“That’s what he’s waiting for. To say at the end of the day ‘we are going to be in the Champions League and have two trophies.’ So you find yourself in the situation where he’s going to have the last laugh at the end of the day.”
Thierry Henry was heard saying during the post-match analysis of Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates on the 7th of May 2017.
The former-Arsenal striker was referring to Man United manager, Jose Mourinho’s approach towards the game as he decided to rest a lot of the key players in order to prep them for the upcoming semi-final match against Spanish side Celta-Vigo.
Come the end of the season and Henry didn’t seem that wrong, as Manchester United reached their objective of getting into the Champions League as well as winning two trophies by the end of the season.
The mancunian side’s solid performance in their 2-0 win over Ajax in the UEFA Europa League final, not only won them the trophy but also gave them the automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League Group Stage, despite coming a 6th in the Premier League with club’s record lowest win in the Premier League era.
That being said, having already won the Community Shield back in August and the League Cup in January, Mourinho’s first season cannot be deemed unsuccessful as he managed to triumph in 3 out of the 5 competitions his team took part in, while only narrowly being knocked out by Chelsea in quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Every season, good or bad, tends to produce a particular group of players in the squad that stand out.
Similarly, Mourinho’s first season has definitely been the roller coaster ride where there were players that had a tremendous impact on the team as well as players that looked to have no sight of a consistent performance throughout the season and so here are the hits and misses for Manchester United of the 2016-17 campaign.
Antonio Valencia- HIT
Having won the Manchester United player’s Player of the Season award, the Ecuadorian full back didn’t seem to show any sign of inconsistency in his game. In fact, there came a point where the gaffer was forced to rest him due to an increase in the fixture pile up. Despite crossing the 30-year old mark, Valencia seems to be playing at his peak.
A position change from a right winger to a right back did end up saving his Manchester United career as he had deteriorated his abilities as a right attacking midfield. With an average passing success ratio of 85.4%, some even considered him over Kyle Walker in the PFA Team of the Season.
However, the Spurs full-backs assist record of the season made him edge past the 31-year old Ecuadorian.
With an exciting transfer window coming up for Man United after their Europa League triumph, one position we know Mourinho won’t be looking to fill would be right back, as Valencia, with his strengthening performances, looks to be irreplaceable after only recently signing a 2-year old contract with the club until June 2019.
Luke Shaw- MISS
While there is a full-back on right side of the field winning his fair share of awards and nominations for his impressive performances throughout the season, there was Luke Shaw who seemed to be the exact opposite of Valencia.
For starters, he plays as a left back and is on the young side of his career, being only 21 years of age, however unlike his Ecuadorian counter-part, Luke Shaw just may have had one the worst seasons in his career and that is saying something considering the fact that he was out injured the majority of the 2015-16 season.
Having returned from injury in the latter half of last season, Luke Shaw was set to have a pivotal role in Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, however it clearly didn’t turn out that way.
Having only appeared 19 times this season, it wasn’t injuries that prevented him from playing this season, but his inability to convince the manager.
Over the course of the season, Mourinho had never failed to reveal the fact that Shaw was yet to win his place in the starting eleven. The fans over the year saw many available suitors at the left back position, however Luke Shaw managed to make himself last in the pecking order.
Sergio Romero- HIT
When Louis Van Gaal decided to get rid of Barcelona veteran Victor Valdes after only 6 months at the club, and 2 appearance in, it was hard to look at goalkeepers in that market that would make a good second-choice, especially considering it was the same transfer market which involved the horrendous fax disaster in the De Gea-Real Madrid transfer saga.
That being said, in my opinion, Van Gaal did a decent job in spotting Sergio Romero of Sampdoria, and soon signed him on a free contract.
Since then fans have had a dramatically divided opinion on the Argentine keeper as he has not only showed signs of why he has got 87 caps for Argentina, but also why he has been second to De Gea.
So when Romero was preferred over De Gea in majority of the cup games during the start of the season, many doubters didn’t quite agree with the decision, especially when some of the games were crucial ones such as the ones in Group Stages of the Europa League campaign.
