Following the announcement this morning of the official 2016/17 Premier League fixture list, Manchester United fans worldwide are eagerly anticipating the composition of Jose Mourinho’s first eleven on the opening day of the season against Bournemouth.
There are no question marks over whether or not Mourinho is going to spend the summer bringing a whole host of new faces into Old Trafford to bring consistent success and silverware back to the red half of Manchester during his reign, but what of the current squad?
What is clear is that Mourinho will stick to the same system and same style which he has always used, and used effectively, throughout his career.
However, certain players left by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, and Louis van Gaal will not fit that system, so let’s take a look at who will still be at Old Trafford next season, and who will be out the door before the Red Devils’ season kicks off on Saturday 13 August.
In terms of the goalkeeper, Mourinho is inheriting a team with arguably the world’s best in it. There is no question that if he can be kept hold of, David de Gea will retain his place as number one.
However, Jose typically likes to have a very strong backup option in case worst comes to worst. At Chelsea he had Carlo Cudicini and Asmir Begovic, and Real Madrid he had Diego Lopez, and at Inter he had Toldo. Whether Sergio Romero or Victor Valdes will suffice for Jose we’ll have to wait and see, but it is more likely that his priorities will be elsewhere.
A Jose Mourinho team is typically dynamic, hard-working and athletic, with each player acting as a cog in a machine which moves around the pitch and changes formation to suit any situation.
Despite this, the most important players to make the team tick are the full-backs. ‘The Special One’ likes to have one forward-thinking full-back and one more defensive-minded on the other flank. This is so that while one full-back bombs forward, the other three defenders move across, and the formation switches from a 4-2-3-1 into a sort of 3-5-2, and if the opponents counter, it reverts back.
Maicon and Cesar Azpilicueta performed these roles perfectly for him with Javier Zanetti and Branislav Ivanovic respectively doing the defensive work on the other flank, and personally I think Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian can emulate that success.
Shaw was Manchester United’s most prominent attacking threat last season before he broke his leg, and that became even more evident after the injury. However, he is also a great engine and is more than capable of tracking back when necessary, so he’ll be one of Mourinho’s most valuable players.
Meanwhile, although Darmian was often isolated in supporting attacks due to a lack of real quality on United’s right-wing, he regularly showed that defensively he is very solid, so he too will get the opportunity to play to his strengths.
This means that Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia may also have futures, but only as backup options, as well as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and maybe Guillermo Varela. However, United do seem to be lacking another option for a more defensive right-back, so don’t be surprised to see Mourinho in the market for depth.
New signing Eric Bailly has played on both sides of the defence before and can do a job there again, but his preferred position is in the centre. Much like many of the big-name managers across Europe, Jose likes to have at least one good ball-playing centre-back, and that is what Bailly can be provide, so it is likely Smalling-Bailly will be the partnership for the majority of the season.
In my opinion, Daley Blind has no future in the United first team under Mourinho. This doesn’t mean I think he should be sold because there is no denying his ability, but I don’t think that he could perfectly fill any role in the team, so I think he will and should be used as more of a squad player.
The end of Phil Jones at Old Trafford seems to be getting closer and this is probably deserved. The 24-year-old just loses his head a bit too much and I don’t think ‘The Special One’ will put up with that for long.
Although Jose has publicly come out and said good words about Paddy McNair in the last week-or-so, I doubt he will have much involvement with the first team, so expect Manchester United to bring in at least one more centre-back before the end of the summer.
In terms of the midfield double pivot, Mourinho will always have one player to sit in front of the defence and do the dirty work, the Makelele-role, a term coined during his time under Jose, which Nemanja Matic and Esteban Cambiasso also thrived in.
The partner can vary depending on the opponent. When facing teams where Mourinho wants to take the initiative and score goals, a box-to-box midfielder such as Cesc Fabregas or Luka Modric will complete the pivot, leaving an athletic, hard-working attacking midfielder like Wesley Sneijder to play behind the striker and win the ball high up the field.
However, in matches against more difficult teams or particularly in knockout competitions, that box-to-box midfielder will move forward to replace the number 10 and a more energetic defensive midfielder like Michael Essien or Thiago Motta will complete the pivot in order to tighten things up and control the play.
Morgan Schneiderlin is perfect for the bigger matches and tougher opponents, and Ander Herrera can fulfill the box-to-box midfielder role perfectly. However, United desperately need someone to take up that position just in front of the defence.
Following his brilliant season with Leicester, N’Golo Kante has been linked with all the top European clubs and he would work perfectly, but a cheaper and more likely option is Nemanja Matic, with an Old Trafford reunion reportedly interesting both parties.
Michael Carrick has just been given a contract extension so expect to see him sporadically involved in the first-team, and Bastian Schweinsteiger can also provide great cover, experience and depth. Hopefully Timothy Fosu-Mensah can also get some game time in his preferred position as well.
Marouane Fellaini is an absolute shoe-in to be sold, with Andre Gomes rumoured to be one of Mourinho’s top targets, a player with a similar style to Herrera. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has also been heavily linked and he too would be a fantastic addition.
In terms of the wide players, this is where the importance of a Mourinho full-back becomes clear.
A style perfected at Inter, as the one full-back bombs forward, the winger on that side joins the sole striker to create a partnership, and this is an area which United already have covered fantastically.
With the impending addition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will play the role of the target man – as done by Didier Drogba and Diego Milito – many have questioned the futures of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
However, Martial flourished on the left last season, and given the freedom to join the attack more often, Mourinho can make him one of the best in the world.
Similarly, Rashford started his career as a winger so he can continue his development and rise to stardom.
This is the position which Samuel Eto’o took up under Mourinho at Inter, and at the time was one of the best goal-scorers in the world.
Also, rumours of Jose bringing in Breel Embolo from FC Basel could further add to the depth in this position.
However, that does put question marks over the futures of many current Manchester United players. If there are already two or three players contesting that role, the futures of the likes of Memphis Depay and Adnan Januzaj may not be very long-term.
On the other flank, Mourinho likes to have someone who can hug the touchline, prevent counter attacks, and work the outside of the box. This is perhaps the area which United need strengthening the most.
Everyone knows that the future of fan favourite Juan Mata is in doubt due to his relationship with ‘The Special One’, and unfortunately Jesse Lingard is also likely to struggle because this is not a position or style for which he is suited.
Ashley Young could still do a job here, but he will definitely not be the first choice for Mourinho. A big superstar signing is needed here, something of the Gareth Bale variety perhaps? We can dream.
Whatever happens, major changes can be expected for Manchester United this summer, with players flooding in and out of Old Trafford. We may not know who yet, but one thing is for sure: it’s going to be interesting.