Romelu Lukaku will have a key role to play this season
Of all the big teams it’s arguably Man United who have enjoyed the best summer. Jose Mourinho’s outfit now looks ready to step up a level from last season and challenge for the Premier League title.
United finished sixth last time, but still won two trophies and in doing so also qualified for the Champions League. Since then the manager has plugged the gaps in his team with big new signings.
A team in Mourinho’s image
Since taking over at Old Trafford the Portuguese has spent almost £300m and his side is starting to look like a battle-hardened Mourinho unit.
He has a big striker in Romelu Lukaku and a powerful attacking midfielder in Paul Pogba. Nemanja Matic can reprise his role as enforcer, with either Eric Bailly or Victor Lindelof hopefully establishing themselves as a dominant centre back in front of the solid David de Gea.
His side are also “battle-hardened” says Jamie Jackson of The Guardian. Mourinho has tipped Spurs as the title favourites but “do not be fooled”. Mourinho’s team “has been built primarily for domestic competition. It is big and strong, a powerhouse outfit the manager will instruct to try and bully most opponents.”
“A formidable unit can be fielded on any match-day that would contain only a couple of players Mourinho has inherited and is lukewarm about – the centre-back Phil Jones and Daley Blind or Matteo Darmian, the potential left-backs.
Crucially says Miguel Delaney of The Independent, United know what it is to win trophies and Mourinho “will hope it gives them a new assertiveness, because that is what an occasionally meek team arguably lacked above anything last season”.
But the hard-fought victories, the new additions and a solid pre-season augur well.
“Mourinho sides throughout his managerial career have always peaked in his second season,” adds the Daily Mirror. “At Porto that meant winning the Champions League, likewise at Inter. Real Madrid wrestled La Liga away from Pep Guardiola in his second spell at the Bernabeu and in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, it meant the title.”
But the pressure is on
With optimism comes expectation. The United fans are desperate for a title push five years after Alex Ferguson stepped down and the Glazer family will want to see some return on investment.
“Come next May, United must be challenging,” says the Mirror. “They don’t necessarily have to be champions – after all, there are six sides pushing for the top honour – but they have to be in the conversation.”
That is the “minimum demand and undeniable truth” for United agrees Jackson in the Guardian. “Given the Portuguese’s backing in the transfer market, he has no excuses if they are not challengers.”
Players like Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial must step up if that is to happen, and United’s home form must improve.
“United need to rekindle the fear factor at Old Trafford where they drew ten games last season,” says the Daily Mail. “Much of this was down to United’s profligacy, with only Southampton, Middlesbrough and Sunderland converting fewer of their shots. The likes of Lukaku and Marcus Rashford must take their chances if United are to kick on.”
Most of the pundits agree that United will mount a challenge this season, but no one appears bold enough to tip them for the title. The Guardian places them third and a poll at the BBC sees them come out second.