Not only did Romero impress in his performances this season, he earned his place in all the knock-out rounds of the Europa League including the final where he kept a clean sheet yet again.
At the end of the season, Romero did have an impressive record to boast about, having started 18 games, winning 14 of them and losing none. And to top of that off he kept 12 cleansheets, out of the 18 started matches, only to give Mourinho a headache in selection for the start of next season.
Chris Smalling- MISS
When Sir Alex Ferguson bought in Chris Smalling from Fulham back in 2010, there were high hopes for the youngster. With the famous defensive duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic running out of steam, Chris Smalling was one of the two (other one being Phil Jones) who was backed to replace them, however 7 years later Chris Smalling is not exactly the replacement we thought he would be.
During Louis Van Gaal’s tenure he was one of the brighter highlights, along with a few other things. In the two years under Van Gaal, Chris Smalling had built a solid reputation of himself as a defender and a leader at the back to an extent that he was given the armband many a times and also got the role of Vice-Captain which carried on the to the next season.
However it only took him less a than year’s time to lose that reputation, as the introduction of Eric Bailly and the emergence of Marcos Rojo left him behind in the pecking order.
When the squad was struck by injuries, he did not take his chances and showcased clumsiness during big matches against the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs.
However, when it came to performing when it mattered the most, he did not let the team down when he started against Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final at Stockholm. Injuries and suspension had led to Smalling start alongside Daley Blind, who gave a solid display to keep the clean sheet.
Ander Herrera- HIT
While it was Antonio Valencia who ended up winning Manchester United Player’s Player of the Year award it was the team’s very own Basque maestro, Ander Herrera who went on to win Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.
With a passing success percentage of 87.3%, Ander Herrera redefined Manchester United’s midfield and became a regular alongside Paul Pogba.
It was easily the best season Ander Herrera had in a Manchester United shirt and possibly the best season of his career. Herrera’s highlight of the season was his man of the match display in the 2-0 win over Chelsea back in April, when the Spanish midfielder infamously kept Chelsea’s star man, Eden Hazard, quiet for the whole game.
Similarly he also put a man of the match display in the Europa League final against Ajax, a great asset in the eventual victory, especially his behind the scenes involvement for the team’s second goal.
If asked who Manchester United’s best player was this season, it would probably be a debatable showdown between Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia where the former would narrowly come out on top.
Wayne Rooney- MISS
A huge season for Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney who has been a great servant for Manchester United over the past 13 years of his involvement.
This was the season where he went on to score the goal that made him club’s top scorer edging past Sir Bobby Charlton. However, when you look at the bigger picture, Wayne Rooney was a big, big miss this season.
Having appeared a total of 49 times this season, Wayne Rooney started off as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s strike partner during the initial matches in the season, however inconsistency, deteriorating work rate, and being in the wrong side of 30, not only decreased his performance and contribution for the team but also made him fall way down in the pecking order.
With rumors beckoning of a move to China in the summer, the Europa League final cameo may have been the last minutes for Wayne Rooney in a Manchester United shirt.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic- HIT
The last but not the least, was sort of a no brainer. Having signed for Manchester united on a free, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival had mixed responses from a variety of audience members and critics around the world.
While some deemed him too old and slow for the intensity of the Premier League, there were others who could already see the forthcoming of a goal fest; it was the latter group of people who were proven right.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended up scoring 28 goals in 50 appearances which was not bad at all for a 36-year old striker who was deemed past-it and too old for the Premier League. Ironically, his best years as a footballer came after he turned 30 rather before.
Having said that, Zlatan was also nominated for Player’s Player of the Year and Sir Matt Busby player of the year, both awards won by other nominees, Herrera and Valencia, fairly so.
Zlatan’s impact on Jose Mourinho’s side has been incredible considering the next top scorer in the squad after 28 goals is just 11 goals by 19-year old youngster Marcus Rashford and Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
A crucial ACL injury back in April prevented him from contributing more for the club, and since then the team managed to have a scoring ratio of 1 goal per match, clearly indicating the Sweden’s impact on the team.
Now an ACL injury ruling him out till January, Ibrahimovic refuses to sign any contract until he recovers, indicating that he may be departing from the club very soon.