Is this the best Man United team at Jose Mourinho's disposal, provided Paul Pogba signs?
At his official unveiling as the third Manchester United manager since Alex Ferguson’ s departure, Jose Mourinho instructed all those with a vested interest in the club to the expunge the last three years from their memory.
On his watch, the Portuguese promised, United would no longer be mired in mediocrity, and the that empire established by Ferguson was, as of that moment, under restoration.
Mourinho has always said the right things at the beginning of his tenures and, without fail, he ensures success in the short term. The past tells us that he is unlikely to replicate Ferguson in terms of longevity but we’ll leave that for another time.
Mourinho was also quick to state that there were four imperative signings he wished to make as soon as possible and, in relatively quick succession, Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived at Old Trafford.
Of course, the protracted tilt for Paul Pogba continues.
There will also be a significant culling of the playing pool, with United’s upcoming tour of Asia likely to be a last chance saloon for some to impress their new coach.
Traditionally, Mourinho has deployed either the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations, though favoured the latter during his last stint at Chelsea, where he secured the Premier League in the second season of asking.
With that in mind, and in the spirit of speculation, we’ll assume that United will line out the same way when they take on Leicester City in the Community Shield on August 7.
David De Gea
An absolute no-brainer. The Spanish stopper’s move to Real Madrid seems to be completely off the table now that Louis van Gaal is no longer in situ.
A very credible argument can be made that De Gea is the best goalkeeper in the league while, for United fans, it hardly bears contemplating just how far the club might have plummeted under David Moyes and Van Gaal without him.
The Italian full back began his time at United last term with a string of assured performances. But that early promise soon waned and van Gaal looked elsewhere for his starting right back. However, Darmian is a fine defender and, under new management, can still have an excellent career at Old Trafford.
The England centre half came of age last season and, along with De Gea, made United one of the more formidable defensive sides on the block. Who partners him remains the real mystery.
Mourinho has expressed reservations about Bailly’s ability to immediately thrive in the English top flight, so the Ivorian could be used sparingly early on.
Daley Blind lacks the athleticism and Marcos Rojo the concentration to be regular Mourinho starters and, as such, the fit-again Jones could be handed the chance to finally fulfil his potential.
Shaw made a welcome return to action in the friendly victory over Wigan at the weekend, following the horrific double leg fracture he suffered away to PSV Einthoven 10 months ago.
Mourinho has complimented the youngster for forgoing a holiday to work on his fitness over the summer, but also said he won’t rush the 21-year-old back to action.
Like Darmian, Schneiderlin had a mixed, but largely disappointing, first season at the Red Devils. The former Southampton midfielder looked near-scared to assume any real responsibility under van Gaal, and lacked the decisiveness and dynamism he demonstrated so often at St Mary’s.
If Mourinho does acquire the marauding Pogba, he’ll require a mobile operator to buttress his defence, and Schneiderlin can certainly fulfil that task.
Michael Carrick’s experience and vision dictate that the Frenchman might not partner his yet to be purchased compatriot every week.
Paul Pogba ?
Will he, won’t he? The football news cycle has been dominated by Pogba’s reputed return to Old Trafford since he was on the losing side of the Euro 2016 final.
Mourinho is a huge fan, this much we know. However, if the move does not transpire, there is nobody even remotely like him on the current roster.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini , Ander Herrera all have worthy attributes but, in all likelihood, the former Real boss would look elsewhere, perhaps trying to prise Nemanja Matic away from Stamford Bridge.
It has been speculated that Mourinho’s arrival, coupled with that of Mkhitaryan, marks the beginning of the end for the captain. The notion seems fanciful, given the manger’s admiration for England’s record scorer.
What Mourinho did make clear was that Rooney will not play in midfield or, for that matter, as the starting striker.
The 30-year-old is expected to be deployed as a number 10, arguably his best position. What this means for Juan Mata, only time will tell. Mkhitaryan is effective anywhere across the three behind a striker, and certainly boasts the pace and engine Mourinho favours from those in the ‘hole.’
Rooney will have to hit the ground running.
In the long run Martial is almost certain to lead the United line but, for now, with Ibrahimović on board for at least the next season, he’ll have to make do with the left wing, where he was consistently exemplary in the previous campaign.
An exceptional footballer brimming with pace, power and great incision. United fans should expect him to feature in a variety of roles, though the right wing should be his first port of call.
Reunited with Mourinho, though currently enjoying a prolonged rest, the mercurial Swede will spearhead United’s attack, and add some much needed gravitas to the party. Ibrahimović near guarantees a minimum of 20 goals a season, while Marcus Rashford will have to bide his time.