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How Manchester United Can Be Improved to Compete with the Elite - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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London – 1 Strengthen the squad

How the manager recruits in the transfer window will be key and the priority is a top-class goalscorer. Antoine Griezmann got 27 goals for Atlético Madrid this season. Everton’s Romelu Lukaku scored 25 in the Premier League. Ideally the manager would like both: Lukaku to be the spearhead in the mould of a Didier Drogba at Chelsea or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Griezmann to play off him – or Marcus Rashford – as Mourinho has reservations about Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial. In midfield, Michael Carrick is 36 in July so support is required for Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini. Another centre-back may also be on the list as this season Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo were hardly ever available at the same time because of a variety of injuries. Daley Blind performed well in the position in the Europa League final but the sense is one of Smalling and Jones may leave.

2 Hold on to David de Gea

Just as crucial as who Mourinho acquires is whether he can keep the Spaniard at the club. David de Gea has a case for being the world’s best goalkeeper and has just returned another flawless campaign. If he were to depart this would leave a particularly difficult hole to fill. Real Madrid continue to lurk and it will be a surprise if they do not try to prise the 26-year-old away. The clubs have been here before, of course, as De Gea nearly left in the summer of 2015. “We have a situation that is not favourable for David de Gea but neither for us and neither for the club that maybe he wants to go [to],” Louis van Gaal, the former manager, said at the time. De Gea’s sentiment might not have changed so it may prove difficult for Mourinho to hold on to him.

3 Score more

In a nutshell, that is why United finished only sixth in the Premier League, 24 points behind Chelsea and scored 54 times to the 85 of Antonio Conte’s champions. The tally is only five more than Van Gaal’s side managed 12 months ago. This is partly a function of Mourinho’s defence-first approach and also the lack of a regular goalscorer to support Ibrahimovic, who struck 28 before a knee injury. As Wayne Rooney says: “The manager makes us so hard to beat and hopes we’ll get a goal or two to win the game.” The good news is that United offer more attacking-danger than Van Gaal’s side and if Pogba, Lingard, Mkhitaryan and Martial had been more clinical then many of the 15 league draws may have been wins. In a tight Champions League knockout round a lethal striker could be the difference.

4 Move the ball faster

The prevailing criticism of Mourinho’s United is that they can be as plodding in their approach as Van Gaal’s. Privately, Mourinho might say this is because some of his players are not yet accomplished enough for a slick-quick style. A hint is dropped regarding who the manager believes is lacking when in describing Rashford as able to “cope with pressure” he failed to mention Martial, Mkhitaryan and Lingard. “For me what’s more difficult is the fragile mentality,” the manager says. “It’s probably my weakness that it’s difficult for me to understand people with a different mentality to what I have. It takes me time to understand and sometimes I’m not able to feel attracted again [to the player]. Because for me I want to be in love with the player, with this character, with this personality and that kid Marcus is the best example of it, especially in this club.”

5 Avoid major upheaval

Mourinho is entitled to an if-it-ain’t-broke-just-tweak-it approach given he finishes the season with two major trophies – the EFL Cup and Europa League – and has returned United to the Champions League group stage after Van Gaal’s failure to finish fourth. This is the first time they will not have to play a qualifying tie to enter the competition proper since David Moyes inherited Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions of 2012‑13. The Europa League success means Mourinho has now won four European trophies – two Champions Leagues and two Uefa Cups/Europa Leagues. “I think he just knows,” Rooney says. “Having this season with him, I’ve seen how he works. I feel we’re progressing as a team and a club, and I’m sure there’ll be many more.”

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