Silverware! One, two, three – just like that new manager José Mourinho secured two major trophies and the season-opening Community Shield. Victory over Ajax in the Europa League final upgraded the campaign from disappointing to promising – and with it Mourinho secured just Manchester United’s fifth ever European trophy and passage through to next season’s Champions League. Yet, there’s no hiding the club’s poor finish in the league, and if there’s any measure that truly counts, it’s United’s performance against peers. There is much work to do and plenty of decisions to make over the summer.
It was a season in which United simply had to be in the mix for major trophies. By winning the League Cup and Europa League, Mourinho has delivered on that demand, albeit with a style of football that has often been far from thrilling. United concluded the season with fewer goals in the league than any of the top seven, and all too often the team delivered the kind of anti-football for which Mourinho became infamous.
These are serious caveats, despite the relentless pursuit of tier two trophies. Silverware ensures that the Portuguese manager finished the campaign with much to brag about, but there is far from universal ecstasy on the terraces. For better or worse United supporters expected more.
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]How quickly the narrative can change. In November, with United slipping well off the pace in the Premier League, the pressure began to build. Had Mourinho’s mojo gone? Two trophies later, Mourinho has much to brag about. [/blockquote]
This was also a campaign in which the narrative regularly changed. The football was not always thrilling, but the drama was often intoxicating. In November, with United slipping well off the pace in the Premier League and looking game for an early exit in Europe, the pressure began to build on Mourinho. After all, the 53-year-old had come off a disastrous season at Chelsea, which ended in his dismissal by Roman Abramovich for the second time. Had the maestro’s mojo truly gone?
After an unbeaten league run lasting 25 matches, together with those cup victories, Mourinho finished the season with some evidence that he is on the path to redemption, with his new team and club on the up.
Like the manager, some of Mourinho’s players have reasons to be pleased with the campaign. With various degrees of success, Ander Herrera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba, and David de Gea can all boast fine seasons. Yet, there’s another clutch for who the campaign brought mixed results, including – but not limited to – Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Daley Blind, and Jesse Lingard. Too many others simply failed to deliver a season at United standards. There will surely be change to come over the summer.
Far too many questions remain, of course. The summer’s transfer activity will once again be central to hopes of finishing next season in a league position to which the club became accustomed under Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet, the only path forward cannot be solely millions spent in the transfer market. After all, the Glazer family has now relaxed a decade-long iron grip on United’s purse strings, with Ed Woodward given license to spend on both players and the agents that seemingly control their destiny. Mourinho, as a coach of world repute, must get more out of the talent at his disposal.
In the end silverware provides an upgraded end to the campaign despite the poor league position, dodgy tactics, and often tiresome football. The club should be on the right path, although its hard to plot the exact course Mourinho is taking. 7/10
The summer began with Mourinho lauding over the recruitment of two world-class stars in Ibrahimovic and Pogba, together with another pair of very fine players in Bailly and Mkhitaryan. At last, a summer of promise not frustration.
Yet, the manager’s performance this season has not always matched the gravitas of his lofty reputation. Too often Mourinho seems beaten down by the pressure: tetchy press conferences, two sanctions from the FA, public criticism of prominent players. None of it was very becoming and Mourinho doesn’t often appear to be enjoying his job.
Rating Mourinho’s performance is challenging. After all, the manager has failed to get the best out of too many talented players: Rashford was used, bizarrely, on the wing for most of the season, Mourinho has failed to extract the best from the hugely talented Antony Martial, Luke Shaw has made no progression, and Mkhitaryan excelled only in fits and starts. Then there are the squad players that have gone backwards under the new manager: Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Matteo Darmian, and by the end Michael Carrick, to name just four.
Mourinho cannot be blamed for all player failures – far from it – but privately the manager admits that his lack of flexibility has played a part. If Shaw and Martial move on this summer, for example, not only will United throw away yet more millions on transfers, but the loss of two potentially world-class players will leave a distinct feeling of ‘what could have been.’ The age-old adage that Mourinho trusts only in the finished product might have found some new believers.
Elsewhere Mourinho’s squad management comes under question. The manager’s choice to publicly ostracize some players, including Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, might have been justified on the basis of quality alone, albeit the Reds could have used all three towards the season’s end. Yet, none of it was necessary. Forcing Schweinsteiger to train with the reserves, in turn humiliating a player of global repute and no little personal class, should be beneath both Mourinho and the club. Neither did Mourinho rotate well; he over-used some key players in the early part of the season, only to see fatigue play a significant part as the campaign drew to a close.
