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Manchester United 2017-18 Season Report Cards

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The Busby Babe writers review the season and assign grades.

Brent Maximin

Before the season had started, most of us would have taken second place in the league and a place in the FA Cup final as a reasonably acceptable finish to the season. Not impressive by any means, but at least better than the wholly unacceptable sixth place of last season. But context is everything, and even though United were the second best team in the league, Jose Mourinho’s Reds were a million points (figuratively, just) behind the eventual winners, and just as far off in terms of style and playing identity. Each of the cups brought its own shambles of an exit, and if last summer’s silver lining was “at least we finally have a manager who knows what he’s doing,” this summer...well...some of us are no longer quite so hopeful. Still, there’s something to be said for the occasional entertaining performances, even if the 4-0 wins of August and September seems like eons ago. And United did show that they can beat the big teams in the league, even if those victories came at a team when any title hopes had long been dead.

All in all, simply not good enough.

Final grade: C+

Colin Damms

Second place in the context of the post-Sir Alex era is an accomplishment, but there a serious lack of competitiveness in the cups and Champions League. Losing to Bristol is just unacceptable. The Sevilla tie might the worst I’ve ever seen United play in a Champions League game. Even David Moyes went after Bayern Munich. The FA Cup run was a bit more exciting, but the final perfectly summed up the way Mourinho’s men played all season.

The Premier League, on the other hand, wasn’t always bad. United played some damn good football at times, and if there’s anything good to take away from the season it would be the increase in goals and wins. Over 100 goals scored in all competitions, and 25 wins and 81 points in the league. The side are starting to do away with bad draws, but some of those have been replaced with bad losses. United can’t lose to sides like West Brom, Brighton, and Huddersfield to name a few.

If I had to pick a gif to sum up the season it would be the Roy Hodgson gif from the 2014 World Cup. Because, like England, United have continually shown a lot of promise over the past few seasons only to be followed by disappointment.

I’m excited for next season, and I do believe this team is just a few ticks away from being an actual team that understands each other. Until then, Mourinho has his work cut out for him before he loses the fans and the board.

Final Grade: B-

Vinciane Ngomsi

What can be said about this season that my fellow contributors haven’t already expressed? Met with the esteemed expectations, I imagined Manchester United would have healthy competition for league champions, but I didn’t expect for our neighbors to run away with the title before the festive fixtures. The impressive wins at the start of the year pale in comparison to the embarrassing losses that soon followed. Even though we improved on our habit of late equalisers from less than successful, our defense against those same clubs was depressing. Furthermore, we relied heavily on David De Gea to bail us out of defeat more times one can count.

As soon as we faced our first league defeat to Huddersfield Town and subsequent string of injuries with Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Michael Carrick, I knew our chances of Premier League and European dominance were thin. It’s remarkable that given the successful season some our fellow Big Six teams had, we still managed to close the year in second place. Anything less, I too would be calling for our manager’s dismissal.

Mourinho’s men didn’t completely falter when down one or two goals, however. The remarkable come from behind wins against both Chelsea and Manchester City serve as a reminder that when properly managed, our starting XI remain focused on the task at hand of leaving the pitch three points in our favor.

Should Jose Mourinho honor his promise of a summer transfer “overhaul,” I think we’ll witness another Sir Alex Ferguson-era team that induces fear into our opposition the moment they enter Old Trafford. In order to reach that level of rivalry, however, we must sell club favorites who have fallen out of form in order to make room for a new era of Red Devil dominance.

Final Grade: B-

Tom Britten

Jose Mourinho feels like he’s been Manchester United manager for a decade already, and that’s both a compliment and a criticism. Transfers last summer looked to solve another layer of outstanding issues and, in many ways, they were successful. Romelu Lukaku’s goals and intelligence leading the line helped them to second along with Nemanja Matic’s calmness in midfield. The defence, however, remained largely unchanged with Victor Lindelöf’s sparse impact the only new face. Worryingly, Paul Pogba, United’s best outfield player, one who you’d mould a team around and give the armband to, has suffered an alarming drop in levels and has since seemingly fallen out with the manager. Mourinho reportedly said to his squad after the loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup final that any passengers can go – and he’s right. United’s continued rebuild will only be successful with everyone on board. Unfortunately, in two seasons and two summer windows, Mourinho feels like he’s as many plates wobbling as when he started – major work is needed in upgrading the defence and, to a lesser extent, midfield. On top of that, a forward line that looked in good shape in 2017 suffered a curveball in 2018 with the arrival of Alexis Sánchez who immediately struggled and compromised others, most notably Anthony Martial.

Despite all that, United have gone from sixth to comfortably second in the league. Furthermore, United’s top six record, the go-to stick for beating the manager with, was answered – curiously during their most restless period of the campaign. Whereas the previous season all eggs were navigated into two cups, league position this term was – in terms of progress – vastly more important. United have also eventually settled into a formation that should complement all personnel.

Most United fans would have taken second even before mention of City hitting 100 points. The fears many fans have, though, is that old problems are resurfacing for United and Mourinho. United regularly look disinterested with few able to drive the side on, meanwhile doubts about Mourinho are seeping in because all of the above is on him now and his team have finished the season as stodgy and stilted as ever.

