When Jose Mourinho joined Manchester United in May the Portuguese manager was expected to transform the Premier league giants immediately.
The expectations of a messianic restoration increased after a few high profile signings.
Mourinho added a world class spine to his squad with the signings of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The difference in quality was evident instantly as United managed to hit the ground running.
An assured performance against Leicester in the Community Shield was followed with three back to back wins in the Premier League against Bournemouth, Southampton, and Hull City.
It has been a little over three months since Mourinho was unveiled as the new manager of Manchester United. The transformation under him has been so dramatic that United are being tipped as the favourites for the title now.
Here at Soccerlens, we look at some of the major transformations at Manchester United since the arrival of Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho wants his players to make the most of the possession
Louis Van Gaal’s side were often criticized for doing too little with the ball. The Dutch manager wanted his side to dominate possession and they did.
Manchester United average 55.9% ball possession last season (second highest in the league). However, most of the passes were sideways and backwards.
Van Gaal’s side lacked adventure in their passing and took less number of risks when in possession. Not only did their chance creation suffer because of this, the attacking players were often isolated.
On the contrary, Jose Mourinho’s side are a lot more adventurous and despite having considerably less possession than Van Gaal’s side, they have created and scored more goals.
Manchester United are now playing to the strength of their attackers
Ever since Mourinho took over, one of the major transformations about United has been their tendency to provide more service for their attacking players.
Manchester United often failed to play to their forward’s strengths under Van Gaal. The midfielders’ tendency to take fewer risks affected their service. The players worked on keeping more possession instead.
The change in approach was evident from Mourinho’s presser about Ibrahimovic earlier this season.
He said: “Zlatan will be more dangerous when we are more dominant and play closer to the box. He’s not a fast player like Jamie Vardy, who can play 50 yards from the box”.
“He needs the team to play and produce chances for him. We need to change this.”
This applies to the likes of Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata as well.
United had players who are much more efficient on the ball and like to be involved. But Van Gaal’s approach often isolated them from the general play.
Paul Pogba has got them playing higher up the pitch
Mourinho’s side are creating more chances because they have been pro-active so far.
Where Van Gaal decided to play it safe and build from the back, Mourinho has been adventurous. And not just in his passing.
Jose Mourinho’s side have the desire to win the ball early and they press much higher up the pitch as well.
Last season Manchester United completed just 4 tackles in the Bournemouth (away from home) half as opposed to this season’s 10.
The likes of Pogba have done extremely well to carry the ball forward at every chance and help in quick transitions. This has resulted in more dribbles and more tackles in the opposition half.
Manchester United have averaged 12 dribbles per game so far. Paul Pogba has already completed 9 dribbles in his two appearances for the club.
Under Van Gaal, Manchester United lacked a midfielder who could drive the team forward and make them play higher up the pitch.
Defenders are less involved in the build up
Louis Van Gaal stressed the importance of building from the back and the Manchester United defenders were a lot more involved in the process.
This resulted in a larger gap between the defence and the midfield which was often exploited by the opposition. United struggled to complete the transition from defence to attack.
Despite having more of the ball, the defenders and midfielders failed to carry it up the pitch.
Under Mourinho, the gap is significantly smaller between the defence and midfield. The likes of Blind and Bailly are now asked to release the ball quicker to the more creative players.
This has not only improved their build up play, they are moving the ball quicker as well.
The likes of Pogba, Rooney are much more direct and like to play on the front foot.
Key Players so far
Mourinho’s change in approach has been a major success so far and it is important to note that the Portuguese has also put together a side that can execute his plans.
Almost every Manchester United player has impressed so far, but three of the most important players so far have been the new signings – Bailly, Pogba, and Ibrahimovic.
Eric Bailly has been nothing short of outstanding in the four matches he has played for Manchester United.
His powerful style of play has drawn comparisons with the Manchester United legend Nemanja Vidic.
Bailly’s strong positional play, composure on the ball and aerial ability has improved United considerably.
As for Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive player has been instrumental for Mourinho’s side so far.
The Frenchman has added some much-needed steel to United’s midfield. He has also driven the team forward with effortless ease.
His technique on the ball and the ability to beat a man has resulted in quicker transitions from defence to attack and United are a more threatening unit now.
Finally, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has done what Zlatan Ibrahimovic does.
The world-class Swedish forward has been excellent in and around the box. His aerial ability, movement, and technique has added a new dimension to United’s attack.
His goal against Bournemouth from outside the box and his header against Southampton are just glimpses of what is to come. Zlatan’s unpredictability and ability to make the most of the half-chances has made him a nightmare for Premier League forwards in a short span of time.
Furthermore, his ability to hold up the ball has given other players the confidence to go route one when needed. United always have an outlet when needed.
Mourinho’s first real test will be the Manchester derby after the international break. It remains to be seen how United perform in a game of that magnitude. But early signs show that they are more than ready for whatever comes their way.