Ending the season with a dominant 2-0 triumph over a young, explosive Ajax team was exactly what Mourinho and Co. needed. In a campaign filled with shallow highs and deep lows, Mourinho desperately needed the Europa League trophy to justify him throwing away the last few games of the season and earning United a sixth place finish. Despite many critics writing him off as an “old-school” and “outdated” manager, Mourinho put forth a tactical masterclass, completely nullifying the danger men for Peter Bosz’s team. However, on his way to winning a community shield, an EFL cup, and the Europa League final, Mourinho learned some valuable lessons not only about himself, but about his team as well.
1.Build the team around Paul Pogba’s strengths
In the first few months of the season, Mourinho didn’t seem sure of Paul Pogba’s best position. While he excelled on the left side of a midfield three for Juventus, Mourinho tried him out as a lone holding midfielder, in a partnership of two holding midfielders, and even as a number 10. Eventually, he learned that the closer he played Paul Pogba to his preferred left sided attacking midfield role, the better Paul Pogba played. Mourinho consistently deployed Pogba with Herrera and Carrick or Fellaini. This allowed Pogba, even when played as part of a holding two, to roam the field and break forward, knowing that Herrera or Carrick would be sitting back to provide protection for the back four. While he is good defensively, he excels at having the ball at his feet in attacking situations, where he can pick out a killer pass, dictate tempo, dribble past a defender, or have a go at goal. Pogba is the heartbeat of this team and at 24, should be the foundation for anything Mourinho plans to do.
2.Sometimes, tough love doesn’t always work
Mourinho’s man-management skills came under much scrutiny throughout the season. In the case of Mkhitaryan, it seemed to push him into becoming a better, more complete player. He helped out more defensively, knowing Mourinho would sub him off if he didn’t. His greatest impact was seen in the Europa league, where he scored six goals, including the crucial second goal in the final. The jury is still out on whether Mourinho’s tough love has worked on Martial. Martial is a fantastic talent and even though his second season didn’t replicate his first, he was still able to show his quality, seen best in his goal versus Burnley or his assist for Wayne Rooney against Tottenham. He is still only 21 and Mourinho should be weary of isolating a player of his quality. Luke Shaw is the case where Mourinho’s man-management skills have failed. Mourinho constantly berated Shaw publicly, to the point where it was sad to watch. The young Englishman looked totally devoid of confidence at times. Shaw was able to find his way back into the side, but he then suffered another injury, which put him out for the season. Shaw, when on form, is a brilliant left back and hopefully Mourinho has learned that he doesn’t respond well to tough love. Many United fans want Shaw to be United left back for the next decade, and if Mourinho can connect with the young man, Shaw’s original fee could prove to be a bargain.
3.Have more faith in youth
Mourinho is often criticized for not giving youth a chance. While has given more minutes to youth than any other manager, those minutes are heavily skewed by the use of Marcus Rashford. Outside of Rashford, only Tuanzebe can claim to have played a significant amount of minutes. Part of the reason United suffered so many injuries this season is down to a lack of rotation. Mourinho could have easily given more minutes to Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah to avoid players like Phil Jones and Chris smalling succumbing to injuries that kept them out of the side for about a month each. One can hope that the performances of Josh Harrop, Tuanzebe, Demetri Mitchell, Scott McTominay, and Angel Gomes against Crystal Palace have convinced Mourinho to put a little more trust in the products of United’s esteemed academy.
Overall, considering the sheer amount of games United played, the amount of injuries United suffered, and the amount of bad luck that came United’s way, Champions League qualification and two trophies isn’t a too bad of a campaign. This summer looks exciting in terms of potential transfers and next season could bring forth some pleasant surprises (looking at you Antoine Griezmann).