It may all have hinged on winning a Europa League final, but the consensus is that Manchester United had a good season because of that.
Two minor trophies were sweetened by the Champions League qualification the second one brought, and as a result, minimum requirements were met. No one is under any illusions, though, next season we will see a very different United side: there will be more heavy investment and, many would like to think, a new style of play, too.
There are some positives, though. It’s been called the most unproductive unbeaten run in history, but their 25 game unbeaten run in the Premier League does at least show some signs that Mourinho is assembling a resilient side. Although it was characterised by turgid football, frustrating draws and more points away from home than at Old Trafford, only Tottenham Hotspur lost more games than the Red Devils. They are small mercies and nothing to write home about, they certainly represent a platform to build on.
They will have to invest heavily in order to build, but it’s interesting that perhaps one of the best suited players to this current Manchester United squad was a man who was linked with the club in previous seasons, when the team certainly lacked the resilience Mourinho has instilled. Lazio’s Felipe Anderson – valued at £21.25m by Transfermarkt.com – seems to have matured into a player who looks like a perfect addition for United’s squad.
In the league this year, United came second for both interceptions per game and fouls per game as well as coming fifth for tackles per game. Those stats mean little in isolation, but taken together, they suggest that United are an aggressive side who are proactive when it comes to winning the ball back.
That’s been obvious in the rebirth of Ander Herrera as something of a midfield general and on-pitch Mourinho emissary. He’s begun to excel at the nastier side of the game, putting his foot in and winning tackles and interceptions.
Anderson, whilst not a central midfielder, has made more tackles this season in Serie A than Herrera has in the Premier League, averaging 2.8 a game, compared with the Spaniard’s 2.7. It’s clear that Anderson fits into the Mourinho ethos when his team doesn’t have the ball
But he would bring something extra to the team in a completely different area, too.
This season, Anderson has made 3.3 dribbles per game, and only three players in the Premier League made more. Interestingly, though, that’s an area where United have been lagging behind their rivals.
In fairness, this is a stylistic issue. There’s no need for United to increase the number of dribbles they make, and it’s clear that Mourinho’s tactical game is very different from most of the rest of the top six clubs. Having said that, each of five clubs who finished above United this season feature in the top six on the list of dribbles per game. United come ninth.
That alone isn’t a reason for Mourinho to change his outlook. Although United fans will want to see a more exciting brand of football next season, it doesn’t really matter how the team does it, so long as they win more games. But the sheer number of draws this season, and the times United have dropped points to teams they’d expect to beat – especially at home – probably shows they lack something when it comes to breaking down opponents, and given the low number of dribbles compared to their rivals, that could well be one option Mourinho would be well advised to strengthen.
And in that context, Felipe Anderson looks like it would be a very shrewd signing for United. He seems to fit the defensively aggressive side that United have displayed this season, and will use as a platform to build upon next time, but will also bring something different to the table in attack.
Mourinho’s first season in charge at Old Trafford is barely a success, but it would take something very special in the cup competitions to claim sixth place in the Premier League as a success next season. And for that, United will need to be more inventive.
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