Fans the world over were expecting big things during the Manchester United 2017/18 season. The large amounts of cash injected to the squad, coupled with the fact that Jose Mourinho had always won the league title in his second season at every previous club he had managed, left many fans of the club anticipating an end to their barren run without a league title since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. Looking back now, it is safe to say that the season has been disappointing. The Manchester United 2017/18 season hasn’t been a total failure, but clearly not what was expected given the investment in the team and the trust put in the manager.
Manchester United Season Review
The Red Devils spent £147M in the summer of 2017, using the money to recruit Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic. The additions of Lukaku and Matic in particular were meant to be the finishing touches to an otherwise solid team. It is clear now that the money spent so far is simply not enough to either play attractive football or win the Premier League.
Romelu Lukaku has performed well this season. He has scored 27 goals in all competitions and leads all Premier League strikers in assists with seven. His goal scoring contribution in the league has been somewhat disappointing though, only scoring 16 goals. This is clearly something that must improve next season. If United want to win the league, they need a 20-goal striker. The last side to win the league without a player scoring at least 20 goals was in 2008/09. In that year Cristiano Ronaldo scored 18 league goals for a United side that won a third consecutive league title.
United’s most consistent outfield player this season has been Nemanja Matic. His physical presence and composure on the ball has added a new dimension to United’s midfield. He is able to break up play and retain possession better than anyone else in Mourinho’s squad. The Serbian has cemented his name as one of the first on the team sheet for the foreseeable future, proving he is worth every penny of the £40M United paid for him.
Even though both Lukaku and Matic have performed well this season, it is clear there are still many holes in the squad. More money must be spent this summer in order to challenge for the league against a record-breaking Manchester City side next season.
The League Campaign
The 2017/18 league campaign started promisingly, with United gaining 20 out of a possible 24 points from their first eight games. Things took a turn for the worst with a shock loss away to newly promoted Huddersfield, followed up by a one-nil defeat to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea just two weeks later. United were losing ground on an unstoppable Manchester City side who sat eight points clear going into the eagerly awaited Manchester Derby on 10th December. City triumphed away at Old Trafford that day, winning the game by two goals to one. This defeat at the hands of their local rivals effectively ended United’s league title challenge. It was only December, but City had essentially confirmed themselves as Premier League champions. Everyone else was now vying for second place.
The league season from that point on was underwhelming for United. Despite obvious improvements in games versus the top six, the Old Trafford outfit lost away to all three newly-promoted sides. That’s throwing away nine valuable points. If they had won those games, the Red Devils would have ended the season on 90 points. Despite still finishing behind Guardiola’s ‘Centurions’, this would have been seen as a successful campaign.
Ending the season in second place is a good finish. United improved on their sixth-place finish from the previous year and gained more points, goals and wins. It was the distance they finished from Manchester City though that was an alarming concern for United fans. City ran away with the league from December. They broke numerous records and cemented themselves as the best domestic side in English football history. The 19-point gap from their crosstown rivals is worrying for United fans. However, the biggest gripe supporters of the club have with Mourinho is the style of play.
Style of Play
Long before Mourinho joined the club, supporters were routinely chanting ‘attack, attack, attack’ in response to the boring, rigid football under Dutch veteran Louis van Gaal. Fans had hoped that the additions to the squad by Mourinho would give them the attacking football they craved. This hasn’t happened though. The Portuguese manager has implemented his signature brand of pragmatic football at the club, sacrificing aesthetics for efficiency in his quest to win games.
The style of play under Mourinho may not be as expansive as the Old Trafford faithful would like to see, but it is winning them games. The improvement in league performance this season makes that evident. What makes the lack of attractive football worse for United fans, though, is the knowledge that both Manchester City and Liverpool play in a more attacking fashion than them. This is coupled with the fact that both of these team have enjoyed a more successful season than United.
City have dominated the Premier League whilst Liverpool have finished just two places behind United in fourth. Jurgen Klopp’s side have also made the Champions League Final in Kiev at the end of the month. Should Liverpool win this final, discontent among supporters of the club will reach an all-time high under Mourinho. Indeed, this season, it was the Champions League that was the most disappointing competition for the Red Devils.
Champions League Exit
United exited the Champions League with a two-one aggregate loss at the hands of Spanish outfit Sevilla. Mourinho’s men were expected to progress in the tie, but elimination in Europe’s premier club competition was the lowest point in an underwhelming season.
United appeared lethargic from the kick-off of the first leg in Spain. They had little to no attacking intent in both games. Wissam Ben Yedder’s second-leg brace at Old Trafford was enough to put United out of their misery. Despite a late consolation goal from Romelu Lukaku, United would crash out earlier than expected. This lead to Mourinho publicly humiliate his players by stating that “many” of Sevilla’s players would get in his team.
The exit to Sevilla was the worst moment of the season. Given the money invested in the squad, and the pedigree of the manager, United fans everywhere expected their side to progress. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Cup competitions haven’t been kind to United this season. They have underperformed in them not just in Europe, but domestically too.
Domestic Cup Competitions
The FA Cup was supposed to provide United with their only piece of silverware this season and salvage an otherwise underwhelming campaign. The defeat yesterday at the hands of Chelsea has turned United’s underwhelming season into a flat-out disappointing one.
Disappointing doesn’t begin to describe the club’s pathetic departure in the Carabao Cup to Bristol City, though. The Red Devils lost 2-1 away to the Championship side, exiting a competition they had won a year earlier in just the quarter-finals.
Given the expectations heading into the campaign, this trophy-less season from the club is simply unacceptable. Progress in domestic cups must be made next year given the quality in the squad.
In 2017/18, United have cemented themselves as one of the top three teams in England. A second-place finish in the league can only be considered a success. This is considering their finishes of seventh, fourth, fifth, and sixth in the four years prior. The style of play must improve to satisfy many supporters, though. There is no doubt that it will, as the with the upgrades expected this summer, United will be capable of playing more expansively next season. This will allow them to close the nineteen-point gap on Manchester City and push for the title in 2019. Add to this the fact that no one is expecting United to drop nine points to newly promoted sides again, and it is clear that next season’s league title challenge will be much better than this one.
The club’s shock exits in both the Carabao Cup and the Champions League must be improved on. Next season, United have no excuse not to reach at least the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Fans would like to forget the Manchester United 2017/18 season as soon as possible. With no trophy in Jose Mourinho’s second season, supporters of the club will likely spend the summer asking what on earth went wrong, and where does the club go from here.