As Palace prepare themselves for their second trip to Manchester in as many weeks, TEB had a chat with United fan Doc Joshi to find out all the latest from Old Trafford.
Q. What did you make of last season for United?
Jose Mourinho’s debut season was by no means perfect but he ended up with two major trophies (although he would argue three) and qualified for the Champions League. He achieved his goal so in the end we have to be satisfied. I was lucky enough to attend the League Cup Final at Wembley and there is no better feeling than winning trophies and I would take winning the Europa League over finishing fourth every time. Obviously, we want to be winning league titles but given the state of transition the squad was in, two trophies was a very good return.
On the flip side, we did not play a thrilling brand of football and we were heavily reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the supporting forwards did not contribute as much as they perhaps should have. We were not a great side to watch and that is something the fans can only tolerate for so long. It is something that Mourinho will need to rectify in order to fully win over his most hardened critics (and there are still many floating about). He will always be a pragmatic manager but his teams in the past have been excellent at scoring goals. His first spell at Chelsea, his Inter Milan and Real Madrid sides were all supreme goal getters. We want to see that side of Mourinho this season.
Q. How was the summer transfer window for the club and were the problem areas addressed in your opinion?
Overall, I think it was a very decent summer. A hallmark of Mourinho’s two summer transfer windows has been the clear strategy to improve areas of the team that were considered weak. With Zlatan and Wayne Rooney leaving the club it was paramount that we signed a top level striker to replace the goals. Romelu Lukaku is that man and he has started extremely well.
Victor Lindelof was brought in to provide high level competition at centre back as we looked vulnerable at times there despite having one of the best defensive records in the league. He is being eased into the side which is no surprise as it is probably the most difficult position to adapt to as a player and you cannot really argue with the form shown by Phil Jones and Eric Bailly so far this season.
Nemanja Matic has slotted in beautifully to the midfield and makes me wonder why Chelsea fans did not rate him. He has been one of our outstanding performers so far this season. Perhaps he just needed a fresh start or maybe the role he has been given by Mourinho is different. Either way, it has been to our benefit. It was widely reported that Jose wanted a traditional wing man to add further options in the squad. As it stands, we do not have a player who will stay wide, beat a man and whip in a cross. Ivan Perisic was the main target and he certainly fits that bill as well as possessing the physical attributes that Mourinho likes. Ultimately, we did not sign him so whilst it was a very decent summer it was not perfect.
Q. What are fans expecting from the club this season?
Hmm, there is a difference between “expecting” and “hoping”. I think most of us are hoping we win the league. I am not sure we are necessarily “expecting” to do that but we do expect at least a serious title challenge. The money spent on new players means that we have no real excuses for not challenging for the title and certainly the squad is capable of that. In terms of the season being considered a success, we have to win a trophy. Given the size of the club and the money spent, it is simply not a successful season unless you end up with some silverware.
Q. If you had to pick one competition to concentrate on, which one would it be?
The Premier League. For me it is always the number one priority and right now that is even more true. It has been four seasons since we last won it so we miss it and that should be the number one target.
Winning the league for me is the best barometer of the quality of a side. That requires consistency across thirty-eight games and the best team will win it. Even when Leicester City won it, there can be no arguments that they were the best side in the league. Even if that was largely due to other sides not playing to their potential, Leicester exceeded theirs and played well enough and consistently enough to bring home a title. The Champions League, whilst extremely prestigious, is a cup competition and so can be prone to shock results although there have not been too many of those in recent years. The league is the bread and butter though and winning it should be our main goal.
Q. A lot of clubs have struggled with atmosphere in recent year. How has it been at United and do you think the introduction of safe standing would go a long way to helping bring it back?
There are a few issues here. Personally, I think the atmosphere has been decent at Old Trafford, certainly in comparison to the other big stadiums. It does get a bad reputation but I have rarely had a poor time when I have been.
The problem is that the acoustics are not great so when you are in one end you cannot really hear the other end that well. Add to that the fact that it is so big you invariably have lots of different songs going on at one time. So you may not hear the ground singing in one voice but there are lots of pockets of good atmosphere. That said, when it does get going as a whole stadium it is a wonderful sound and when you look at the overall song book there are loads there for people to get behind so this adds to the atmosphere which is contrast to other clubs that have a song book of five generic chants!
Safe standing will help to improve the atmosphere but it is not going to be an instant solution. The atmosphere depends on many things and therefore there is no single answer. I am definitely a supporter of safe standing and if it does get introduced I will want to check it out.
Q. With City looking strong this season, it look like being quite a battle between the Manchester clubs. Do you see them as your main challengers this season?
Given their expenditure and the way they have started the season, City are favourites for the title. They have a plethora of options in attack and have spent over £100million sorting out their full backs which are extremely important for Pep Guardiola’s system.
I am not trying to portray United as underdogs here, similar things could be said about our squad. We have spent a lot of money too and have also started extremely well. I just think, at this moment in time, City’s attacking unit looks like they might just give them the edge.
The signs are that the two Manchester clubs will be the main runners for the title but it is early days yet and Chelsea are looking like their imperious selves from last season with Alvaro Morata giving them a different dimension. In our favour is the fact that Old Trafford is a fortress and teams will have to play exceptionally well to beat us there. Hopefully we turn the many draws we got there last season into wins this year and the early signs are good. The potential long term loss of Paul Pogba (unknown at time of writing) will be very hard to deal with. Any side would miss their best player but that is why we have a squad. Hopefully they can cope during his lay off and he can come back to lead the charge for the title.
Q. Explain in no more than 140 characters how the last ten years have been for the football the club.
At the end of this season it’ll be half a decade without Fergie & 10 yrs since we won the PL & CL double. Almost like a game of two halves?!
Q. Name one player from EACH side that you think the opposition should consider a real threat.
Palace will be wary of the threat from all over the pitch. We have plenty of dangerous players but I will pick out the obvious one in Lukaku. I have to say, he has surprised me. He is better than I expected and has started with eight goals in eight games. Not too shabby!
He still has areas he needs to improve but his overall play is better than he has been given credit for. His movement, pace and work rate creates space for the supporting attackers to exploit and we have seen Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mikhytaryan, Juan Mata and Pogba flourish. Playing with higher quality players than he did at Everton and West Bromwich Albion will only help his development and he is certainly confident enough to not let mistakes bring him down (like a missed penalty against Leicester for example).
In contrast, Palace’s most dangerous players are fitness doubts ahead of the game. Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke are both rated as doubtful so the next two players that might cause us problems are Andros Townsend and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It has been a tough start for Palace and an away trip to Old Trafford is probably not what they need right now. Mourinho will make sure that United always respect the opposition but he will know that this is a match we should be winning.
Q. Your prediction?
Sorry guys, but I think it is going to be a difficult afternoon for Palace. The main hope they have is that United have a midweek trip to Russia in the Champions League and might return a bit fatigued. That said, United have a deep squad so any issues from that trip will hopefully be covered at the weekend by the depth in the squad. Final Score: 3-1 to United.
Q. Please tell us about any fan sites that you are involved in or any that you suggest fans should check out.
Check out my website to see the work I am involved in across sports, healthcare and technology. From a sports writing perspective, I write for The Sportsman and various football blogs. I also feature regularly on the Full Time Devils YouTube channel and various podcasts, all of which can be found on my website.