Preview of Manchester United premier league ambitions – Back them at 14/1 for title

Once Sunday’s FA Community Shield dress-rehearsal is done and dusted, the Jose Mourinho era at Manchester United will truly get underway with a visit to Bournemouth.

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So will the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ be the man to re-establish United as a dominant force both domestically and in Europe?

Well, the signs in pre-season have not been especially encouraging, but friendlies rarely offer an accurate insight into how a team will perform once the competitive action gets underway.
United looked ragged as they lost to Borussia Dortmund and were similarly vulnerable at the back in the first half of last weekend’s clash with Galatasaray before turning the game on its head after the break and eventually running out comfortable 5-2 winners.
Mourinho will have learned plenty from both games and while his side’s defensive shortcomings must surely remain a concern, there were also enough positives to suggest that United will show a marked improvement in the forthcoming campaign.

Antonio Valencia, for example, looks to have a real spring in his step, chipping in with three assists against Galatasaray and his resurgence may partly be attributed to the presence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Armenian’s arrival means that Valencia’s position on the right-hand side of midfield is very much under threat and the former Wigan man appears to be responding to the challenge in exactly the way Mourinho would have wished.
And he’ll need to maintain that form because Mkhitaryan is a class act who has the potential to take the Premier League by storm.
He may not be as much of a household name as fellow-new recruit Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but the 27-year-old scored 11 goals and provided 15 assists for Dortmund last season and has the ability to follow in the illustrious footsteps of the other legendary widemen who have illuminated Old Trafford over the years.

Mkhitaryan’s arrival also gives Mourinho the option of playing Valencia at right-back, although Phil Jones, Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling would all appear to be stronger defensive options.
That backline has already been bolstered up by the arrival of Eric Bailly.
The Ivorian is still somewhat raw, with fewer than 60 first-team appearances for Espanyol and Villarreal under his belt, but he has massive development potential and it is not out of the question that the 22-year-old could start against either Leicester on Sunday or Bournemouth the following weekend.
Luke Shaw’s return from long-term injury, meanwhile, almost feels like another new signing and with the emergence of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson last term, United look to be well covered at left-back.

The same cannot be said, however, of central midfield where the search for a long-term heir to the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes goes on.
Paul Pogba remains at the top of United’s wanted list and the club still appear confident that they will get their man, but he is surely not the answer as one of the two holding midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation that Mourinho traditionally favours.
Operating in the hole just behind the frontman is undoubtedly where the French international is at his most effective and yet Mourinho has seemingly already assured Wayne Rooney that he will be playing in that position.
So is Mourinho really willing to spend more than £100m of the club’s cash on a player and then not play him in his best position, or could a change of formation be on the cards?
That remains to be seen, but either way, the balance in central midfield is one major question that will need to be answered if United are to mount a serious challenge for the title this time around.

As for Zlatan, he marked his debut in typically flamboyant style by rifling home a bicycle kick after just four minutes against Galatasaray and it will be fascinating to see how the Swede fares in the Premier League.
Even at 34, he still has the ability to emerge as a Cantona-esque United folk hero.
Or he may throw his toys out of the pram after a couple of weeks and sulk his way out of the club.
Either way, it will make for compelling viewing.
It will also be intriguing to see how Marcus Rashford develops over the next few months.
The teenage sensation terrorised Galatasaray with his pace and movement after being introduced off the bench in last weekend’s friendly and you just get the feeling that he could be set to emerge as a key man for United.

In terms of the rest of the squad, Mourinho has held out an olive branch to the likes of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, both of whom had been strongly linked with moves away from Old Trafford, with Bastian Schweinsteiger seemingly the only big-name player whose future definitely lies elsewhere.
More will be expected of Memphis Depay who seemed to lack focus last term and Adnan Januzaj is another player with a point to prove having failed to build upon his sparkling early form for the club.
In David De Gea and Sergio Romero, meanwhile, Mourinho has two top-drawer goalkeepers that he can rotate without undue concern as and when necessary.

Overall, United’s squad has undoubtedly been strengthened and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be more organised under Mourinho than they appeared to be under Louis van Gaal.
The Portuguese tends to bring instant success wherever he goes, even if question marks remain about his ability to sustain that success in the medium to long term.
And who knows, he may even have learned something from his ill-fated second spell at Chelsea.
If they can survive the rigours of the Europa League and solve their central midfield conundrum, it would be hard to bet against United featuring prominently in a Premier League race that looks as wide open as it has done for some considerable time.

 

 

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