Friday 18 May 2018
How we should judge Jose's second season at Old Trafford
Of course, the season is not yet done - we've got one big job left before we can rest up and think of Russia, but that would be my three word review of this campaign - progression not success. Even winning the FA Cup would not alter that perspective. Most clubs and most fanbases would be delighted with a term that sees their side finish as runners up with a trophy thrown in for good measure - but we are not "most clubs". Anything less than either a league title or a run deep into the Champions League - or at the very least coming close to winning both - has to be viewed as disappointing when you happen to be Manchester United. Second is satisfactory but certainly not a success. Standards are high - perhaps maybe too much so - but that comes with the territory at United.
In the boss's settling-in season, we won two trophies but could only pilfer a sixth-placed finish in the league. This time around, the Premier League season has been much better but yet we remain in danger of going empty handed. If that's the case and we lose the cup final, then in many ways 2016-17 will be viewed in a better light as 2017-18 - despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Strange times indeed.
It's been our best post Sir-Alex season (you only have to glance at the league table to see that), but also a case of what might have been. It's true that, as much as it pains me to say it, there's absolutely no disgrace in finishing second to a simply sublime Manchester City team, who smashed every record going on route to becoming the Premier League's first centurions. But we were a distant second and failed to build on a two-month blitz that saw us storm to the summit and win 4-0 six times in the first eleven games. Defeats to Bristol City in the EFL Cup, and shock losses to all three promoted sides - Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton - not to mention the unpalatable and shambolic mess that was our two-legged Champions League tie with Sevilla - epitomised the inconsistent nature of our season. Especially set against the brilliant climb-off-the-canvas comebacks at Palace and City, and the victories over each of the top six sides - something we've not done in a single campaign since 2011. We've been too inconsistent, dropping 14 points against the league's lesser lights - 14 points that, if converted into victory, would have seen finish a mere five points behind City. There's also a case that we've been unlucky - we ended up with 81 points. Usually with that, you wouldn't expect to be 19 points behind the champions. Take nothing away from City but it's been a freak season for them - a season which comes along once in a lifetime. In any other campaign we'd have been a lot closer.
It's been a season that offered plenty of promise but one that threatens to deliver very little - let's go out and become FA Cup world champions of the universe and end a Jekyll-and-Hyde year on a high.