Five big decisions Jose Mourinho must make at Manchester United before the season starts
There is a dark cloud hanging over Old Trafford ahead of the start of the 2018-19 season, and that isnt just down to the inclement weather which can often dominate the grey North West skyline.
Jose Mourinho has painted a scene of doom and gloom at Manchester United during the summer, and whether his outlook is a precursor to a mid-season exit, it has left supporters as disillusioned as ever ahead of the new campaign.
A summer transfer window dominated by a succession of failed pursuits, a pre-season schedule dominated by injuries and absences due to the World Cup and the progress of many of their rivals leaves United heading into the season as unfancied as ever.
As a result there remain several issues for Mourinho to resolve even before United kick-off the new term against Leicester City. But it remains to be seen whether the Portuguese coach can steady the ship.
Settle dispute with Paul Pogba
Barcelonas attempts to acquire Pogba after just two just seasons back at United may have failed, but there is a legacy to the saga regarding the France international.
The 25-year-olds agent Mino Raiola has been a central pillar to the story, appearing to do his best to take his client to the Nou Camp.
Mourinho has grown agitated by his actions, which have suspiciously come amid reports that Pogba wants a pay rise to remain in Manchester.
Despite being impressed by his display as France won the World Cup, Mourinho has demanded that those performances be repeated for his club and suggested Pogba benefited from a lack of distractions out in Russia.
Part of Mourinho and Pogbas tempestuous relationship does centre around the midfielders insipid displays since he re-joined from Juventus two years ago.
Pogba was given a freer role for Les Blues in the summer, albeit alongside the dynamic NGolo Kante, and if Mourinho puts aside his differences and can give him similar license perhaps the relationship can be repaired.
Re-integrate Anthony Martial
As firm as Mourinhos desire was to sign a defender during the summer, he was as equally keen to offload Martial after losing trust in the forward.
The 22-year-old might have made 45 appearances in all competitions, but he only started 18 times in the Premier League and fell out of the side as the season progressed.
Alexis Sanchezs arrival in January has seen him shuffle further down the pecking order, with Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku appearing to be the players preferred to partner him in the three-man attack.
Reports even emerged that Mourinho was trying to force Martial out of United, against the wishes of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, in an effort to fund a move for Ivan Perisic.
The rapport between the two was further inflamed when Mourinho refused to confirm whether he had given Martial permission to leave Uniteds pre-season tour of the United States to attend the birth of his son, and then remarked that he should have returned to the US afterwards.
United are alarmingly short at the start of the season and it could be that Mourinho has to turn to Martial to help navigate the team through the opening weeks of the campaign – an embarrassing U-turn for the two-time Champions League winner to have to make.
Martial has seldom enjoyed a run of starts in the top flight since Louis van Gaal departed the club in 2016 but his talent alone suggests he earns another chance to alter Mourinhos view that his days at United are numbered.
Settle on a defence
Eleven players featured in Uniteds back four at some stage last season, a remarkable number which was dictated by a string of injuries and Mourinhos inability to settle on what he considers to be his first choice defence.
Perversely, only Manchester City had a better defensive record in the Premier League than United but there undoubtedly can be improvements if Mourinho can identify a permanent combination.
Following an encouraging World Cup, Victor Lindelof could be ready for a long-term role at the heart of the defence, while Eric Bailly will hope that his injury problems are behind him.
Luke Shaw remains at United despite being the victim of some scathing criticism from Mourinho and he is likely to begin the campaign with Ashley Young still recovering from playing for England at the World Cup.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are in reserve while Marcos Rojo continues to linger around the first team. The options are clearly there for Mourinho, but the time for tinkering is over.
Will Andreas Pereira play?
One of the few positives for United from their poor pre-season schedule was Pereiras free-kick against Liverpool, which highlighted the quality he can potentially give the first team this season.
With United depleted in midfield, this season could represent Pereiras opportunity to break into the first team and nail down the place before messieurs Pogba, Herrera and Matic return.
The 22-year-old has reportedly been given assurances by the manager that he will be given first-team opportunities this season, but it remains to be seen whether that promise will be kept.
Mourinhos record when it comes to young players is chequered but with so many midfielders out his hand could be forced, starting against Leicester on Friday.
Improve optimism ahead of the new season
Against the backdrop of a troubled summer, Mourinhos tone has been downbeat and unequivocally negative at a time when there should be optimism ahead of the new season.
It has largely been forgotten that United finished last season as the Premier League and FA Cup runners-up, and Mourinho has even labelled last term as one of the best of his career.
Nevertheless, accusations that Mourinho is positioning himself for another departure after less than three years in the job have naturally surfaced.
The media have taken a kicking for pushing negative coverage of United but perhaps Mourinho should look more inwardly before casting such aspersions.
For a club synonymous with winning silverware, supporters have had their expectations severely dampened – somewhat needlessly – when Mourinho should be talking up his sides chance rather than sending messages to the board.
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