All things considered, 2016/17 has to go down as a positive season for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. Although the Red Devils missed out on a place in the top four, finishing seven points behind Liverpool and a further 17 adrift of runaway Premier League champions Chelsea, they did add two more pieces of silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet – the EFL Cup, secured with a 3-2 victory over Southampton at Wembley, and the Europa League, which brings with it automatic qualification for the group stage of the Champions League.
It could therefore be argued that Chelsea were the only English side to enjoy a more successful campaign than Mourinho’s men, but last term produced just as many questions as it did answers. The EFL Cup and Europa League were deemed acceptable prizes given that it was the Portuguese’s debut year at the helm, but the vast majority of supporters will be disappointed if their side is not able to launch sustained challenges for bigger and more significant trophies in 2017/18.
The Premier League is top of their agenda, with the 20-time English champions having failed to even content for the title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement four years ago. The current level of competition towards the top of the division is unprecedented, though, and it will not be easy for United to hold off Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the championship crown.
It will also be hoped that Mourinho’s charges can make an impression in the Champions League, although it would be unrealistic to expect them to win the tournament at this stage. Given their sheer size, illustrious history and terrific domestic record, it is perhaps a little surprising that United have still only won three European Cups since the competition was founded in 1955.
While success will be primarily measured in terms of trophies won, there is also likely to be further debate about United’s style of play this coming season. The club’s fans pride themselves on the team’s tradition of fast, attacking football, yet this was only sporadically on show under Mourinho last year. Again, the fact that the former Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid boss had not long taken charge provided him with a ready-made excuse, yet six-man backlines in big games away from home will undoubtedly be a much tougher sell this time around.
It will be intriguing to see how all this unfolds. Mourinho is always an interesting character to follow; storylines both on and off the pitch are guaranteed. United fans do not seem completely sold on the Portuguese just yet, however, and while last season was ultimately deemed a triumphant one, there were a fair few grumblings along the way.
Mourinho has always intimated that he is in it for the long haul at Old Trafford, with the Manchester United job frequently held up as his dream gig. Yet the methods the 54-year-old employs to win silverware in the short-term could preclude him from holding the position for as long as he intends to.