As the summer transfer window approaches, Manchester United fans should expect lots of action in the coming months. Jose Mourinho needs to revamp his squad, ultimately ending the Manchester United career of some fringe players. At this time last year, Mourinho needed signings that were statements of intent – Manchester United were back. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba headlined an incoming class that also included Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly. With their first season in England finished, how did Jose’s summer 2016 signings fare?
2016/17 Manchester United Transfer Signings – End of Season Evaluation
The end of the 2015/16 season was very controversial for Manchester United. A string of lifeless performances under Louis Van Gaal saw the Dutchman lose his job despite lifting the FA Cup. One year later, Jose Mourinho finished one spot lower in the Premier League than his predecessor. However, the makeshift Europa League/League Cup/Community Shield treble has a sense of excitement back among Manchester United fans. Jose’s rebuild began by bringing in living legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer. He was soon followed by Bundesliga Player of the Year Henrikh Mkhitaryan, up-and-coming centre back Eric Bailly, and world record transfer Paul Pogba. Each of these players joined the Red Devils intent on leaving their name in the Manchester United history books. But how did they fare in their inaugural campaign?
Understandably, Pogba must have found the transition from playing with Vidal and Pirlo to Marouane Fellaini traumatizing. Nor did he choose his world record fee. However, he too often either went missing or was noticeably bad this season. N’Golo Kante was by far the best midfielder in the league this year, despite having no where near Pogba’s talent. Pogba also demonstrated a bad tendency to try and beat everyone himself when United were down late in games.
Pogba’s performance in the 2-0 win against Chelsea was incredible. He played simple, and commanded the middle of the park all game. He began to adjust physically as the season progressed, and used his body and physical prowess to dominate games. Capped by his strong showing in the Europa League Final, Pogba finished the season well.
This season wasn’t the coming home party the young Frenchman anticipated. However, he did score some important goals and put in some great performances at times. The addition of a competent midfield partner should see Pogba excel next year.
The Armenian international had a rough time adjusting to life in the Premier League. Mkhitaryan is at his best in the number 10 role running at defenses. However, in England he struggled to find those little pockets of space that came so easily to him at Dortmund. The physical defending style of the Premier League caused problems mentally and physically for Mkhitaryan. Numerous injuries and a long stint outside the matchday lineup was not an ideal start to life in Manchester.
The space that Mkhitaryan couldn’t find in the Premier League was found in the Europa League. The playmaker was at his dynamic best throughout competition, and capped off six goals in ten games with his wonderful flick in the final.
In addition, Mkhitaryan won Goal of the Month an incredible five times this season – his scorpion kick against Sunderland being the pick of bunch.
Mkhitaryan showed flashes of his brilliance at times this season, but unfortunately couldn’t impose himself on games consistently. His second season in England should see an improvement as Manchester United look to become less stagnant offensively.
Bailly’s career at Manchester United started perfectly. He quickly endeared himself to the fans with a string of confident, passionate performances at centre back. Unfortunately, he picked up a few injuries along the way which hampered his progress. Bailly also struggled with his temper at times. He found himself in an altercation more than once this season, the last of which saw him sent off and suspended for the Europa League Final.
Bailly has all the makings of a Premier League centre back; fearless in the tackle, good speed, and intelligent positioning. He frequently saved Manchester United with lung-busting runs leading to last ditch tackles, or breaking up counter attacks by slipping in front of the opposing striker to intercept. As Bailly learns the game more, and gets some continuity in the back four, these features will only improve.
Bailly’s strength and stature is so obvious that his timing and decision making often went unnoticed this season. If he is able to control his temper and improve his passing, he could become the real deal. With Mourinho’s history of making good defenders great, Manchester United may have a special talent in the Ivorian.
At 35 years of age Zlatan’s time at Manchester United was already limited. His horrific ACL tear has raised questions about not only his Manchester United career, but his career in general.
What more can be said about the mercurial Swede. 28 goals and 8 assists in all competitions is a sensational output while playing in England, doing it at 35 is unbelievable. He plays 90 minutes every game, and will track back and defend on his last legs. Zlatan brought swagger and arrogance back to Manchester United and thrived on the pressure he put on himself.
The injury ruined the ending to what was a great season for Ibrahimovic. However, Zlatan was as charismatic as ever throughout the entire year. Goals, assists and personality oozed from the Swede as it has for his entire career. If this was his last year in Europe, what better way to end than with his only European trophy.
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – MAY 24: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United celebrates after scoring the second goal with team-mate Paul Pogba (right) during the UEFA Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United at the Friends Arena on May 24, 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden. Manchester United won the match 2-0. (Photo by Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images).