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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Manchester United fans hoping history repeats itself in Jose Mourinho's second season at Old Trafford

  • Portuguese has won a league title in his second season in charge at all his previous clubs.
  • Face West Ham United in Premier League opener at Old Trafford on Sunday (7pm kick off in UAE).
Jose Mourinho won the League Cup and the Europa League in his first season in charge of Manchester United. Dan Mullan / Getty Images
Jose Mourinho won the League Cup and the Europa League in his first season in charge of Manchester United. Dan Mullan / Getty Images

“We’ll win the league this year,” Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand opined an hour after seeing the Europa League winners outclassed by Real Madrid in Tuesday’s Super Cup in Skopje.

The former midfielder was full of praise for Madrid’s imperious midfield, yet, as manager Jose Mourinho pointed out, United don’t have to play Real Madrid in the Premier League this season. The Spanish, European and world champions are far better than any English team but while United won’t have to worry about playing a side as good as the Spaniards in the Premier League, Mourinho’s side still finished 24 points behind champions Chelsea last season.

That gap would have been smaller had United not made the Europa League as their priority in the final weeks of the season, but not by much. United were off the pace almost all season and never considered serious title contenders. They spent more time in sixth than any other position, and finished there. United drew more games at home than they won and suffered a drastic shortage of goals.

The season was only considered a success because of the three secondary trophies Mourinho delivered. The Portuguese thus did enough and he remains very popular among players, most staff and fans, but expectations are greater for this season.

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Most United fans do not quite share Crerand’s red-eyed optimism that a 21st league title can be secured, but then those fans have been guilty themselves of over optimism in recent seasons, only to be left deflated and disappointed as United finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth in each of the last four. The 20-time champions had not finished outside of the top two in the previous eight.

Fans do expect a better title challenge. The team may have lost the declining Wayne Rooney and the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the latter could yet return and join up with a new striker Romelu Lukaku. Mourinho does not want his other attacking players to be as reliant on the Belgian as they were on Ibrahimovic last season – an obvious deficiency as not one player scored more than six goals apart from the Swede. Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford all need to score more.

One player who will be excused for not scoring will be new signing Nemanja Matic, who has been at the club for less than two weeks but already looks like the stable defensive midfielder the team need to set Pogba free.

As former United player Brian McClair said: “In some games, Paul Pogba has been in the wrong place and it has stifled his abilities which United bought him for. At Juventus, he played in a three on the left hand side which allowed him a lot of freedom to get forward. He also had Patrice Evra playing as a left wing-back and he had great energy going up and down the left hand side. That allowed Pogba an outside ball because Patrice would overlap, it also allowed him to move right and have a shot; he has a hard, accurate shot.

“So United need someone who sits there behind Pogba, who played his best football when Michael Carrick also played last season. Carrick looks to pass the ball forward and that allows Pogba to play higher up the pitch. Matic will fit and be mobile. He’ll give you seven or eight out of 10 every game. Worse case scenario, he’ll give you a six. He’s consistent.”

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United have also signed defender Victor Lindelof, who was successful in a fine Benfica side. He will be given time to settle, but Mourinho is still looking to strengthen his squad. A wide man has long been of interest, but Mourinho claims he is also looking for a left-back, even though he admires Luke Shaw’s attitude in coming back from another injury and the England defender will be given a chance to re-establish himself. Mourinho is also a big fan of Matteo Darmian, even if most United fans are not fully sold on the Italian.

Mourinho has been boosted by David de Gea staying and feels United’s rivals will be more tied up with European commitments this season. Most of all, he hopes that he can repeat what he has done at his previous clubs and win the league in his second season.

Crerand believes so and if United start well against West Ham United on Sunday and continue to prosper in a fixture list that doesn’t throw up the best teams early on, confidence will soar.

See Opta stats from the last time Manchester United played West Ham United in the league at Old Trafford: