As the season begins once more this weekend of the Premier League, inevitably all United fans feel the buzz and anticipation given that there is a genuine possibility of winning the league. A major reason for these feelings and the fulfillment of our fervent wishes to this effect is the man at the helm of our ship. Mourinho boasts the enviable track record of winning the domestic league within the first two years of managing a team wherever he goes. He is a serial winner who seems to thrive upon pressure, making him the perfect manager to cope with the stresses and strains of being vilified and lambasted by rival fans and journalists alike. Indeed, he thrives upon creating a siege mentality and pitting his wits against others with the ruthless winning mentality that separates the truly exceptional managers from the great ones. Every United fan is praying that this year will not mark the exception to the rule where Mourinho is concerned and that come May time, we will be celebrating a Premier League title and a reprieve from the barren title spell since Sir Alex Ferguson left. After all I am sure that no United fan wants to become the running joke that Arsenal and especially Liverpool are, still praying for the title after over a decade or two since their last. It is imperative that we buck the trend before the cycle of failure is borne and we begin to succumb to the hideous chronic disease that Arsenal possesses, the Choking Syndrome of February and March.
Mourinho has already proven that he can make us resilient, and despite the humdrum nature of the six month unbeaten spell we strung together in mid season last year, it has built up a confidence and resoluteness within the squad. With the addition of Romelu Lukaku, if we can turn some of those stalemates into wins, then a title tilt is not so farfetched. Although most United fans would prefer us to play the glorious attacking football that Sir Alex advocated to win the title, they would also forget the many days where United ground out results on the way to the titles we won. Those games where our rivals would falter or fail, somehow we would grab the odd goal or score in the dying seconds to force a victory. The football was not always pure artistry but the silverware we attained was as much a result of pure grit, determination and doggedness as it was the skill and flair which we exhibited. Mourinho knows, as even his most ardent detractors would begrudgingly admit, how to win ugly and has shown through the trophies he acquires that often there is a very shrewd method in the madness. When teams come to United and deploy defensive smothering tactics, it will be up to United and Jose to have learnt how to overcome these negative ploys, and demonstrate how to break down and dispatch them summarily. Learning from last season’s profligacy against the weaker teams will surely be an acid test as to how far we have come and our chances of becoming genuine title contenders.
Amongst the other major tests which Mourinho and United will have to negotiate this season, is our performance against our rivals, particularly away from home. Mourinho had been accused of setting his stall out to defend and hit our opponents on the break but the lack of points and goals garnered showed that even the best laid plans of Mice and Men gang often go awry. Mourinho didn’t really have the personnel last season that he had at other clubs where this style had been more favourable. After all asking Smalling and Jones to perform a forward pass of any great length or accuracy is a rather dicey proposition to say the least, given their questionable ball skills. Lindelof’s passing range will certainly prove beneficial whilst Matic is deceptively quick and also has a far superior passing radius that his predecessor Marouane Fellaini in central defensive midfield. Also, Romelu Lukaku’s pace will prevent our rivals from camping in our half, since his pace and power will provide a threat opposing players will have to take proactive countermeasures to detain. Hopefully, with this quicker movement from back to front, with and without the ball, the counterattacking style will be far more productive than it was last year. Of course, defeating our rivals will not be the be all and end all of winning the title, but it will be important not only in taking points from them and adding to our tally mathematically but also psychologically compounding and confirming our serious title aspirations. After all winning these big matches puts down a marker and crushes the spirit of the opposition, whilst reaffirming belief and desire to attain the Premier League trophy.
We know that Mourinho has the mindset to win any individual game, indeed one might argue that he is the greatest single match manager in the world; such is his meticulous care and attention to detail in understanding and studying the opposition and conceiving tactical masterstrokes. In particular, last season’s two nil victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford in the Premier League illustrates this point perfectly. Even the most optimistic fan would have felt a niggle of doubt when the champions elect strolled into town, especially given the way in which they had hammered us four nil at the Bridge in the autumn. However, aided by the fact that Mourinho didn’t have Smalling to be at fault for all the goals this time around, he produced the sort of managerial lesson that even had the Portuguese grinning from ear to ear at its sheer perfection. Chelsea did not have a single shot as United dominated the ball and the match, with Ander Herrera turning in a flawless performance managing a superb assist and goal whilst still managing to keep Eden Hazard firmly in his back pocket for the entire match, as one wag amusingly pointed out he made Hazard look like a BTEC Jesse Lingard. Mourinho showed that he learns from his mistakes, he knew that he had to contain the Blues’ most dangerous player and that Phil Jones’ attempts at performing a similar role had proved ineffective in the FA Cup tie. Choosing Herrera who has the temperament and diligence to perform such a selfless task showed excellent judgment of his players and quite rightly Jose milked the universal acclaim and praise he had earned for his tactics. If we are to attain more points in these matches against our direct competitions we shall need Jose to showcase some more tactical nous of this wondrous calibre.
