Premier League preview: Manchester United fans fear more Mourinho misery
Jose Mourinho starts his third season at Manchester United with more questions than answers about his Old Trafford residency.
The Portuguese has, on the face of it, made decent progress following Louis van Gaal’s yawn-inducing two-year tenure.
Mourinho took over after United had failed to make the Champions League and managed just 49 goals in the 2015-16 Premier League campaign – their lowest tally since 1990.
Last season they were sitting at Europe’s top table again, finished second in the Premier League and were FA Cup finalists.
It was United’s best league finish since Sir Alex Ferguson, in his final campaign of 2012-13, delivered a record 20th domestic title for the club.
United, however, were a whopping 19 points and 38 goals short of champions Manchester City.
Tottenham and Liverpool were also easier on the eye as Mourinho’s functional football flopped in the Premier League’s beauty stakes.
As some sections of the support grew dissatisfied at Mourinho’s safety-first tactics, United were either impressively efficient or annoyingly hopeless.
United beat every one of the other 19 Premier League teams – including a remarkable 3-2 comeback win at City after being 2-0 down at half-time – but also lost to the promoted trio of Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle.
Meek surrender to Sevilla in the last 16 of the Champions League and to Chelsea in the FA Cup final provided further evidence that Mourinho remains some way from repeating previous glories.
So what to expect of United in 2018-19? Well, probably much of the same.
The determination in tying down Marouane Fellaini to a new two-year contract indicates Mourinho will never forsake his football principles, even if many fans would have been content to see the big Belgian depart.
Speculation persists over the futures of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, the former now a World Cup winner after playing a pivotal role in France’s summer success.
The pair have cost United north of £140m, but both have had strained relationships with Mourinho.
There has been no stellar signing.
Defensive midfielder Fred arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk for a £50m-plus fee but did not play a single second of Brazil’s World Cup campaign.
Teenage full-back Diogo Dalot, signed from Porto from £19m, and third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant - a £1.5m purchase from Stoke, are the only other summer recruits to date.
It is hoped that Alexis Sanchez, so disappointing after joining from Arsenal in January, will finally get his United career off the ground after a rare summer of rest from international duty.
But creativity – or rather the lack of it – remains a concern, and a suspect central defence which has far too often relied on the brilliance of goalkeeper David de Gea has yet to be strengthened.
Closing the gap on City looks a tall order and might depend on Pep Guardiola’s squad suffering a reaction to last season’s efforts and coming back to the pack.
If United do not manage it, Mourinho can expect even more questions to come his way.