Month in which José Mourinho melts down completely and dares the board to sack him
BM: Mourinho has already slagged off his best players for having the temerity to do well at the World Cup, his bosses for being incompetent, the Premier League for their stupid scheduling, the kids from the reserves for being crap, and his captain for having a holiday. And that’s before the season has even started. Out by “mutual consent” after the first international break in September, at which point we can give it Carras til the end of the season.
JS: December. The short, grey days; the long, cold nights. Fixture congestion, injuries mounting, City’s lead growing. There’s going to be no Christmas cheer on the Red side of Manchester this year.
AT: United are away at City on November 11, and away at Liverpool on December 15. With allowances for skyjacking, those look like the most likely dates. Let’s go for detonation after the first, and defenestration after the second.
Player most likely to be inexplicably excluded from first-team football
JS: It seems pretty clear by now that José Mourinho has his favourites, and Eric Bailly isn’t one of them. The Ivorian missed much of last season for reasons that made perfect sense to the manager, and little to anyone else. It may well be that he’s slightly too adventurous in his positional play to endear himself to such a conservative coach, and I don’t expect that to have changed a great deal over the summer. Hello, Chris Smalling!
AT: The obvious answer here is Anthony Martial, but by now there would be nothing inexplicable about that: Mourinho doesn’t like him. And since we are approaching the end times of the Mourinho empire, we need to look for an appropriately dramatic betrayal. Et tu, Romelu?
BM: For any other manager, marginalizing players as obviously gifted as Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial (and to a lesser extent the curvaceous Luke Shaw) would be inexplicable. But this is José Mourinho. And José Mourinho in his third season at that. This could get wild. The correct answer is clearly Pogba, but I wouldn’t be surprised at someone like Jesse Lingard getting disappeared for no good reason.
Player most likely to make an inexplicable appearance at wing-back
BM: Alexis Sánchez has had a proper summer break and a full preseason for the first time in nearly a decade. He’s been banging in the goals in the warm-up matches, and looks set to return to top form and finally show off his quality. Nailed on to be playing left-back against Spurs later this month.
JS: Working on the logic that Mourinho is much more likely to prefer a workhorse to a flair player at wing-back, I’m going to go with Ander Herrera. With Fred’s arrival likely to have snuffed out all Herrera’s hopes of breaking into United’s midfield this season, we could see him pop up out wide. He’s reasonably quick, sufficiently industrious, and a decent crosser. Think of him as an inverse Philipp Lahm, only much more disappointing.
AT: Lee Grant.
At which stage will United exit the Champions League?
JS: Europe’s premier club competition! Woohoo! Quarterfinals, here we come!
AT: Thinking about it, there’s the opportunity here for United to pull the full Di Matteo. Shamble through to the last 16, change manager, and then skip through to the final in a cloud of relief, as a group of talented footballers remember what it’s like to have fun again. And I for one welcome Europe’s new Carrick overlords.
BM: Group stage, on goal difference.
After Lukaku, who will be United’s second-top scorer?
AT: A thrilling race for double figures between Alexis Sánchez, Marcus Rashford, and Juan Mata will end in farcical fashion when Anthony Martial, liberated under Michael Carrick, rattles home 15 goals in the last 16 games of the season, revealing a HAVE THAT, JOSE t-shirt after each one.
BM: A high profile goal-scoring midfielder coming off the back of a successful World Cup with a new contract and the unwavering trust and support of the manager — Marouane mother effing Fellaini.
Player of the season?
AT: Imagine if it were Paul Pogba. How good that would be. How much fun that would be. Just imagine it. As a treat. A treat to yourself. You’ve earned. Go on. There. Pretty good, eh?
It’ll be De Gea, obviously. But still, we’ll always have that moment.
BM: David De Gea is the only unquestionable world class player in the squad. Paul Pogba has the potential to be the best midfielder on the planet. Romelu Lukaku has improved every year, and could well score upwards of 30 goals this season.
But wait until Nemanja Matić is deployed at center back during the inevitable injury crisis. He’s going to be a revelation.