August 17, 2017
Last season, Manchester United commenced the campaign with 26 players in the first-team squad, players who offered a variety of tactical options and allowed United to be named title favourites. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t pan out or took a while to find their feet under Mourinho, which led to a tumultuous first season of tactical and performance inconsistencies.
The expectation of a Premier League win and a return to the Champions League was replaced with the desire to drag to the Europa League title to, ironically, avoid playing Europa League football for another season. However, with that objective in mind, many players found their feet at Manchester United, or secure moves elsewhere, building a squad that looks formidable for Mourinho’s second season.
The result in the opening two matches of the new campaign has been excellent performances from many players, but equally many talented players who haven’t tasted football yet. Club captain Michael Carrick is one such player who had comments to make in a recent interview, relieving more inexperienced players around the subject of playing time.
“We’ve got a great squad. It’s a long season and there will be a lot of games. Hopefully, we can go far in the cup competitions.
“There will be a lot of games, just like last year, and there is going to be a lot of rotation of the squad. It’s good.
“It’s a great start for us. We’re not getting carried away. It’s just one game but it’s a good start and we’re looking forward to the games ahead.”
Carrick, who has been an excellent player for Manchester United for over a decade, seems to finally be receiving the break he deserves, as he has played far too much football since Ferguson retired and hasn’t produced his best form as a result.
The signing of Nemanja Matic is just one example of the types of additions Mourinho is making. United needed a player to replace Carrick and allow him to play fewer matches and maintain his form, and with sixty matches ahead this season, Matic and Carrick could form a perfect split o every match this season, barring an injury (in which case even more options are available).
In every position on the pitch, United are stacked with proven options. David De Gea is a world-class goalkeeper with experienced head Sergio Romero and starlet Joel Pereira behind him in goal, with all three likely to feature at some point this season, even if Pereira needs a loan.
Eric Bailly and Phil Jones have been very good under Mourinho and the latter should hold Marcos Rojo’s place before he returns from injury. These three players should allow Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof the chance to (re)discover their best form over time at United, without even mentioning youngster Axel Tuanzebe, who would be in the rotation at any other Premier League club with the ability at his disposal.
That sextuple doesn’t even include Daley Blind, United’s key defender in the last month of the season from centre-back, who joins Matteo Darmian at left-back early in the season while Luke Shaw regains form and fitness. Shaw will have the time to adapt and become one of the best defenders in England due to the lack of pressure created by Darmian and Blind’s consistency in defence.
Darmian’s ability to cover at right-back, as well as Ashley Young’s imminent return, have allowed talented youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah to be loaned to Crystal Palace. Even if none of them were around, though, Antonio Valencia’s remarkable fitness and energy should allow him to nail the right-back slot down for the season.
Matic and Carrick have already been mentioned in midfield, but regardless of formation, United are stacked with partners for these two anchor men, with Mourinho stating that even Lindelof could feature in holding midfield. Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are elite central midfielders, signalling the first period in a long time in which United have three elite central midfielders.
Behind them is the potential of Andreas Pereira, and the wildcard option of Marouane Fellaini, and in a 4-2-3-1, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan become an option in this position. Jesse Lingard proved his trade in attacking midfield under Louis van Gaal in both 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations.
That latter trio is joined by Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who will split time between playing out wide and up front, where Romelu Lukaku could be joined by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in January. That’s right, Ibrahimovic could be United’s second option. Mourinho has also confirmed he wants another winger, which would make the squad even better.
Of the players listed, Rojo, Young, and Shaw are injured, and Carrick, Fellaini, Pereira, and Martial are yet to feature. These are players who would start matches frequently for most Premier League sides, and could start for United by the end of the season. United were bombarded by fixtures last season and captain Carrick has applied that fact to United’s squad depth to enforce the concept that everyone will play their fair share of matches.
The United faithful should be thrilled about this, too. The Red Devils’ Premier League campaign began with a 4-0 win that didn’t even include last season’s player of the season, Ander Herrera. From Martial scoring and assisting off the bench to Mourinho’s patience with Lindelof, every sign points to the fact that United have a far more settled squad brimming with options ahead of the season.
Better than that, the squad’s young average age and the players coming through from the academy virtually guarantee that United’s deep squad will only improve in quality, as underperforming fringe players are replaced by young talent aspiring to make it at United. Mourinho only needs to build the first squad before giving it the opportunity to rebuild itself.
The fact that United have many talented players vying for places isn’t a cause for worry; it’s a reason for extreme hope.