Premier League preview: Is Manchester United in disarray or just disrespected?
Manchester United Football Club achieved a second-placed finish in the 2017/18 campaign; their highest position post-Sir Alex Ferguson. That said, Jose Mourinho's Red Devils eventually finished some nineteen-points off the pace.
That gap simply has to be closed. There are now no excuses. United are a club with winners aplenty personnel-wise, they'll know the fans expect better. However, after a relatively quiet transfer window, it could well be same-old, same-old, particularly if no new players are acquired before the transfer deadline later today.
Pre-season for the Old Trafford club was dire. Just the one win in 90 minutes, one victory via penalties, two draws and two losses. Talk about a mixed bag... If that form is carried over into the Premier League, it could well be a long year.
Mourinho's in an odd predicament. By this point, he's usually gotten a league title or two under his belt. We all know about his third-season syndrome. It'll be interesting to see if that situation materialises once again. I've never seen United supporters entering a new season feeling so pessimistic. They're normally a confident bunch, but right now, the Old Trafford faithful don't fancy themselves as Champions elect. That's down to the manager.
His relationship with Edward Woodward is seemingly on a knife-edge due to failing to acquire transfer targets. He'll certainly not be a happy-chappy without getting at least one new centre-back signed before the big kick-off. If that does indeed happen, expect the antics to continue from the Portuguese. Don't be surprised to learn that Mr. Woodward already has a replacement lined up. Mourinho's looking like a ticking-time-bomb at this juncture.
It's been a relatively quiet summer in the Premier League; United's window has been no different. Things kicked off with a bang with two high-profile signings made in quick succession, but it has remained stagnant since. Fred, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk, has been acquired to take his place in Mourinho's midfield. The Brazil international, 25, has been the marquee addition. After seeing glimpses of his abilities during the tour, the potential is there, but who knows how quickly he'll settle in?
United's other capture was Diogo Dalot. A little-known right-back from FC Porto, with only a few senior appearances under his belt. At 19, time is on his side. The Red Devils will be hoping he's the long-term replacement for Antonio Valencia at right-back, but Dalot has spent the summer injured, so who knows when he'll be ready to play. Veteran goalkeeper Lee Grant has also been brought in, to allow Joel Pereira to be loaned out over the next twelve months.
The major outgoing has been Daley Blind to Ajax. The versatile Dutchman was always going to find it tough under Mourinho. Sam Johnstone has also left, with the Englishman joining West Brom in a £6.5million deal. Following those has been a smattering of loan moves, the most notable being the aforementioned Pereira heading to Vitoria Setubal. Axel Tuanzebe has re-joined Aston Villa for twelve months.
Make no mistake about it, Mourinho has an excellent spine. David de Gea's the best in the business. We all know how good Eric Bailly can be when fit. Nemanja Matic is an absolute warrior, while Paul Pogba will be in buoyant mood following his World Cup brilliance. Romelu Lukaku's ever-improving, while Alexis Sanchez had a brilliant pre-season.
There are still holes within the squad, but with everyone fit, this side can beat anyone on their day. Inconsistency is their main issue, particularly defensively.
Andreas Pereira's chance is finally here. The young man has spent two seasons out on loan, but now is his time to shine. Mourinho's put trust in him, mainly due to players who participated in the World Cup largely being unavailable, but the Belgium-born Brazilian has to grasp this opportunity with both hands.
Tahith Chong looked excellent out in the States, he has a bright future, but I'd be surprised to see him playing regularly this season. It's widely expected that the gifted Timothy Fosu-Mensah will head out on loan once again.
Who knows what'll happen? If they have a good start and get the confidence flowing, they could well fight for the title. So much depends on Mourinho. If he continues with his moody, dull demeanour, it could be same-old-same-old with him being out of a job before Christmas. This one literally could go either way, but by mid-season we'll have a much clearer picture as to what's going on at Old Trafford.
Liverpool have strengthened significantly, Spurs will likely improve, as will both Chelsea and Arsenal. Honestly, it's all a battle for second place. For me, United will finish third or fourth, anything higher or lower and I'd be surprised.