Yet, Mourinho has also made many of the big decisions required. Club captain Wayne Rooney, more than three years past his sell-by date, was dropped after seven games. It’s the conclusion Ferguson came to before his retirement, but David Moyes and Louis van Gaal weren’t brave enough to follow. Rooney will move on this summer and the club and player will be better for it.
Mourinho chose to build the team around Pogba, a masterful player for whom stinging press criticism was never warranted and often regressed to offensive stereotypes. In switching to a 4-3-3 system in the winter, Mourinho dispensed with a number 10, but freed the Frenchman to do what he does better than most: drive from midfield, create chances and dominate games. The system didn’t last, but Pogba continued to grow into the season.
Mourinho can also be praised for getting the best out of players that used to be on the fringe. Herrea, cruelly under-rated by Van Gaal, was outstanding after Mourinho brought him into the side. Valencia has developed into one of the finest full-backs in the league, while Rojo and Sergio Romero reached levels of performance few thought possible.
These are the details. In the end Mourinho is judged on results. In two cup competitions he got it right, if partly by accident. In the league, his side was far off an acceptable finish. 6.5/10
David de Gea
The three-times United player of the year deserved a quieter season this time around. The Spaniard did not win the award for a fourth year – a reflection of performances elsewhere and a slight drop in the ‘keeper’s level. It is not that de Gea has made many mistakes, he is as ever near flawless, but there have been fewer standout performances, and what appeared to be the occasional loss of concentration. There is no doubt that De Gea is one of the two finest goalkeepers on the planet, and it will rightly take a monumental fee to take him to Real this summer. Appearances: 45 | Assists: 0 | Assists: 0 | Goals: 0 | 8/10
Romero is far from the world-beating goalkeeper some hipsters claimed the Argentine to be when he joined the club, but neither is he – any longer – a mistake waiting to happen. Romero’s appearances were largely limited to cup competitions, where the former Monaco stopper excelled. It is a blessing that De Gea remained injury free until the season’s end, but Romero has certainly increased his reputation over the past 10 months. Appearances: 18 | Assists: 0 | Goals: 0 | 6.5/10
The Italian ended the campaign in Mourinho’s side as United’s first choice left-back, but few around the club seriously believe that he’ll start the new campaign in the same role. Mourinho’s reluctance to take a risk on Shaw, together with doubts about the Englishman’s fitness and professionalism, offered Darmian a route back into the side. The former Torino player is a sound defender, but his lack of attacking prowess impacts on United’s ability to attack with width. It should surprise few if he moves on in the summer, although Mourinho seemingly trusts in the flexible Italian. Appearances: 29 | Assists: 1 | Goals: 0 | 6/10
Mourinho has polished an unknown gem, moulding Valencia not only into a more confident attacker, but also one of the league’s finest full-backs. Who knew? After all, there were plenty of occasions during Valencia’s conversion from tepid winger to amateur full-back when the Ecuadorian gave a good impression of being the weakest link in the chain. That is now far from true, and his performances have rightly earned the player a new contract. He has become an outstanding asset for the club. Appearances: 43 | Assists: 6 | Goals: 1 | 8.5/10
It seems more likely that ever that Shaw will not make it at Old Trafford and it will be a crushing disappointment. Shaw has all the tools available – pace, attacking talent, defensive nous. Yet fitness, form, and – reportedly – the player’s attitude have let the him down once again this season. Too many hangers on, not enough hours in the gym. Mourinho made it clear that Shaw had to improve on all three of his key weaknesses, although questioning the player’s “brain” was a step too far. Shaw didn’t improve so it will surprise few if Mourinho dumps the former Southampton player this summer. What regrets there will be. Appearances: 20 | Assists: 1 | Goals: 0 | 5/10
Rojo has enjoyed a new lease of life under the manager. The defender was not fully trusted by Van Gaal, nor fit enough, often enough, to prove the Dutchman wrong. When the former Sporting player was fit, his performances were too frequently calamitous. Many expected Rojo to move on last summer, perhaps most supporters would have welcomed it. Yet, as the season wore on Rojo became a fixture in the first team and displayed the best form of his career. He is infinitely superior in central defence than at left-back and will be a key asset again next season. Appearances: 41 | Assists: 1 | Goals: 1 | 7/10
Blind exceeded expectations in a central defensive role last season, although there was plenty of evidence that it is a position to which he is ill-suited. The Dutchman has intermittently appeared in the role for Mourinho this season, and has also featured often at left-back where he is far more comfortable. Blind has proven himself to be a useful squad player who rarely lets the team down – an argument underlined by the number appearances he has made this season. Yet, rumours that Mourinho is ready to sell the former Ajax player persist. Appearances: 39 | Assists: 2 | Goals: 1 | 6/10
