Manchester United are competing on three fronts for the remainder of this season (seeing as there is only one match left in their EFL Cup campaign). That is a feat considering the position they were in only a few months ago. Admittedly, one of those fronts is actually competing for a top four spot rather than the actual trophy itself, but still. They are a club tired of falling short, spoilt by the glories of Alex Ferguson and frustrated that they no longer have complete rule of the Premier League roost. They have fallen so short of their former peak, in fact, they are not even dining at the exclusive premium European table anymore.
Jose Mourinho is the man tasked with returning Manchester United to the top. To do that, they must show they can not only compete in one competition, but be able to win multiple trophies season on season. This year they are unlikely to do that – although a cup treble is not beyond the realms of possibility. The remainder of this campaign could be huge for United.
Qualification for the Champions League is an absolute must. Mourinho is fortunate he has the depth of squad to compete strongly for both a top four finish and for a late run into the Europa League. Although he has been widely critical of the Champions League’s exhausting, unfriendly cousin for much of his career, Mourinho should see it as a viable route back into the big time. It is a trophy, whether Mourinho respects it or not, and there is a feeling that he needs to lift his first trophy at a club very quickly. He is a man all about the ends, the means are disinteresting to him, so the ends must be there right away.
Facing St Etienne this week, Mourinho’s team selection will be revealing of his plans for the rest of the season. In truth, Manchester United could rest the majority of their first team and still name a line-up capable of winning the competition. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marcus Rashford and others will be raring to go, while Mourinho’s first choice stars can lurk on the bench in case they are needed to save their team-mates from a crisis.
Following their Europa League return, Manchester United face Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup. The least relevant of their remaining commitments, one would think. A weakened side is surely likely against the former Premier League champions, but it would be one of the greatest shocks in recent memory if the Red Devils fail to qualify for the next round. The last thing Mourinho would want is a replay, though.
Manchester United, ultimately, are in a very strong position. Players are hitting form and their lavish investment over the past couple of years has enabled them to compete significantly on all fronts. Squad depth allows Mourinho to rotate, but that is where the problem lies. Rotation is not something often associated with Mourinho and a failure to keep his players fresh presents the greatest threat to United this season.
What looked like a troubling first campaign for Mourinho could yet be an overwhelming success. They have the squad to keep everyone fresh for their top four push, while continuing to aim for silverware in the cup competitions. It is now down to Mourinho’s squad management to see how it pans out – a glorious season rests on his ability to kick the bad habit and rotate his squad more.