What everyone can agree on is Mourinho has another season to effect change sufficiently. Winning the league might be a big ask faced with the same again, but going further in the Champions League and, crucially, finding some identity, joy and showing collective spirit consistently will be needed. Hopefully the grass is greener this time next year, rather than the remains of a wildfire – because if this job is bigger than Mourinho, expectations will need dialling back further still.

Final grade: C+

Kevin Carpenter

There are at least five positions in this Manchester United side that still need considerable strengthening. And that’s primarily why I fall on the glass-is-half-full side of the ledger regarding this past season. The Reds finished a strong second in the Premier League and nearly add the FA Cup with such a flawed squad.

Jose Mourinho usually opts for quality over quantity in the transfer market -- and he needs to get the balance right this summer. Even a few more top-class players should move this rebuild into its final stages.

Most of all, they must show more ruthlessness and creativity when facing the lesser sides. That’s where Premier League titles are won and lost. United still throw away too many points against parked buses.

It’s never fun finishing second (especially to Manchester City), but jumping up four spots in the table is tangible progress. Add in the club’s clear improvement against the rest of the top six and there’s a lot of reason for optimism.

But trophies are the name of the game and Manchester United didn’t win any in 2017/18. That needs to change next season.

Final grade: B-

Andi Thomas

Your football club being managed by Mourinho. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

There’s a constant demand for close attention. For you, the poor innocent watcher of Manchester United, to try to work out what the hell’s going on. To try to find a reason for this (surely quite good?) player’s exile, or that (bit rubbish, no?) player’s first-team tenure. To discern some kind of pattern in the way the team move. To locate some kind of sense in the post-match ramblings. And all the while, you’re constantly being undermined by the nagging suspicion that there are no good reasons. Not for any of it.

It’s been a season of improvement. United went from fifth place to second, a whole five points closer to first. There were ten games back at the beginning of the season that were pretty good, and there were a couple of nice results towards the end. A couple of players had standout years: Jesse Lingard looks a United player, at last, and so does Romelu Lukaku. Ashley Young has worked his way back into the England squad. And David de Gea remains the best.

And yet, what a slog it all was. The problem with a boring football team is that improvement can feels hollow. A big, bland points total is just an exercise in accountancy. An FA Cup run feels strangely underwhelming, if you wake up on the morning of the final and realise that the more boring the game, the more likely United are to win it. Then, of course, they couldn’t even manage that. When it came to saving the season, they weren’t even good enough at being boring.

We are spending precious chunks of our only lives on earth watching this side, and much more than that talking, thinking, writing, arguing, theorising, joking, laughing, shouting, and despairing about it. And by the end of the season, every single aspect of this existence felt like a chore. Even the despair. The team were playing boring, incoherent football, and the manager was talking patronising, incoherent nonsense.

Comparisons with other teams are always tricky things, because though football clubs compete against one another, they are each their own peculiar culture with their own standards, expectations, and dynamics. And of course, complaints from a United perspective are the very height of entitled whining, when set against clubs that have had properly miserable seasons, or exist under some kind of existential threat.

But United do have direct competitors, and this season, every single person associated with every other club in the top four has had far, far more fun. Whether that’s the players and managers, or the fans, they’ve all had a good time, and that good time has brought optimism for more good times in the future. United have had … well, it’s been a time, and it looks like it’s going to continue to be a time right up until the point it all falls over. Or implodes. Or both.

Final Grade: D

Simon Winter

Labelling Manchester United’s second season under Jose Mourinho as “progressive” almost sounds a little apologetic - like we should humbly accept improved numbers as some sort of consolation prize for being bored off our t*ts for the majority of the season.

Without trying to appear grandiose or get all bigger picture on you, enjoyment should be the number one target for football fans (especially at these prices). Unfortunately, Jose Mourinho is a good-times black hole. He is bending every inch of himself towards ruining your weekend, every weekend – and it’s getting worse.

All of our pre-appointment concerns about Jose Mourinho are starting to push their ugly heads to the surface, one by one. Boring style of play? Check. Marginalisation of young players? Check. Throwing other players under the bus? Check. Being a complete miserable b*stard? Check.

This is all textbook Mourinho. He had been hiding under a thin veneer, swallowing his acid under the guise of a shift in character. He’d have to do things differently at Man Utd wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t do that here. Sir Bobby wouldn’t let him.

United have so rarely played on the front foot this season, and though they have won a lot of games (37 of their 55 in all competitions), matches have been swung by sporadic moments of individual brilliance rather than collective ingenuity. De Gea saves, Lukaku scores and the rest run around in between.

United’s performances and results against their direct rivals hinted that there is a good team in there somewhere gnawing at their shackles, but even those victories were won in the style of the scrappy underdog more often than not.

Of course, the boredom is tougher to take when you are watching your rivals have the time of their lives. The tedium takes its toll - more than once this season, I have been knocked out of a semi-conscious stupor by a United goal. Isn’t that horrible?

A second-place finish without playing particularly well would be a terrific platform to build upon if it felt like an improvement in the actual football was forthcoming. But it’s not, is it?

