If it’s one thing that Man United is not short on, it’s choice. The have choices in virtually every position on the field that comes as a blessing and a curse. Undoubtedly, the choices made by Jose Mourinho this season, in both personnel and the frequency with which he utilises his available personnel, will go a long way in determining the Red Devils’ finish this season.
His decisions to make could be seen as straightforward, that is the idea that he should play the best team available to him and the rest will fall into place. However, it has been seen countless times before, the best team wins and not the best eleven individuals. So far the talented Henrikh Mkhitaryan has yet to start in the Premier league and yet Man United have eased their way to three wins from three. He will undoubtedly slot into the team and it is presumed that he will then hold onto his spot. He could become a real star in the league. However, the team is performing well as is, right now. This is the best thing Man United could hope for at the present moment. They can still have a potential star in reserve while still possessing the quality to win matches fairly comfortably. Tougher tests than Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City await, beginning with Man City next, and this is when a man that has slowly been integrated into the team rather than thrust into it, as Memphis Depay was, will be needed. His influence from anywhere in the attacking midfield three will be a valuable counter to Man City’s own powerhouse options, which includes fast starter Nolito, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and the rejuvenated Raheem Sterling.
There would be few to predict Marouane Fellaini as still being a Manchester United player in September 2016 and even fewer as a starter of all three matches thus far. This is the world we live in though and the Belgian has acquitted himself well. He isn’t the scapegoat yet. However, his current injury is an opening for Michael Carrick and Morgan Schneiderlin.
At the back it was expected that Daley Blind would be peripheral to Mourinho’s plans if he even remained at the club. That is based on the Portuguese’s pronouncements that he liked specialists. At best, Blind could hope for a utility role in relief in midfield, and his two preferred positions in the backline. No, the blond Dutchman has confirmed what the discerning already knew. He’s the most intelligent and quite possibly the best defender at the club. Imagine what he would be with natural quickness. His brain is quick and that holds a spot over Chris Smalling and the others for now.
Mourinho has a large squad to manage and he is not generally known for his rotation. Once he finds a star player, this player usually plays into submission once fit. This approach won’t work; not while keeping everybody relatively happy and content. Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera, Carrick, Juan Mata, Mkhitaryan, Smalling, Eric Bailly, Marcus Rashford and co. will all be hungry for playing time for their own careers. The Europa league and other cup competitions must be used effectively, for we know morale will make or break Mourinho. He can’t afford to allow the mood to become negative, not again.
This will perhaps be his greatest challenge in Manchester. He has the squad. He has Wayne Rooney to worry about. He will need Rafa Benitez-like man management skills to keep everyone motivated. Only a few can be allowed to feel peripheral to the project.
How will he give Rooney enough playing time whilst keeping Juan Mata happy? Is Wayne the number 10 you want? Is Mata? Should it be Mkhitaryan, which allows Jesse Lingard to get a look in? How long will he persist with the slow starting Anthony Martial (who scored for France against Italy during the international break)? What three will work at Bournemouth, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, Leicester or Burnley? Which three gives you the best balance of attack and defense? Which creates the most chances? Who works well with Rashford? Will Rashford play alongside Zlatan or on his own? Should Rooney be managed to lengthen his career and minimise injury risk? These are questions that Mourinho needs to answer very well.
The Premier league is stacked more than it has been for quite some time, both player-wise and managerial. The league will be won by the best managerial performance just as much as the best players. For players alone, Man United do not lack but they are perhaps superseded by Man City for sheer attacking might. This means finding the best combinations, particularly in the midfield two and across the front three, will be paramount to a successful title challenge and good competition on all fronts.
Mourinho finds himself in a good position, beginning with the best goalkeeper in the league and ending with the most confident forward in the world; not named Nicklas Bendtner and (still) Mario Balotelli. How he manages his resources more than any other manager could mean the difference between third place and another trophy.
We all await to see how this unfolds, and the analysis and scrutiny of this glut of choices will be elevated accordingly.