Manchester United battled long and hard in the 2017-18 season. But, which deals impacted them the most? The Hard Tackle takes a closer look.
The 2017-18 season was one that saw Manchester United promise a lot, but disappoint in equal measure. While they finished second on the Premier League table and showed a lot of progress in league football, the cup competitions domestically and Europe gave their fair share of lows.
Playing a major role over the course of a long, winding season were the players who were signed by Jose Mourinho last summer and in January, while some players who left the gates of Old Trafford left some sort of an impact as well.
The Hard Tackles takes a look at the three deals that impacted Manchester United the most over the course of the 2017-18 season, both in a negative and positive way. Here’s our list of such players.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had left a huge void in his wake after sustaining a long-term knee injury. While the Swedish superstar was later re-signed by Manchester United, he would only last a couple of games into his comeback before making his way to Major League Soccer to join LA Galaxy.
With Wayne Rooney no longer the feared force that he once was, and on the exit trail himself, Mourinho needed someone to take over the mantle of being the leader of the Manchester United. And, he found that in Romelu Lukaku, a player he once famously sold when in-charge of Chelsea.
Coincidentally, the Blues had also been in the race to sign Lukaku, but were beaten by their rivals in pursuit of the player. Meanwhile, the Belgian powerhouse seemed to have acclimatised to life at Old Trafford quickly, scoring goals aplenty before disaster struck.
There was a period of lull when Lukaku seemed to have been struck by self doubt, and the goals dried up. But, he soon picked himself up and returned to form, with not just the goals coming back, but his hold-up play improving massively which, in particular, has seen him banish talks of him being a flat-track bully and become a factor in big games.
Lukaku eventually ended the season with 27 goals and 9 assists and while he didn’t exactly set the stage on fire, the Belgian striker has certainly set the base for further success with Manchester United while well and truly taking over from Ibrahimovic.
If losing the race to sign Lukaku was enough of a cruel blow, Chelsea ended up losing Nemanja Matic to Manchester United to rub salt on top of the wound. The Serb’s sale was apparently not sanctioned by Antonio Conte, and oh did it come back to haunt them over the course of the season.
Matic’s replacement, Tiemoue Bakayoko only ended up settling at Stamford Bridge around the end of the season, which left Conte short-handed in midfield throughout the season. Meanwhile, at Manchester United, the 29-year-old took little time to settle, solving a long-standing problem at the club.
For years, fans had been yearning for a solid defensive midfielder to shore up the middle of the park, and they found just that in Matic. With the ability to hustle opponents, distribute smartly and set the tempo of the game, along with the occasional shot on goal, Manchester United had a midfield dynamo on their hands.
Indeed, Mourinho knew exactly who he was getting when he was reunited with the Serbian international and his consistent presence in the middle did help bring the best out of one Paul Pogba for large parts of the season. With a player like Fred reportedly on his way to Manchester United, Mourinho might just have completed the midfield jigsaw puzzle in two successive summer windows.
The most shocking deal of the season, as far as the Premier League was concerned, was undoubtedly the signing of Alexis Sanchez by Manchester United. That the Chilean was on his way out of Arsenal was common knowledge. But, for the longest time, Manchester City were believed to be the favourites to sign him.
In the end though, Manchester United moved quickly and gave Sanchez a more lucrative deal than their cross town rivals. But, when all was said and done, there was a lot of excitement when he finally arrived at Old Trafford, with his exploits from the 2016-17 season fresh in the fans’ minds.
However, it hasn’t nearly been a bed of roses for Sanchez and Manchester United so far. As the famous saying goes, two’s company, three’s a crowd, and the Chilean’s arrival has done just that, with the left side of attack becoming unnecessarily crowded, which has unsurprisingly stifled the growth of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
The two youngsters have been reduced to bit-part players, with Mourinho left annoyed and frustrated with questions over their lack of involvement since the arrival of Sanchez. Conventional wisdom would suggest all would still be fine if Sanchez had been performing to his full potential.
Alas, that hasn’t been the case, with the Chile international a shell of his domineering best. He has arguably produced just a couple of convincing performances at best, with just one, in particular, that caught the eye, when he created all three goals as Manchester United produced a stunning comeback in the derby against City.
Nothing much to look back on apart from that one outing, though. With a full pre-season to look forward to, Manchester United fans would hope for Sanchez to return to his best. Otherwise, patience will start to wear thin, if Rashford and Martial, the fans’ darlings, continue to fall by the wayside for him.