At least this season, Jose will have a slightly more manageable timetable; it is well recognised that the Europa League has been historically shown to have a detrimental effect on a team’s respective fortune in the league during that campaign. With our return to the Champions League, at least for the autumn of this season, the chasm of points which opened up last term should hopefully not recur. Often I feel like it was that period of the season where we stymied ourselves through poor results following the group matches typically and the corresponding lethargy which our players showed during the league matches evinces this. Mourinho, like any mastermind, will look at the Premier League fixtures and work out strategies and ways to micromanage the calendar and where he can pick up points to secure the title. With the slightly less compressed schedule, he will be able to work on players and ensuring they possess the necessary knowledge and fitness to commit more fully to each individual match. Hopefully, this will see an upturn in our fortunes and ensure we are top of the league at Christmas. Some readers will wonder why I am making such an arbitrary point, after all why the fixation about Christmas? However, when you realise that in seven of the past eight Premier League seasons the team that tops the league on December 25th goes on to lift the trophy in May, you realise the import of being there at that point or thereabouts. These are the sort of statistics which many might not be aware of but rest assured that Jose’s mastermind of a brain is fully cognisant of, as well as numerous other facts and figures which escape us mere mortals and laymen.
Lastly, Jose will have to indulge in the mind games for which he is also rightfully revered. It will be his job to deflect any negativity which the press or the public try to foist upon the players to derail any potential title charge whilst also delivering stunning retorts to dismiss critics. Mourinho’s mastermind will be required to shield and motivate in equal measure, he will have to rely upon his choice of language and when to speak or stay silent. The latter option is something which Jose has historically struggled with, but he showed signs of developing in this area. With the FA’s no nonsense approach where he is concerned, we shall need him to ensure he doesn’t get involved any misdemeanours which could land him retrospective action of touchline or stadium bans. He will be required to be the standard bearer and exemplify the behaviour and professionalism with which we must approach this season. Too often, some of our more important players picked up silly suspensions which could otherwise have been avoided; Jose will have to demand they carry out their tasks more cleanly and astutely this year. I feel as though United fans would accept failure if we understand that he and his players have exerted maximum effort and left nothing in reserve by May. However, they will be far less forgiving if some glaring errors are repeated and will be outspoken in their admonishment. For this reason, Mourinho will have to know when to use both the stick and carrot as motivational tools to ensure that we have the maximum potential of winning the Premier League title.
Conclusively, United will have to rely upon Mourinho to spearhead a title triumph this season. In this day and age, where managers are given precious time to achieve objectives and the Sword of Damocles hangs incessantly over their heads, Jose knows he must continue to succeed or risk being thrown to the wolves. Jose, advantageously, knows this situation more than most having worked for clubs where success is absolutely mandatory and owners will brook no failure, Chelsea and Real Madrid in particular. He will have to show he is the mastermind who can cajole and inspire the team to greater lengths, rotate the squad and team effectively and provide the tactics and suggestions to enable us to beat opponents. Mourinho has now had a couple of summer transfer windows to sign “his” players, whilst trimming some of the deadwood and will need this core of acquisitions to justify his faith in securing and paying so handsomely for their services with commensurate performances of quality. Jose knows that success is the yardstick upon which he will be measured, and that a title triumph is demanded by the institution which Sir Alex Ferguson built up through his tenure. A club of United’s stature demands that we regain our leading place among the English elite, not only in financial terms but in achieving major trophies to attract the best players and orchestrating renewed periods of dominance within the English game and on the Continental stage. I’m sure that Jose wouldn’t have it any other way, as a serial winner himself; these are the goals and targets he sets himself also. In winning the Europa League and League Cup, last year with some of the injury and packed schedule woes we had to endure, he has proven he can succeed where lesser managers would wilt in the heat. If he manages to bring the Premier League trophy to United once more this May then the self anointed “Special One” will surely have another epithet to add, that of “Mastermind”.