Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
After a tumultuous summer packed to bursting with controversy, fractured relationships, transfer market frustration and relentless moaning, Manchester United come into the new 2018/19 Premier League season in a state of disarray.
A 2nd place Premier League finish in 2017/18 should have provided a positive platform to build on as they approach a fresh campaign, though Jose Mourinho’s perpetual state of misery has instead ensured that there is a deep and palpable pessimism running through the Man Utd fanbase.
While finishing as Premier League runners-up represented their best league finish since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, the colossal 19-point gap between United and champions Manchester City took much of the gloss off the achievement.
In fact, in terms of final points totals, United were closer to 6th placed Arsenal than they were to City one place above them in the final standings.
An embarrassing Champions League exit to Sevilla and an FA Cup Final defeat to Chelsea also compounded the frustration in the stands that had been simmering over United’s style of play.
The club football summer break should have been used as a cooldown period for United and Mourinho -a chance to defuse an increasingly agitated support by renewing optimism through strategic squad strengthening.
Instead, Mourinho looks close to the point of combustion and ready to drag United down with him into his pit of despair. It feels as though Man Utd are like a house of cards right now or like a Jenga stack one small pull away from collapsing. There’s a definite a sense of impending doom and self-cannibalism in the air at Old Trafford.
Position last season: 2nd
Top scorer: Romelu Lukaku – 27 goals.
Diogo Dalot – Porto (£19m)
Fred – Shakhtar (£55m)
Lee Grant – Stoke (£1.5m)
Michael Carrick – Retired
Joe Riley – Bradford (Undisclosed)
Dean Henderson – Sheff Utd (On Loan)
Sam Johnstone – West Brom (£7.35m)
Daley Blind – Ajax (£15m)
Matty Willock – St Mirren (On Loan)
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – Scunthorpe (On Loan)
Joel Pereira – Vitoria Setubal (On Loan)
Player to Watch
Alexis Sanchez has been a huge disappointment for Manchester United since moving north from Arsenal during the 2018 January transfer window. The Chilean arrived with a match-winning reputation, but struggled to find his rhythm in his first months as a Man Utd player.
However, after a summer of rest and a string of promising pre-season performances, Sanchez is showing signs of rebirth. A fit and firing Sanchez could drag the quality of United’s attacking play up a level.
The Season Ahead
Getting best out of United’s attack
Attacking players generally seem to find life tough under Jose Mourinho. Adopting a footballing philosophy that’s more pragmatic and reductive than imaginative and courageous, Mourinho’s risk-aversion style goes against the grain of Manchester United’s historical traditions.
United were the lowest scorers in last season’s Premier League top 4, netting 68 times in total, which works out at an average of just 1.7 goals per game. They ranked 6th in the Premier League for average shots per game (13.5) and in the same position for average shots on target (4.7).
And while the stats only tell half the story, watching United play quickly fills in the blanks. United regularly stutter and toil in the final third, scoring goals more through force of will than as a result of good, considered passing play.
In Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku, Mourinho has, on paper at least, a fabulous set of offensively minded players. The fact that so few of those gifted footballers have thrived under Mourinho’s direction is a massive black mark against the Portuguese’s reputation.
Jose Mourinho has made it abundantly clear that he is unhappy with the Manchester United hierarchy over how the club have conducted their transfer business this summer.
Never a subtle communicator, Mourinho has taken every available opportunity to take swipes at the United money men over what he perceives as a lack of support in the market.
From the outside, it looks as though there are internal clashes taking place over the type of players United should be pursuing.
Mourinho has been looking to add experience and “ready-made” stars to the team, while the board seem reluctant to sanction big money moves for players approaching the twilight of their careers.
The club’s hesitancy in backing Mourinho over transfers could signify a change in the overall dynamics between the board and the club.
Though a combination of things, including Mourinho’s poor handling of the Anthony Martial situation, Jose might have lost some of the backing that seemed so complete at the start of the year when he signed a contract extension.
Any dissatisfaction Mourinho is forced to swallow this summer could be regurgitated at any point during the season should things to go against him.
Problems at the back
Man Utd finished last season with the Premier League’s second best defensive record, though they really shouldn’t have. With a back four that changed personnel more times than the Sugababes, United ranked 7th in the league for average shots conceded per game (11.5).
Remarkably, United conceded just 12 goals from open play in the Premier League last season. The next best figure was posted by champions Man City who conceded 20 times in the same category.
Expected goals models showed that United should have conceded far more often than they did however, but thanks to the insanely good performances of David de Gea, the goals against column never filled up.
To try to address their problems in defence, United have been desperately scrambling around to try to sign a centre half. Moves for Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire were knocked back as United continued to move down their list of targets.
Barcelona flop Yerry Mina is the latest name to be linked with a move to Old Trafford, though it all feels a little scattergun and last minute.
There are still major concerns at fullback too, and though promising Portuguese youngster Diogo Dalo was drafted in from Porto, United look set to start the season with veterans Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young as their first-choice picks for those positions.
With Jose Mourinho inching towards his customary third season meltdown, it’s difficult to see anything other than regression this season for United. Their style of play and attacking verve is unlikely to improve under their increasingly agitated manager and that should in turn ramp up the toxicity in the stands. United might find it hard to shake the negativity around the club this season and at present any thoughts of a title challenge seem far-fetched. It seems far more likely that United find themselves out of the Champions League reckoning next May. A 5th place finish is on the cards.
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