Manchester United are facing a crucial second half of the season for the future of the club. The Red Devils’ title hopes are effectively over due to the brilliance of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. However, Jose Mourinho’s men have to keep battling until the end of the campaign to prove that they are the best of the rest and the team are ready to challenge City next term.
Reports suggested that Mourinho could leave Old Trafford at the end of the season. The Portuguese has insisted that he will remain at the club, although a lacklustre second half could elevate the pressure on his position. United have to be targeting a trophy at the least – with the Champions League and the FA Cup their only viable options remaining after their shocking defeat at the hands of Bristol City in the League Cup.
Competition will be fierce for the Champions League, with City, Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain operating at elite levels. United’s limited prospects for the competition are highlighted by Betway backing them at odds of 14/1 as of the 11th January to lift the trophy for the fourth time. The Red Devils have fallen off the pace of the teams that are considered world-class, with a great deal of work needed to get them back into contention.
What Has Held United Back?
The Red Devils have not been shy about spending money in the transfer market. For all of Mourinho’s moans and groans about their lack of investment compared to City, amongst others, they still broke the transfer record to sign Paul Pogba last season, while they splashed a further £75m to sign Romelu Lukaku. Victor Lindelof, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Eric Bailly, along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have also been added, using their lucrative sponsorship deal with Chevrolet to strengthen both ends of the pitch – it’s not been for a lack of money that United have not been able to push on to match the exploits of their rivals.
The problem has been the lack of development of those players to take their games to new heights. In the case of Ibrahimovic, he was always going to be a short-term measure. However, Pogba’s example has been the standout reason why United have not been able to find their past heights. The Frenchman has looked a £90m player at times but he has not produced that form on a consistent basis. Although he remains only 24 years old, United need to start seeing the performances that City have received from Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian cost £54m from Wolfsburg but he has taken the initiative and has become a world-class operator in the heart of the midfield that has allowed Pep Guardiola’s men to dominate the Premier League.
There’s not a huge discrepancy in their statistics – Pogba has three goals and seven assists to his name – while De Bruyne has six goals and nine assists. However, the Frenchman has not found the net since November, while his counterpart has consistently pulled the strings for City, especially in important contests. Those accusations can also be thrown at Lukaku, who has notched 10 goals and four assists, although he has not shirked the image of being a flat-track bully.
How Can They Get Back To The Top?
United appeared to be matching City stride-for-stride at the top of the Premier League, scoring at a similar rate to their rivals and their European counterparts on the continent earlier in the season. They used the depth of their talent to finish opponents off as Pogba, Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial were finding the net with ease, especially late in matches – making comfortable victories that bit more emphatic. Those results have dried up midway through the season, with Mourinho’s men having to work hard to grind out results against West Brom, while suffering draws against Leicester and Burnley. Depth could hold the key, with the development of Rashford and Lingard crucial to the future success of the team.
Mourinho will be looking to add to his squad once again in the summer. Antoine Griezmann could provide the answer for consistency in the final third. The Atletico Madrid forward has been linked with a move to Old Trafford for a couple of years but the transfer has not come to fruition. He has been a star for Diego Simeone’s men, although he has scored just five goals this term. Griezmann could provide United with a frontline in the ilk of PSG’s front three with Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, and the Frenchman operating at the peak of their powers. However, the danger once again for United is whether Griezmann will be able to take his game to the world-class level they desperately need. Anthony Martial had promise in Ligue 1, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan dominated the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
There will be no quick fix for the Red Devils and it will take both success in the transfer market and thorough coaching to match the elite once again.