course of a season. Even winning does not close the split between the fans, as some just see him as not playing football the 'United Way'.

There is some validity to both sides of the success/failure argument for last season, as it is such a close call as to which you believe it to be. It is a fine line between the two after all. In my opinion the issue that truly matters is Jose himself, who is not the Jose of old. While it is clear he is not happy and settled in Manchester right now, the smiling, happy Jose who breezed into Chelsea and stole the media's hearts had long since gone. If he wants to be remembered for success at Man Utd, he needs to stop looking like he is failing, because it is difficult to see a result as a good one well earnt when Mourinho is just moaning about something, rather than celebrating the moment.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


David de Gea

After years of keeping United in contention almost singlehandedly under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, de Gea is finally becoming just one part of a capable team, rather than being head and shoulders above the rest. Despite the constant speculation in every transfer window that Real Madrid will finally get him, each season he knuckles down and concentrates on being a top quality keeper. The improvement in the team in front of him meant he was not called into action quite so much.

Marks out of 10: 8


Sergio Romero

While he did make a couple of appearances in the league, Romero has become the cup keeper mainly for United, though he only played one round of the FA Cup oddly enough. In the Europa League he was the first choice. Always looks competent, one of the best back up keepers around, though not on de Gea's level.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Joel Pereira

A young Portugese keeper who spent most of the season out on loan in his home country, but managed one sub appearance in the FA Cup and the full game in the final Premier League match of the season. Very promising, but still just 21.

Marks out of 10: 5


Chris Smalling

As usual Smalling had a year blighted by injuries, as seems to happen to him every season. It does make you wonder how he managed to make 36 appearances over the course of the season, though, admittedly, 7 were from the bench, 5 of which were in the final dying minutes of games. As usual Smalling suffered from inconsistent performances, partly due to being in and out of the team through injury and partially due to his lack of genuine quality, making him struggle when asked to come out of his comfort zone.

Marks out of 10: 3


Marcus Rojo

Last season at centre back Rojo established himself as an extremely competent option for the Red Devils, working well with whoever he was partnered with, prior to a knee injury ending his season in April. It was not the same story when he was used to cover left back though, as he struggled with the demands to provide attacking play and to get back to defend as well. Rojo can often end up selling himself rashly, in his overeagerness to contribute.

Marks out of 10: 6


Phil Jones

Once a highly regarded prospect in midfield or defence, now an injury prone defender with the subtlety of a bull in a china shop and about as much ability as that same bull. Jones other major problem is his rashness, which is that of a man who is desperate to make up for lost time each and every time he plays.

Marks out of 10: 2


Eric Bailly

The centre back arrived for over £30m in the summer from Villareal, as a surprisingly expensive acquisition who turned into a revelation. If it was not for a spell out with a knee injury and the AFCON, Bailly would almost certainly have been the best signing of the summer for Man Utd, by a significant margin. As it was, when he played he was excellent, the glue that bound the defence together, with the pace and strength to cope with the Premier League and decent enough ability on the ball to allow him to slot in at right back in times of need.

Marks out of 10: 7.5


Axel Tuanzebe

The youngster got a run out in the FA Cup 4th round off the bench and continued to impress in the reserve ranks enough to get a run of four Premier League games at the end of the season. He never once looked out of place.

Marks out of 10: 5


Luke Shaw

Young he may well be, but, with his well-documented issues with fitness and injuries constantly affecting his ability to play, let alone play well, Shaw is in danger of never achieving even half of his undoubted potential. At the age of 22, the left back is running out of time to make it with United.

Marks out of 10: -5


Daley Blind

Being a left footed utility player has done him no favours, though his lack of pace is probably just as much at fault for making him unable to nail down a consistent starting place in any position. Sometimes Blind does well enough to make you believe maybe he has a future in that particular position, but then he struggles the next few times you watch him. It is clear Mourinho does not see him as any more than cover for injuries.

Marks out of 10: 4


Demetri Mitchell

Got his chance to impress with a start in the final league game of the season and did not let anyone down. The young left back did himself a lot of favours with his performance that day.

