For two decades, Manchester United held a permanent seat at Europe’s top table. Under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson and with the dazzling talents of Giggs, Beckham, Rooney and Ronaldo on show, the Red Devils were feared across the continent, romping to four finals and two titles across the nineties and noughties. But in recent years, the dazzle has dulled with the club failing to make it out of the group stage last time around. Now, having already guided the club to Europa League glory, can Jose Mourinho restore the sheen to United’s reputation?
Third Time’s the Charm for Jose
It was 2004 when an unknown Portuguese guided Porto to the unlikeliest of Champions League wins. That feat earned Jose Mourinho the top spot at Roman Abramovich’s nouveau riche Chelsea. And though the self-confessed ‘Special One’ wasn’t able to regain his European crown in two stints at Stamford Bridge, he did lead Inter Milan to the title in 2010. Near misses with Real Madrid have meant that a prestigious third title has so far eluded him, but this United side may be his best chance yet.
United’s astronomical summer outlay is testament to the ambitions of the owners. After years of mediocrity under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, the Glazers have splashed the cash to ensure success Mourinho was secured on a £14 million a year deal, and in just over 12 months has overseen a spending spree of over £300 million, recruiting the likes of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku. Not to mention Zlatan.
Armed with a starting XI full of pace, power and strength, United must be considered one of the favourites for this year’s crown. Very few sides can boast the physicality of the Red Devils and with Mourinho’s tactical nous as sharp as ever, they’d cause problems for any of Europe’s top sides. Jose has always found solace in stocking his team with tall, strong players and the acquisitions of Matic, Bailly, Lindelof and Romelu, and of course the renaissance of Fellaini, evidence this remains a core strategy.
And they’ve certainly started strongly. Nine points from nine sees United sitting pretty at the top of Group A, three points clear of 2nd place Basel and as you can see from the odds provided at 888Sport, they are clear favourite to proceed to win the Group A. In fact, victory at home to Benfica on matchday four will guarantee their progression to the knockout stage with two matches to spare. Having scored eight goals and only conceded one, United’s early form in the competition looks promising.
Who Could Be Next?
Assuming United do progress to the next round, the calibre of competition will no doubt intensify. Mourinho’s men will want to avoid the goal-laden PSG. With Neymar and Mbappe seemingly scoring for fun, the Parisians pose a daunting task for any side to overcome. Barcelona look in typically mercurial form too having comfortably beaten last year’s finalists Juventus 3-0 at Camp Nou. Zinedine Zidane meanwhile is looking to secure his third European title in as many years at Real Madrid.
Have They Got What It Takes?
United face an ominous fixture pile up as they look to challenge on all fronts this season. Fortunately, Mourinho can call upon a squad rich in depth and quality. As the battle for silverware at home and abroad heats up, the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard will become invaluable to Mourinho. Add in the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and United look as though they could be dining at Europe’s top table once more.