With three games out of the way and squads set for at least the first half of the year, the dust is finally settling in the Premier League. Kickit97 will look at each team and identify strengths, weaknesses, key players, and potential breakout stars.
Manchester United — Mourinho’s Men look to Move up the Table
If not for a Europa League title, José Mourinho would have been the third manager to fail to meet expectations at Old Trafford following the departure of former boss and crotchety old Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson. Fortunately for José, the Red Devils are back in the Champions League, and after another summer of big spending, are expected to qualify through a top four finish in the league. With plenty of new toys, expect Man U to return to their winning ways sooner rather than later.
Major Transfers In:
Romelu Lukaku — Striker, Everton (£76M)
Nemanja Matic — Midfielder, Chelsea (£40M)
Victor Lindelöf — Center Back, Benfica (£31M)
Man U’s purchases form a powerful spine down the middle of their formation, strengthening them in all three sections of the field. Lukaku is one of the most prolific goal scorers in the EPL and will see even more chances with much better service than he received at Everton. Matic is a force in midfield, capable of moving the ball effectively and shutting down opposing attacks with ease. Lindelöf has yet to appear in the EPL, but at 22 he will quickly become an important cog in the Man U defense.
Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj, Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Loan), Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Loan)
Rooney is the only significant loss for Man U, and he isn’t the same player he was five seasons ago. Losing him was worth gaining Lukaku, who fits into the center forward role much better than Rooney. Adnan Januzaj hasn’t looked like a United quality player since his breakout season under David Moyes, and his departure will hardly impact the first team. The youngsters out on loan will gain good experience and return at some point to contribute to the first team.
Predicted Starting 11
Luke Shaw is out of favor but might replace Blind at Left Back. Fellaini and Herrera will get time at center mid. Lingard and Martial will make plenty appearances in the front three.
Paul Pogba is unquestionably one of the top box to box midfielders in the world. He can do just about everything, but is best when allowed to operate further up the pitch. Because of this, Matic is the perfect partner for him. Matic can pass well and contribute to the attack if need be, but he is best when he sits deep to protects the back four and move the ball up from the back. Ander Herrera is capable of filling both of these roles effectively, having added a defensive edge to his game since joining the Red Devils. Marouane Fellaini is perhaps the most unique player in world football, and does his job (which is mostly being enormous, elbowing people in the face, and being a target man) better than almost anyone. Captain Michael Carrick isn’t able to play frequently, but when he does he is a perfect metronome in midfield.
Lukaku might not quite be world class yet, but by the end of the season he will almost definitely be in that category. The big Belgian will have better service than he has ever had before, and excels at finishing off chances. He could easily bag thirty goals in the league. Backing him up is living legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the most accomplished active players in football and an ideal mentor for Lukaku. If United needs a fast, skillful option, youngsters Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are both more than capable of leading the line. United have quality, depth, and variety at striker, something that cannot be said about most teams.
United have several options at center back, but none of them have consistently proven to be high quality. Phil Jones rarely stays healthy for more than half the season, and is on form less often than that. Chris Smalling looked world class for about a season under Louis Van Gaal, but fell out of favor with Mourinho after struggling last year. Eric Bailly is a good player, but has bouts of rashness that can cost the team points. Lindelöf is only 23 and taking a huge step up in competition from Portugal to England, so it remains to be seen if he can translate his abilities. Daley Blind can play center back, but isn’t good enough defensively to be a quality option. United should be able to find a solid pairing with these options, but it might take a while and cost points along the way.
Both starting full backs for United, Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia, are solid options, but less than ideal. Blind is a bit of a jack of all trades, capable of playing anywhere from center mid, left back, and center back, but not excelling in any of these roles. Valencia is thirty-two and relies on pace and physicality for his style of play, both of which could start to fade at any point. Matteo Darmian has proved adequate but far from a standout, and Luke Shaw has bags of potential but a history of injury and attitude problems. United will hope that Valencia keeps up his excellent form and Blind does enough to keep things together at the back.
David De Gea — Goalkeeper
Given that I’ve listed United’s entire back four as a potential weakness, De Gea might be the difference between a solid defense and a mediocre one for United. The Spaniard is one of the best shot stoppers in the world and was one of the main reasons United still finished in the top six the past three seasons. With cat-like reflexes and phenomenal positioning, De Gea was nearly a Real Madrid player if not for a faulty fax machine stopping a deadline day deal in 2015. United are thankful De Gea ended up staying, as he has proven to be a major difference maker for them.
Paul Pogba — Midfielder
A larger-than-life character, Pogba’s blockbuster return to Old Trafford last summer heaped somewhat unrealistic expectations upon the Frenchman. Those who expected Pogba to rack up goals and assists left and right were disappointed, but failed to recognize the subtlety of Pogba’s brilliance. Surrounded by goal scorers and fellow playmakers, Pogba uses his strength, dribbling skills, and phenomenal passing ability to keep United’s attack flowing and rapidly turn defense into attack. While he may not receive the praise of goal scorers like Lukaku and Rashford, Pogba is likely United’s most important player.
Potential Breakout Players
Luke Shaw — Left Back
Shaw’s United career has been eventful at best and disastrous at worst. After moving from Southampton as a teenager and immediately receiving a starting role, Shaw has suffered multiple long-term injuries, keeping him off the field. He has also had issues staying match fit, and as a result fell out of favor with Mourinho. If shaw can live up to his potential, the starting spot is his. At only twenty-two, Shaw has a chance to turn his career around and be United’s starting left back for the next decade.
Marcus Rashford — Striker/Winger
Rashford burst onto the scene in a way that few teenagers ever have, forced into the spotlight as a result of injuries and shinning brighter than any player ahead of him in the pecking order.
Ibrahimovic’s arrival last season forced Rashford out to the wing, but he has continued to excel, using speed and skill to trouble defenders and find space to score. at only nineteen, Rashford has the whole world ahead of him, so long as Mourinho continues to play him. He should make the shortlist for PFA young player of the year, and could win it if he has a truly outstanding season.
Final Table Position — Second
United have offensive strength to challenge for the title, but they need their defense to hold up to win it all. It should be a very close battle between the Manchester clubs, and it could easily go either way depending on form and injuries.
Player of the Year — Romelu Lukaku
While Pogba might be more important, Lukaku could very easily win the Golden Boot this season. Hard to not give him the POTY award if he manages that.
Up next is defending champions Chelsea.