This will be the final sermon of this season. A bit like on the older Football Manager games when there was a date where it decided to load the next season, I’m calling this column the cut-off point. Also, I have a lot of exciting World Cup things to write, so maybe keep following me on Twitter to keep track of that?
Anyway, you would think that this being the last column of the season, I would be looking back upon it. However, there’s a mammoth collaboration piece on the site this week where you can see my opinions. Instead, I’m going to use this week to look ahead at what needs to change at Manchester United. I’m also attempting to stick to things that are realistic. So number one isn’t ‘fire the manager and install King Eric as Supreme Leader.’ As much as I hope that happens.
Decide on a tactical plan and stick to it
Throughout this season, Mourinho has chopped and changed his system. We’ve had 4-2-3-1, we’ve had 3-4-3 and more recently 4-3-3. There have also been variations within those shapes, such as playing Lingard wide or in central midfield and moving Pogba around. I don’t feel that Mourinho has ever quite worked out the right shape for the squad.
In recent months, he seems to have finally settled on the 4-3-3 as his preferred system. Beyond that though, United don’t play with any real identity. Are we a team that keeps the ball? Do we look to counter? Do we press? How do we create our chances? It all feels a bit unplanned. Jose needs to decide what sort of side he wants United to be and stick with that for the season.
This isn’t a call to play free-flowing, attacking football, despite that being my personal preference. I know that Mourinho won’t fundamentally change. But if he wants to play functional, clinical football, then he needs to make sure United are built to do it. That’s not always boring either, his Real Madrid side (as he so often reminds us) scored over 100 goals. It can be fun!
However, to do that he needs to…
Sign players to meet that plan
The United squad does still need some work. Some pundits have said that 5 or 6 players are required, which seems a bit over the top. However, the defence and the centre of midfield certainly needs improving. Not only that, the players purchased need to match whatever system Mourinho is planning to use.
United have already been linked with Toby Alderweireld, which is a really good sign. Not only has he shown he can perform consistently at the highest level in the Premier League, he worked under Diego Simeone and lived to tell the tale. He’ll be well suited to the counter-attacking style Mourinho is likely to implement and won’t crumble under the pressure the manager puts on his players. More on that later.
Jose has to avoid signing flighty, young and creative flair players. This season has shown he can’t fit them into his tactical system, it simply doesn’t work. It’s not my personal preference, but don’t be surprised if the United squad is a utilitarian dream come the start of the next season.
Speaking of players like that…
Get rid of the ‘deadwood’
There are several players at the squad who need to leave. Matteo Darmian and Marouane Fellaini simply are not and have never been good enough for Manchester United. Jose obviously doesn’t fancy Luke Shaw or Daley Blind and needs to set them free for their own good. Also, we currently have 5 centre backs that would like to be considered as first choice. Unless we play a back three next season, that’s too many.
Although personally, I would like him to stay, it looks like Anthony Martial will be sold. He’s simply not clinical enough to function in a Jose Mourinho side. Because his play is so risky, he often tries things that don’t pay off. When you create as few chances as United do, that’s extremely wasteful. All his goals and assists this season won’t save him.
If Mourinho has players that he doesn’t trust, rather than attempt to integrate them into the team, he seems to just exclude them completely. This must create a strange atmosphere at the training ground and seems to create a fractured dressing room. The best thing Jose can do is get rid of the players he doesn’t want and have a squad that is truly ‘his squad.’
Another thing that might improve morale is if Jose…
Stops sniping at players in public
I think this is mainly a symptom of what we’ve already discussed. Jose cannot be wrong, so when United lose he fires off at whatever targets he can find. This often results in him publicly calling out players who he feels have let him down.
Sadly, this is often the younger players, possibly in an attempt to gee them up. However, all it seems to do is shatter their confidence. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, the two players who have been called out the most, have undoubtedly got worse as the season has gone on.
If Jose has gotten rid of the deadwood and has therefore only got players he truly wants, hopefully, he will stop doing this. After all, if he signed the player and then they can’t perform, the likelihood is that Mourinho is at fault. In turn, this will stop the sapping of morale that always seems to follow these outbursts.
So there you have it. If United can pull off all of the above, they will definitely close that 19 point gap. There’s no way they will fail to win the league. I hope. Okay, we’ll still be not very good, but we’ll be better than last year. Possibly.
Can’t wait for next season!