The Big Match

Football: Will Manchester United find joy in Jose Mourinho's second season?


Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and some of his players during the Real Madrid v Manchester United match on Aug 8, 2017.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and some of his players during the Real Madrid v Manchester United match on Aug 8, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mourinho needs more ruthlessness to keep record of winning title in sophomore year

It is a perfect record. At Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea again, Jose Mourinho won the league in his second season.

Sometimes he takes a year to forge his side. Then his organisational and analytical skills, his cold-blooded capacity to determine what a team need and who will provide it, and his ability to inject a winning mentality have always brought the same reward.

But Mourinho has never previously started a second season having finished 24 points behind the champions, or having mustered 32 goals fewer than the top scorers.

His debut year at Manchester United produced three trophies, but the impression is they are some way off becoming champions.

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Now, furnished with £145 million (S$257 million) of new signings in Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof, ambitions have to be raised.

The European Super Cup defeat by Real Madrid suggested United are some way off being Europe's best team, but, for the first time since Alex Ferguson retired, they should at least come close to being the country's.

West Ham present a suitable test of their credentials. Not so much because the Hammers' signings include Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta, who helped City deny United the title in 2012, but because they drew at Old Trafford last season.

So did many others. Those 10 home draws, eight against teams who finished below Mourinho's men, are a major reason they were out-distanced by Chelsea.

If Lukaku, a scourge of weaker opposition at home for Everton last year, has to make United more ruthless, so does Mourinho.

He has suffered a solitary home defeat but struggled to find a winning formula.

Renowned for clinical decision-making, he has appeared more uncertain. He began against Real with an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation and switched to his customary 4-2-3-1. Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini, who both made an impact as substitutes, pressed their cases to start.

The sense is that Mourinho, in characteristic fashion, has strengthened the spine of his side but is less sure who to pick on the flanks.

The failed bids for Inter Milan's Ivan Perisic and the aborted interest in Gareth Bale leave a particular gap on the left wing.

Mourinho may be advised to select someone quick against the valiant but slowing Zabaleta, the City cult hero who has been hired to fill West Ham's problem position of right-back.

Difficulties abounded for the Hammers last year. If Mourinho has a point to prove, so does Slaven Bilic. West Ham endured a troubled pre-season, failing to win in their last four friendlies and being outclassed 0-3 by City.

United may be judged against their neighbours, both over 90 minutes and nine months, as Mourinho looks to extend his 100-per-cent record in sophomore seasons.

MAN UNITED V WEST HAM
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Will united find joy in Jose's 2nd season?'. Print Edition | Subscribe