‘Appalling Smalling’ was once a moniker used to cruelly mock the former Fulham defender. The player wiped away those doubts with outstanding performances last season, becoming first choice both for United and England after years of inconsistency and injury. The former Fulham defender has not enjoyed life under Mourinho to the same extent, having begun the season on the bench. He forced his way into the team, forming a promising partnership with Bailly, only for a broken toe to open the door to Rojo and Phil Jones. By the end of the campaign Smalling looked nervous and error-prone once again. It is little wonder that this summer Mourinho is on the lookout for a world-class central defender. Appearances: 36 | Assists: 2 | Goals: 2 | 5/10
Once again supporters must ask how many more chances the former Blackburn Rovers player might have left. During the middle of the campaign Jones took an unexpected opportunity with gusto, performing admirably alongside Rojo. Yet, the big picture is that Jones has rarely been fit enough, long enough to hold down a position in United’s back four – supporters are right to ask whether anything will change after six frustrating seasons. Jones should be an asset, but Mourinho will have only himself to blame if his defensive strategy relies on a player proven to be unreliable. Appearances: 26 | Assists: 0 | Goals: 0 | 5.5/10
The Ivorian has proven to be an astute signing even at £30 million. Bailly is quick across the ground, determined in the tackle, and effortlessly comfortable on the ball. Bailly is already a major hit at Old Trafford, and he would have figured even more frequently had it not been for injury and time away at the African Cup of Nations. Early season lapses of concentration proved to be an understandable adjustment to the Premier League and Bailly became more confident as the campaign wore on. The former Villarreal defender has all the tools to become a world-class performer for the club. Appearances: 38 | Assists: 0 | Goals: 0 | 8/10
The Spaniard is United’s most natural creative player and during the early part of the season he was given some opportunity to excel as the team’s heartbeat at number 10. Mourinho’s decision to move away from a template 4-2-3-1 system to something that looked a little more like a three-man attack did not work in Mata’s favour, although the system did not last. Increasingly, with Pogba pushed a little further forward, and Marouane Fellaini brought into the team, Mata was shunted out to the right. He might be disappointed with just 33 starts in a 64 game season, albeit with injury impacting the end of his campaign. United’s failure to capture Antoine Griezman offers Mata the hope that he will continue to feature next season. Appearances: 41 | Assists: 6 | Goals: 10 | 7/10
[blockquote who=”” cite=””]Pogba gets a bad press, in part because of the astronomical fee paid, in part because he plays for the nation’s most covered club, but he is an outstanding player.[/blockquote]
The Frenchman gets a bad press, in part because of the astronomical fee paid, in part because he plays for the nation’s most covered club, in part because of something much more insidious. Pogba is an outstanding player and he became increasingly influential as the season passed. There are high expectations, of course, and perhaps a player with his talents should have gained more assists and scored more goals. Yet, Mourinho’s decision to build a team around the 23-year-old is probably the best move that United’s manager has made this season – for the player and team. Pogba is a dominant force and will get even better next season. Good news for the club, bad news for United’s rivals and the fourth estate. Appearances: 51 | Assists: 6 | Goals: 9 | 8/10
There was always something about Herrera’s tenacity in the tackle, range of inventive passing, and natural leadership that would appeal to Mourinho. Van Gaal’s loss, the new manager’s massive gain. Herrera has become an outstanding all-rounder for the Portuguese manager, at both number eight and six, offering balance to the side and freeing up Pogba to perform in more attacking areas. Van Gaal paid for his mistake, Mourinho is benefiting from trusting the former Athletic Bilbao player. Herrera was United’s star man this season and Rant’s Player of the Year. Appearances: 50 | Assists: 11 | Goals: 2 | 9/10
The Warrington-born player earned a brand new contract this season with a range of disciplined, energetic performances and the occasional spectacular goal. Lingard may never become more than he is, but there is much value to what he brings both to the team and the squad than some believe. There are times when Lingard’s talent has been dismissed, mostly by supporters, but there are few who should challenge his place in the United squad. The frustration is with Lingard’s end product, which at times is spectacular, but too often lacks composure. If only he could put it all together more often. Appearances: 42 | Assists: 3 | Goals: 5 | 6/10