Marks out of 10: 5.5


Matteo Darmian

Like Blind, Darmian has never truly been able to keep up with the pace of the Premier League. Also like Blind, his versatility has not always helped him, with games at left back, right back and centre back as part of a back three having all been roles he played last season. Darmian has never looked entirely comfortable or settled in the team.

Marks out of 10: 3


Antonio Valencia

Once a flying winger, now the Ecuadorian is a hard working right back, always willing to chase back as well as charge forward. Last season Valencia started the season like a train, being arguably the best right back in the Premier League for a few months. However he did fade as the season went on, not helped by a short injury break after he fractured his arm. Overall a good season, but it could have been so much better if he had been able to maintain his excellent early form.

Marks out of 10: 7.5


Morgan Schneiderlin

Very much on the fringes of the first team, making just 3 very short sub appearances in the league, prior to his January transfer window move to Everton. His whole time at Man Utd was a bit of a disaster for him from a personal point of view.

Marks out of 10: -2


Michael Carrick

The evergreen midfielder is now in the veteran stages of his career, but he still managed to impress Jose Mourinho enough to be a regular and to get another year's extension to his contract with the Red Devils. While no longer possessing the pace and energy to get about the pitch like he once did, Carrick's role sitting in front of the defence and orchestrating the play is vital to the team.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Timothy Fosu-Mensah

The teenager managed to get 1 start in every competition the club participated in and came off the bench in a handful of matches. A raw talent, but clearly extremely talented.

Marks out of 10: 3


Paul Pogba

After being bought for what was then a world record transfer fee from Juventus, Pogba disappointed in his first season. Not because he had a bad season, but just because people expected him to win everything all on his own due to his transfer fee. Pogba did what he has always done, showed flashes of brilliance amongst moments of almost languid movement. A lot of his problem is that he never looks to be putting in 100%, there always looks to be a bit more to come, but I feel that is partly down to the way he moves, he flows easily over the ground, it all looks to come so easily to him, even running up and down the pitch for 90 minutes seems like it takes no effort.

Playing 51 matches in midfield and coming away with 9 goals and 6 assists is very good numbers for a player who was often stifled by a need to provide defensive cover for his teammates. Pogba's failing last season was his inability to take over games, to take them by the scruff of the neck and run them. That is something he needs to learn to do to truly reach his massive potential.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Ander Herrera

Herrera has become an essential part of the Man Utd midfield, after a difficult period under previous manager van Gaal. His workrate and energy, as well as his willingness to do the dirty stuff, has made him very much a favourite of the fans. Last season really showed his worth to the team, as he often put the team's needs above his own. With 11 assists to his name as well, the Spaniard also showed a creative side to his game.

Marks out of 10: 7.5


Marouane Fellaini

A much-maligned player, though a lot of the criticism he takes is warranted, it is also fair to say that his managers still pick him despite his obvious shortcomings, so a lot of the critique should be aimed at them, rather than Fellaini. The Belgian's lack of mobility and genuine quality on the ball is made up for, in the eyes of the manager, by his excellent aerial ability, which is almost peerless in the English game. When the team is defending deep and needs a target to hit with a long ball, there are few, if any, better players in world football than Fellaini. Also a very useful presence in setpiece situations.

Fellaini does what he does and he does it to the best of his ability, he can never be accused of shirking the task at hand. Questions about whether playing to his strengths is how a United team should be playing or not are really nothing to do with him and they are down to the manager to answer. While he is not a player I like or would want in my team out of choice, I do see him as an effective presence in the team and the style of play chosen. On a personal level, he had what can only be described as a good season and played well.

Marks out of 10: 6.5


Bastian Schweinsteiger

With a brother who is an obsessed Man Utd fan, a history of winning trophies, the move from Bayern Munich to United seemed like a match made in heaven and a big step on the road to returning the Red Devils to their former glories. However the Schweinsteiger that United got was a shadow of the player they thought they were getting. Actually no, Schweinsteiger was not so much a shadow of a player, more like a reflection from the hall of mirrors with him piling on the pounds and clearly lacking motivation in his first season with the club.

Last season was a little better, still overweight but not so much as the previous year, but it was clear his time was done. In the end he made just 1 start and 3 short sub appearances before heading off to the MLS in March to sign for Chicago Fire to model their new range of XXXL jerseys....

