The Mourinho era was finally announced with a stunning transfer window that was meant to kickstart Manchester United’s revival. Kicking off the season with a trophy was the best way for fans to truly latch onto the project that was on its way. No season has since matched the progress and trophies that Mourinho’s side would earn that season.
After a transfer window that was headlined by star additions, the work to mold this side into a championship caliber team was underway. So much work was still needing to be done, but the project was starting to be seen.
Over the course of this season, three trophies would find their way to Old Trafford. While none of them were the Prem, winning the Europa League still brought glory back to a club desperate for it. Winning the Community Shield and EFL Cup additionally aren’t bad barometers of future success.
Additionally, Mourinho set this team up to get as much consistency from the midfield and striker position. Outside of Rashford and Ronaldo seasons later, Zlatan was a beacon of consistency that the club had and has been missing. Pogba being healthy was a godsend that showcased the game changing force he was.
The highs of this season gave fans hope in a way that the club has never let them feel since. For once, the post-Fergie malaise was seemingly over.
After a somewhat disappointing preseason, the first chance at silver awaited United. A Community Shield matchup against Leiscter gave Mourinho a hell of a way to kick off his tenure.
Besides Bailly and Zlatan, none of the other summer signings started the game. The lineup that he threw onto the pitch was a mixture of the best hits of the van Gaal era. Blind, Lingard and Martial all got starts looking to carry forward their development in the new era.
Mourinho also had his team set up in a formation that he would use across the season. By setting the team up in a 4-2-3-1, he aimed to build a defensive beast with this team with a central threat. The two center mids would always help with the defense and drop back constantly.
With both Lingard and Zlatan scoring, it was a perfect combination of the best of the Dutchman’s era with the hope of Mourinho’s tenure. Not only was it a great defensive performance, but this was a perfect glimpse into the offense and what it could be.
No one truly cares about the EFL Cup, but United did snag this trophy through the midpoint of the season. Even as their league campaign started to stall, the team was able to win this competition and bring another trophy to the club. The only thing of note from this run was how well Zlatan was playing under Mourinho.
After failing in Europe year after year since Ferguson left, fans desperately wanted a bite of European glory. Although they wouldn’t play in the Champions League, Mourinho and his team surely liked their chances in the Europa League. They were one of the best sides in the tournament and the Portuguese manager was looking forward to winning in Europe again.
While he struggled in just about every other competition, Mkhitaryan was incredible in this tournament. Pogba and Zlatan were just as promised as well, while even Rooney was turning back the years. Even if the team was the definition of inconsistent in all competitions, the team really performed their best in Europe.
The team that started the final was the best example of depth and managerial ingenuity that United have seen since Ferguson retired. With a gluttony of injury hitting the club, Mourinho was able to put out a team that reflected his great use of depth pieces. It was also the last time United felt like United.
A large portion of those good vibes came from the project as a whole humming. From Mourinho to the players, every cog was moving.
No one was fooling themselves into thinking that Zlatan would be the long term solution to United’s striker woes. However, in that brief season, he was the best pure striker the team had seen since van Persie. The system was designed to feed him, and knowing how well he continued to age, who knows how impactful he could have been if he had stayed healthy at United.
While he wasn’t as dominant as the season prior, Pogba did show that a team could be built around him. If he’s surrounded by players who either ease his role defensively or play deeper, as he did this season, he’s world class. Just as important as playing in a balanced midfield was that this was one of the only seasons that he would remain healthy in.
Mourinho’s transformation of United was built on a rock solid defense. No matter who he had playing in the backline, the team defended as a whole.
Chris Smalling, Daley Blind and Eric Bailly all had great seasons, with Blind really impressing as a center back. However, the team really aimed to defend from top down. Role players like Ander Herrera became integral to everything that the team did, in a way they haven’t since.
Perhaps the biggest departure from the positives of the post-Fergie era was the lack of development from youngsters. Mourinho has never been known to play the youth, but it was disheartening to see the lack of development from the likes of Martial and Rashford. Martial would never reach the heights he did under van Gaal, but Rashford did take a while to fully become the star he is.
Winning typically fixes all things and now seasons removed from that year, United is in a worse shape. So much went right this season that it’s hard to see this iteration of the club ever coming close to these heights. For a brief season, a project, manager and team all came together to create an oasis that would forever leave United fans wanting it once more.
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