Jose Mourinho was able to field his Euro 2016 contingent in Manchester United’s pre-season game with Galatasaray in Gothenburg and with a convincing 5-2 victory at the Ullevi Stadium, it seemed like the manager’s plans were coming together nicely ahead of the Community Shield date with Leicester City next Sunday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored acrobatically three minutes into his debut and Wayne Rooney netted twice in his first match for Mourinho. David De Gea, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin, Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial also played their first games under the new coach as they, with one pre-season game remaining, got vital minutes under the belts ahead of the trip to Wembley.
Mourinho is likely to have his team in mind for the season opener but there is one piece of the jigsaw still looming overhead, with Paul Pogba indulging in his role as a commercial commodity.
His mooted £100+ million move from Juventus seems to be edging closer to completion, but nobody is truly sure whether the cryptic Instagram posts and the brash Adidas adverts, in tandem with the words of his troublesome agent Mino Raiola, are suggestions of a move or an attempt to exploit a rumour for profit.
Still, the number 6 shirt awaits the Frenchman, with Pogba even taking the trouble to sign one for a fan out in Los Angeles over the weekend, and if Mourinho completes the most ostentatious transfer in recent memory, the 23 year old will provide the legs to Michael Carrick’s assured passing in midfield.
Whatever one’s objections to the fee, Paul Pogba will certainly boost an area in which United have been short in recent seasons and the thought of his dynamic physicality blossoming under Mourinho is one to savour.
The energy of Morgan Schneiderlin will surely save him enough to act as a cover option despite an underwhelming first year at Old Trafford, while it seems Bastian Schweinsteiger, with his debut season torn by injuries, seems to be on his way out after failing to make any of Mourinho’s pre-season teams.
“If they were not in my plans I would not give them one single minute, I would not keep them in my squad” announced the Portuguese and that also applies to Adnan Januzaj, who appears to be paying the price for two seasons of stagnation following a bright emergence under David Moyes.
While Januzaj’s pivotal season won’t get underway Memphis Depay’s will, the Dutchman being handed a fresh start following a dismal first year in England. With Mourinho highlighting his team’s packed schedule and emphasising the need for a big squad, Depay’s trickery and crossing will be useful as left-wing cover for Martial.
“The squad is very competitive, the squad is very important for the season” added the Portuguese coach and that will also benefit Juan Mata and Ander Herrera who will not be consistent enough to satisfy Mourinho’s demands every week but can provide able deputies in attacking midfield.
Dealing with Fellaini
With Fellaini playing in Gothenburg, it will be intriguing to learn the role Mourinho has reserved for the Belgian given his United career seemed dead following a series of wretched displays under Van Gaal.
Though Mourinho will be wily enough to realise Fellaini is still an able midfield destroyer or a direct aerial option in attack if needed; he surely won’t attempt to pass through the fuzzy-haired midfielder on the ground like Van Gaal persisted on doing.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, arriving from Borussia Dortmund to a wave of excitement after scoring 19 goals and registering 15 assists in Germany last term, can play behind the striker but is likely to line up initially on the right.
Antonio Valencia, now fully-fit after missing large portions of last season, is primed to play right-back for Mourinho, with his strength and ability to power down the flank, albeit more athletically than the Serb, reminiscent of Branislav Ivanovic at Chelsea.
Valencia made 3 goals against Galatasaray and his availability, with Darmian acting as cover, will cause Mourinho to cancel the right-back search.
Mourinho’s system will be designed to have his full-backs drive forward often and Luke Shaw’s return from last September’s leg-break is a welcome addition given his pace and energy, as well as a sharp positional sense, make him the prime candidate to play left-back.
With full-backs offering the width, Mourinho, a manager who famously craves total control and solid protection of his defence, could opt to use two holding midfielders in the form of Pogba and Schneiderlin either side of Carrick.
While that will ensure the energy to allow United to press and win the ball back quickly, notable traits from Mourinho’s early days, it would also mean the more mobile Rooney being preferred instead of Ibrahimovic in attack.
Otherwise Rooney, with whom Mourinho has said there will be no repeat of his stint in deep-midfield last season, will be used in the area behind the centre-forward, a position of huge importance for Mourinho.
“For me a number 10 does a lot of things, with the ball and without the ball. So for me a number 10 is a very special player in my team” he said last November, “A number 10 for me is an eight-and-a-half when the team loses the ball, and the number 10 is a nine-and-a-half when the team has the ball”.
Rooney, who will be given far greater licence to get into the box than in recent seasons, ticks those boxes, as does Paul Pogba, but Mourinho will find it tough to ignore the Frenchman’s powerful marches from his midfield station.
What Pogba can bring to the table
It is easy to see now why the 23 year old with the bizarre haircut who is supposedly worth an astronomical fee is the one on whom it all hinges.
Paul Pogba brings a machine-like presence, an ability to play in a variety of positions and a winning mentality similar to Ibrahimovic’s having won the last four Italian league titles with Juventus.
Mourinho’s United illustrated against Galatasaray that their engine is beginning to prowl, but with a determined, hungry Paul Pogba added, they will be a frightening prospect.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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