After much talk about the failure to make the centre-back signings before the close of the transfer window, Manchester United got down to the business of the season with a 2-1 home win over Leicester City.
It was a match United didn’t play particularly great football but won thanks to Daniel Amartey’s second-minute handball madness that saw Paul Pogba convert to resulting penalty. Luke Shaw’s moment of brilliance capped a good day in the office.
José Mourinho came out to praise his team and his captain on the day, Pogba. But this is a far cry from events leading up to the match and the club’s outlook for the season as a whole. Mourinho has seized every opportunity available to bemoan the club’s inability to bring in his transfer targets. This has resulted in the feeling that Man United would not challenge for the title this term.
It is not an idea United fans welcome. After watching bitter city rivals Manchester City dominate the league last season, the club’s faithful expect United to do much better than play second fiddle for another season.
The Red Devils finished in second place, but it seemed like a fourth-place finish. This is because of the gap between the two sides on the table. City finished with 100 points, 19 ahead of United.
So what does this season hold for Manchester United? Can José Mourinho go beyond his third season syndrome of always leaving or getting sacked in his third year with a club and lead United to their first league title of the post-Alex Ferguson era?
No doubt, the Portuguese remains one of the best managers in the game today. His achievements in the game make him stand out among his peers. 81 points are usually enough to win the title. Ferguson won it with 80 points in the 2010-11 campaign. More recently, Leicester City won it with 81 points in 2016 and still managed a 10-point lead over second-placed Arsenal.
So Mourinho did okay. Just that okay wasn’t enough. Guardiola raised the bar in the blue side of Manchester. And generally, the competition has become tougher. For instance, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham finished second behind Chelsea in 2017 with 86 points. The north London side has no plans of slowing down. The club has tied down its star players to new contracts and look to make a push for the league title irrespective of the fact that new faces were not added in the transfer window.
Liverpool have strengthened their squad this summer despite having one of the deadliest front three in Europe at the moment. Arsenal and Chelsea have brought in new managers. Their intention is pretty much a matter of public knowledge. They both want to mount title challenges for the season. That does not make things any easier for both Mourinho and United.
We have not mentioned the fact that Pep Guardiola has just begun. The Catalan has a history of league dominance. From Barcelona to Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, the story has been similar.
Mourinho should know, they have been rivals in La Liga before. Not even Real Madrid could stop Guardiola’s dominance both in the league and on the continent.
The fact that Mourinho has shown his dissatisfaction with his squad is not a good sign. A manager’s confidence goes a long way in affecting the players’ output. Against sides like Leicester City at Old Trafford, Manchester United is always expected to win no matter who is in charge. So beating the Foxes is nothing special.
It is in the matches against other title contenders and away at other top half teams that United’s title aspirations will be defined. Preceding events at the beginning of the campaign and the manager’s attitude suggest United may find themselves in a more difficult position than that which occurred the last term.