Players departing and playing for their future at OId Trafford will dominate the narrative at Old Trafford in the closing weeks of the season
Jose Mourinho has one eye on Manchester United's future as club prepare for FA Cup final
Manchester United head into their penultimate home game of the season against Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday, the final time that Arsene Wenger will visit at Old Trafford as Arsenal manager.
He has never been popular among United fans, chiefly because he was so good at his job that he stopped United being even more dominant than they already were in the nineties and noughties, but expect some compassion towards Wenger.
Only the most one-eyed United fan will claim he is not been a great football manager, a man who took his fine sides toe-to-toe with the best of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United.
United fans are more concerned about what is happening with their own team. After last week’s impressive win against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley Stadium, they have an FA Cup final to look forward to against Chelsea on May 19.
The manner in which they dealt with Tottenham, a team they had had a poor record against in London in recent seasons, will encourage United fans for they have an equally poor record against Chelsea in England's capital.
Mourinho is a master at getting results, but he knows this United side isn’t how he wants it. He has told his players exactly what his thoughts are and left several with the clear impression that they are playing for their United futures.
He has no intention of being friends with any of his players or even his staff, and is more about of getting the best out of them so that his side can offer a better challenge for the Premier League title next season.
United have improved and should finish second, their highest position since winning the league in Ferguson’s final season of 2012-13, but the team are currently 16 points behind Manchester City.
A repeat next season would unlikely to be considered acceptable.
While some players have a final chance to impress, the futures of others, including defenders Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian, have all but been decided in that they will not be at Old Trafford in August.
Michael Carrick has already stepped over to become a coach at United while Marouanne Fellaini has not signed a new contract.
He knows he is not loved by United fans and feels that he will be considered no loss to many of them. Despite Mourinho wanting the Belgian midfielder to stay, he has other offers, some of them more lucrative than what he is paid at Old Trafford.
Fellaini will be never be considered a United great, but he has had his uses, played his part in memorable moments and been highly regarded by all four United managers that he’s played under.
With the outgoing players, Mourinho wants to bring new ones on. Alexis Sanchez, the club’s top earner, was not a planned signing mid-season, but he became available. He essentially counts as one of the summer signings.
United have been watching players extensively all season, from Fulham’s left-sided teenager Ryan Sessegnon to Tottenham’s Danny Rose.
Mourinho wants a full-back for Luke Shaw’s United career has struggled to take off and he has started only seven league games this season.
Ashley Young, a winger, has played well at left-back, but he is 32. Antonio Valencia, the team captain and now the longest serving player, is 33 and his form is down on last season when he won the players’ player of the year award.
One or two new midfielders are also likely at Old Trafford if Fellaini leaves. The Brazilians Fred at Shakhtar Donetsk and Willian, who wanted to join United before he moved to Chelsea, are of interest.
Mourinho also has concerns about the defence, even though it has only conceded 26 league goals this season.
United will do everything they can to resist any interest from Real Madrid for goalkeeper David de Gea, the man of the match when Arsenal were defeated by United in December.
Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba, who have both been linked with a move away and had tense moments with Mourinho in recent times, are also expected to stay, but both need to be more effective next season and on a more consistent basis.
Sanchez, who is still settling in Manchester, is also expected to perform closer to the level he was at in the FA Cup semi-final.
United have suffered some embarrassing slips this season, but the club are not in a bad place and looking more settled than at any time since losing a manager who had run the club to his accord.
Arsenal are about to find out for themselves what life is like after a long serving manager departs.