Marks out of 10: -9


Ashley Young

Young has never been able to hold down a consistent place since joining United from Aston Villa, but he has become a utility back up player able to cover a variety of roles. While you have to wonder about the lack of ambition of a player willing to see out his career as a back up, to a manager they are priceless, as they can always be relied upon to perform when called upon.

Marks out of 10: 5


Juan Mata

Having been sold by Jose Mourinho to Man Utd when the pair were together at Chelsea, people assumed Mata would be one of the first players out of the door when Mourinho took charge at Man Utd. However Mata showed he was more than just a nice guy, he showed he has some steel about him and knuckled down. His desire to play was clear each week, Mata looked like he cared (I am going to avoid any rubbish puns about it Mata-ring or how it Mata-d to him etc) and was running his legs off trying to prove a point. Due to his workrate and attitude Mata became a very important part of the United team throughout the course of the season and weighed in with some vital goals amongst the 10 he notched.

Marks out of 10: 7.5


Henrikh Mkhitaryan

The Armenian came in from Borussia Dortmund as a big signing with an excellent reputation for pacey attacking play. The season was nothing like anyone expected, as he struggled to break into the team initially. When he did play, Mkhitaryan did show himself to be a real threat to the opposition and notched 11 goals to prove it. However most of his goals came in the Europa League and he did look a lot more suited to European football than the Premier League, where the games sometimes passed him by.

Marks out of 10: 5


Josh Harrop

He was surprisingly given a chance to start in the final league match of the season and did enough to impress.

Marks out of 10: 3.5


Scott McTominay

Another youngster to get a start in the final league game of the season, though he had already made an appearance as a sub a few games earlier.

Marks out of 10: 4


Angel Gomes

Despite being extremely young, 15 at the time, Gomes was give a few minutes at the end of the final Premier League match of the season.

Marks out of 10: 3


Memphis Depay

After failing to impress at all during his short spell at United, since joining from PSV Eindhoven the summer before, Man Utd took a loss to move him on last summer to Olympique Lyon. Just four games he managed for the Red Devils at the start of the season, never showing any real genuine signs of being good enough for them.

Marks out of 10: -4


Jesse Lingard

Having come through the ranks at United, he is now a fully fledged member of the first team squad. It is very rare that he was not involved when Man Utd were playing, whether on the bench or starting. It seemed that Mourinho was beginning to rely on him as the season went on. However, he is far from a finished article as he often lacks end product to match his pace and good runs from midfield.

Marks out of 10: 4.5


Wayne Rooney

Rooney was gradually relegated to a back up role over the season, despite becoming Man Utd's all-time leading goalscorer during it. When he did figure he looked half the player he once was and it was little surprise he returned to Everton after the season ended.

Marks out of 10: 2


Anthony Martial

Was it a case of second season syndrome? Possibly as Martial, who had shown promise the previous season, struggled badly this season. He never quite looked at it throughout the season. At just 21, the French forward has a lot of time to recover from this season and get his career back on track.

Marks out of 10: 3


Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The Swedish legend joined Man Utd from PSG with a point to prove, after years of speculation that he would not be able to cope with English football. 28 goals and 10 assists in 46 matches suggests he coped admirably, taking it in his stride in the same way he did the Eredivisie, Serie A and Ligue 1. It was unfortunate for him that he suffered an ACL injury, finishing his season in April and leaving question marks over his future career.

There were issues about his time, while he scored and created goals, his lack of mobility defined the way Man Utd played, slowing down their attacking play. It does lead to questions about whether the team as a whole could have scored more goals with a lesser forward. Questions we will never be able to answer. Zlatan himself certainly played well, acting as a focal point for the entire team, becoming the leader that had been lacking in recent years.

Marks out of 10: 7.5


Marcus Rashford

This season was always going to be a struggle for Rashford, having exploded on the scene so quickly and with such devastating effect. This season he had to take a bit of a step back and spent a fair amount of time on the sidelines. Also the arrival of Zlatan meant he was very unlikely to get a run of games in the centre, where he had so impressed. While it was a season of consolidation, it was not so bad as it could have been and he still showed genuine flashes of his talent.

Marks out of 10: 5.5

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