It is certainly a risk from Jose Mourinho to have put all of his eggs in the Europa League basket in recent weeks. If it is to pay off though, which it really should judging by the level of opponent in this season’s Europa League, he will have won 3 trophies in his first season at the club if you include the Community Shield. That is the type of success that Manchester United have become renowned for in my life time; the club is built upon this winning mentality. It was this mentality that has been non-existent since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, and although United have underwhelmed in the Premier League, the signs are there that we are on the right track.
We’ve gone from David Moyes’ defeatism to Louis van Gaal’s aimless possession, and it has not been easy to remain patient when we are seeing signings like Marouane Fellaini and Matteo Darmian play for the biggest club in the world. It does appear though, that Jose has turned a corner, whether it’s the calibre of player we are beginning to see again, like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or the fact that we managed 25 games unbeaten in the league. Interestingly, we have lost less games in the league than Chelsea, the champions elect, and conceded the second least amount of goals up until now.
They are perhaps smaller steps than what we would like, due to the poor finishing in the final third we’ve had to endure that have led to 14 league draws so far. The big BUT though, is that these stats are there for all to see, and the foundations of a fantastic Jose Mourinho team are in place for next season.
This is where the next 180 minutes in the Europa League define our season. Can United finish the job, putting us into next season’s Champions League group stage, and ensure that Jose was right to prioritise this competition? If we can, we should all expect to see the likes of possibly Antoine Griezmann added to our already strong squad and the potential sixth place league finish will be forgotten immediately.
If we fail in Europe, it then becomes difficult to be satisfied with Jose’s first season and we are left with another Europa League campaign that sees United struggling to cope with the Thursday-Sunday demands, as repeatedly mentioned by our manager.
It’s a unique situation the club finds itself in, 2 games, 180 minutes, from a 3 trophy season, leading to the Champions League and even a European Super Cup appearance, or alternatively, a season where we finished 5th or 6th and face the Europa League all over again. It’s exciting of course, to be part of the latter stages of a competition, but it’s such a fine margin between success and failure for Mourinho.