Mourinho left the Geordie out of his side for much of the first two months of the campaign. It turned out to be a very poor decision, at least for the next few months. Carrick’s ability to quickly recycle the ball and defensive nous were crucial to United’s winter revival, empowering Pogba to push forward and adding much-needed composure to the team’s system. Performances dropped off after Christmas and there is a sense that while the brain is as smart as ever, physically he may be struggling. Yet, he has earned a new one year contract and should enjoy July’s testimonial. Carrick has been a fine player for the club. How United will miss the 35-year-old when he finally retires. Appearances: 38 | Assists: 1 | Goals: 1 | 6/10
The Belgian has just completed his fourth season as a United player, but there are few stranger acquisitions in the club’s recent history. Despite finishing the season very strongly during the Europa League final – as a big man at number 10 – the former Everton player is neither a good defender, nor a good attacker. His lack of composure in midfield materially impacts United’s ability to control possession. Yet, Mourinho, seems enchanted by Fellaini’s myth: that he can perform in midfield at the highest level, that he’s good in the air, that he’s an attacking threat. He is none of those things. Appearances: 47 | Assists: 2 | Goals: 4 | 5/10
Young contributed little this season, save for an occasional appearance from the bench or stint as a reserve full-back. The Stevenage-born player has Van Gaal to thank for a three-year contract extension that’ll keep the former England player at Old Trafford until next summer, unless Mourinho moves him on this summer. The question: who would match Young’s £100,000 per week wages? Appearances: 23 | Assists: 1 | Goals: 0 | 3/10
It is to be hoped that the Frenchman’s mixed season has not convinced his manager to dump the brilliant forward. It is the natural concern given Mourinho’s predilection for making early and lasting decisions about players, especially younger ones that cannot or do not fulfil all his requirements. Martial has enjoyed some great moments this season, but for the most part it has been one of frustration. Too few starts, too few of those electric performances that supporters enjoyed last season. Noises that Mourinho is after another striker is not good news for Martial. At best the former Monaco player is set for another season on the wing. Appearances: 42 | Assists: 8 | Goals: 8 | 5/10
Was it worth the wait? Mourinho claims credit for holding the brilliant Armenian back, although there remains the nagging feeling that Mkhitaryan could have contributed much to United’s inconsistent first four months of the campaign. Mkhitaryan’s pace on the ball, silky ability to unlock packed defences, and occasional brilliance made for an acceptable season, albeit performances dropped off after an outstanding first couple of months in the side. His scorpion kick against Sunderland on Boxing Day will live long in the memory. There should be more to come next season. Appearances: 41 | Assists: 5 | Goals: 12 | 6/10
The electric teenager has now been part of United’s first team squad for a little under 18 months. What a ride it has been. Rashford first came into Van Gaal’s team out of necessity and stayed there on merit. The Mancunian’s second season has been more of a struggle, with an extended period on the left seemingly impacting the player’s confidence, as well as that goal output. He finished the season up front, although he might be a touch disappointed with just four goals in the packed last two months of the season. He will hope for more starts next year. Appearances: 53 | Assists: 3 | Goals: 11 | 6.5/10
Zlatan spent much of his first and probably only season at Old Trafford being, well, Zlatan. On the pitch Ibrahimovic is a conservative mover until the optimal moment, although it was noticeable that Mourinho reigned in his tendency to drop deep as the season progressed. His goals numbered 28 in all competitions before injury struck, although they came in bursts, and there was a damaging fallow spell through the autumn. In the end ranking Ibra is no easy task. Those goals were crucial, but the overall performance level was not always at the same level, and the Swede missed plenty of chances. Appearances: 46 | Assists: 9 | Goals: 28 | 7.5/10
Mourinho took the only rational decision and dropped Rooney early in the season, enabling the team to find a new focal point and move on in the captain’s absence. The club will be able to move on when Rooney inevitably finds a new club this summer. Indeed, Rooney’s extended post-Ferguson spell at United is a pity for he was an outstanding player who stayed three seasons too long. There were some impactful performances from the bench this season and he will be, for the next two decades at least, the club’s record goalscorer. It is a superb legacy to leave. Appearances: 39 | Assists: 10 | Goals: 8 | 5/10
Players with less than 10 starts, including Schweinsteiger, Depay, Schneiderin, Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah, are not rated.