Final Grade: C-

Zack Brisson

Contrary to other opinions here and elsewhere in the footballing world, I think that this season was a massive improvement and was obviously the best since SAF left. Taking everything into account, Mourinho has really turned this United team around. However, I get it, second place and Europa League trophies are not quite good enough and it takes but one look at Guardiola’s Man City to see how far behind we are from them. But let this serve as a reminder that when Jose took the helm, the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Wayne Rooney were the top choices for midfield, who are now playing in MLS or for Everton, respectively. Pep already had the likes of Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne, and David Silva at his disposal when he took over. In just two seasons, Jose has brought in Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, who was arguably United’s best player this season, and is not looking to stop anytime soon.

Jose had a big job to do and it is far from over. The defence is in shambles with Jones and Smalling getting the majority of the nods this season, Paul Pogba is still inconsistent, and there is still no true right winger to be found. There were also times where we would lose to the three promoted teams and the Man United passion we all know and love was absent. But, there were some shimmers of hope from this term. With a healthy Eric Bailly, United can actually attack well and win 4-0, Jose is still tactically minded enough to beat other top 6 sides, and there was never a doubt that Champions League football would be a reality. There was a time where none of these were true under Moyes and van Gaal.

Listen folks, United are frustrating to watch and sometimes feel like a lifeless squad. I agree that this season left a lot to be desired, but I also cannot deny the fact that this United team has given me more celebratory times than any other squad since SAF. Rebuilding can’t be completed in just one or two seasons and I feel that Jose has United going in the right direction.

Final Grade: B+

Jonny Sutherland

Many Manchester United fans would’ve seen a second place finish, a FA Cup final and Champions League football as a positive season, and certainly an improvement on the past few years of misery and ridicule. Second place in the Premier League typically signifies a title challenge and usually a closely contested battle between the big hitters. However, this season has been far from it. It is almost impossible to have regarded Manchester United serious title contenders ever since the noisy neighbors grabbed all three points at Old Trafford back in December. Hats off to Pep and the Blue side of Manchester for wiping the floor of all competition this season (painful as it is to say).

United’s start to the season promised so much. Paul Pogba was flying, the addition of Romelu Lukaku looked superb, and the Reds were playing sensational attacking football. For me, the catalyst in what we could expect from Mourinho’s playing style was when United travelled to Anfield and held Liverpool to a tedious goalless draw. The manager’s defensive mindedness in these big games, and even against lesser sides grew as the season progressed, and I believe a majority of supporters took offense to this style of play.

The reasoning behind my positivity in the season, is that there were glimpses of old United. Beating Arsenal 3-1 away (thank you David De Gea), beating Liverpool and Chelsea at home, and the famous comeback against Manchester City to prevent them winning the title on that day, all remind fans just how good this side can be.

I believe frustration is one element of the season. Once again I hate to say it, but Manchester City were too good this year for the Reds to challenge for the title. Yet, the disappointment in the Champions League campaign, and the heartbreak of an FA Cup final loss begs questions about the hunger and fight of this side. Yes, we have elements that need to be addressed; a solid and consistent center-back pairing, possible replacements for the ageing Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia and a more dependable and dynamic front three, but the mindset of these players and management to be genuinely entertaining and successful like teams of latter years is what the fans crave.

Final Grade: C+

Jack Sargeant

José Mourinho’s arrival at Manchester United a couple of years ago just felt right. Here was a man with a proven track record of whipping underperforming teams into occasionally absurd overperformance, a result of his uncanny ability to squeeze every ounce of commitment from the players at his disposal. Two seasons later, however, and a Premier League title scarcely looks any more possible than it did under his predecessor Louis van Gaal. The question that remains is, if it hasn’t clicked by now, will it ever? Has Mou lost his midas touch?

To that end, a lot depends on what will happen next season. Puzzling decisions may be brought into spectacular relief as Mourinho’s Three Season Plan paves the way for United’s 21st Premier League title. Alexis Sánchez could bang in a hatful of goals off the left flank; Fred could prove to be the missing piece of United’s midfield puzzle; Paul Pogba could stop embarrassing us all. In such a case, this season will not go down in history as a lost one, but a moment of sublation in the dialectic of sporting success. It will have served purposes that we cannot yet see.

That, however, is both the generous and the optimistic interpretation. The alternative is that Mourinho has never really worked with long-term plans; he’s an arch-pragmatist that has patched up problems as and when they arose. His success is better characterised by brilliant instinct than complex planning. Exactly what United’s problems are, however, remains unclear to us, and perhaps to him. Sure, we need a centre-back or two, and definitely a left-back, but elsewhere it’s quite difficult to see how immediate improvements could be made.

That all leads us to conclude that United actually should be doing better than they are; that they should now be a devastating counter-attacking unit in the mould of Mourinho’s Chelsea or Inter Milan. The tepid possession football we’ve seen so often throughout the season is worryingly suggestive of the fact that Mourinho has so far been simply unable to put his stamp on this side, and to this writer it’s far from clear that the manager himself knows the way out. We’re trying to stay optimistic, but perhaps against our better judgement.

Final Grade: C