Although Jose Mourinho got off to the perfect start in his Manchester United career – beating Champions Leicester City in the Community Shield and then proceeding to win all 3 of his first League games leaving the club at the top of the table with early pace-setters Man City and Liverpool all tied on a maximum 9 points, things quickly started to go pear shaped for the legendary Portuguese manager as he struggled to find his best XI. Mourinho had to suffer the embarassment of losing 4-0 at Stamford Bridge to his old club and then went on a run of getting 5 draws in 7 games. The draws were all that more frustrating as in many games like the Arsenal, Everton, West Ham and Stoke matches United bossed possession and created way more chances and really deserved to win all 4 games only to concede late goals to end up dropping 2 points in each for a total of 8 points. If they had held on for those deserved wins then United would be sitting only behind Chelsea in 2nd place on 47 points just 2 points in arrears of Conte’s Chelsea.
The great news now is that United are starting to get just the little bit of luck that they need plus Jose Mourinho has finally got his head around the embarassment of riches in his squad. Whoever said Jose cannot manage youngsters needs his head looking at just watch the Special One’s handling of phenom Marcus Rashford who was threat throughout against Hull City and wrapped up the FA Cup tie vs Jaap Stam’s Reading with a fine brace and changed the game after he came on against West Ham when the Hammers were down to 10 men after Feghouli was sent off on Jan 3rd. Rashford came on for the last 30 mins against the Hammers and whereas Lingard was rather ineffective vs West Ham as he kept coming in from his wing, Man-of-the-match Rashford paid strict attention to his manager and stayed out as wide as he could, stretching the West Ham pitch and West Ham’s 10 man defense and they just could not handle him as he terrorized them and was reponsible for the fine play which lead to him assisting on Mata’s peach of a goal after he picked him out with a perfect cut-back.
Jose now has all the defenders like Smalling (and Bailly before his unfortunate international duty) fully sacrificing themselves for the cause like the Vidic of old and the fact that Phil Jones has played a streak of games without injury is extraordinary. Supposed rejects in Darmian, Rojo and Valencia are playing the best football of their United careers. After a difficult early season divorce for a young man, Martial seems happy again as does Rooney who looks content and sharp again, Ander Herrera looks like he could start for any top European club and his play and understanding with Paul Pogba may well become the best midfield partnership in the League. Mourinho has now learned from his mistake with Juan Mata and turns to the genius Spaniard and the rock-solid Carrick as some of his go to guys now. Zlatan and Mkhitaryan are simply on fire with both now looking like they will score in every game particularly the mighty Zlats. Let’s not forget the out-of-this-world David De Gea and solid play of back-up Sergio Romero when called upon as well the dependable Daley Blind who never lets you down when he is selected. Marouane Felaini has carved out a role for himself under Jose and is actually playing a much more intelligent and thoughtful game these days and is a now valuable role player in the squad plus who knows Memphis could yet stay and turn his career around which would be a feel-good story to rival the Mkhitaryan magic show and Lingard and Shaw are simply working through some rough spots as youngsters do but their days are coming soon too. It seems the classy Morgan Schneiderlin is set for Everton but even he has handled his move with class and dignity.
So the mid-season report card for Manchester United is pretty damn impressive and it is hard to find fault with a team which is good to watch and is scoring goals and playing the United way by going after teams and coming from behind to beat them if necessary.
Sunday’s Liverpool clash is of course massive but Jose and his men have already shown that they have turned the corner with their 9 game winning run which many will fancy United to stretch to 10 wins. I would think Antonio Conte will not be so keen to make the trip to Old Trafford when the fixture is due to be played in late April having seen the dramatic changes going on under the Special One but let’s hope United can take care of Klopp first on Sunday.
The Top 4 is looking more and more likely and while United faithful were clamouring for instant title success it seems as though the fans can see that something special is coming at Old Trafford and it certainly looks like it will be worth the wait with some Cup victories to tie them over before the Red-Devils take serious aim at the major silverware in European Club Football perhaps even starting with this year’s Europa League.