Mourinho's 'Second Season Syndrome' Makes Manchester United EPL Favorites
The phrase 'second season syndrome' is normally used to describe an out-of-form striker after a strong debut campaign, or an underdog team sent back to where they belong, after a year of inflated success - the footballing equivalent of a band's difficult second album.
However, Jose Mourinho, as ever, has his own 'special' interpretation of the term.
Mourinho has never failed to win the domestic title in his second season with any of the teams he has managed in his career. Porto, Inter, Chelsea (on both occasions) and Real Madrid have all enjoyed the Special One's sophomore successes - but will he be able to replicate his unusual pattern once more, in what promises to be one of the most competitive Premier League title races in years?
League success has been absent from Old Trafford since 2012/13 and the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, and the thirst for the fans to see their team lift that trophy again is at a high. The most successful club in English football is not used to waiting, but last season they finished a huge 24 points off title-winning Chelsea way down in sixth.
Improvement from Mourinho's first campaign is needed heading into the new season, especially considering the lack of lethality in front of goal last season, despite the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. United were truly underwhelming, scoring just 54 goals in 38 league games - less than Bournemouth.
United lacked sharpness in front of goal, especially against the lesser lights of the league, which resulted in a staggering 15 draws, and the cause of their poor league position.
Up then, alongside Mourinho is his favoured of seasons, steps Romelu Lukaku; the flat-track bully, the man who can't stop scoring, and the new figure head of United's attack.
Lukaku received criticism last season for his inability to score in the big games, but his record against the bottom half was stellar. Registering hat tricks against Sunderland and Bournemouth, his tally of 25 goals was a career best (20 of which were against teams in the bottom half), and the only way is up for the 24-year-old.
Lukaku emulates the Mourinho signing of Didier Drogba in 2004 from Marseille for £32m. The Chelsea legend was notorious for his brute force and overwhelming physicality, a true target man who could lead the line, hold up play, and ultimately win games by himself with his incredible eye for goal.
The importance of the striker to Mourinho's tactical setup is unquestionable. Mourinho's counter attacking team is based on the pace at which the ball can be transitioned from defence to attack, and a target man is crucial to this. When the ball is cleared defensively, Lukaku will prove to be the outlet for the defence, similar to how Drogba played during both of Mourinho's stints at Chelsea.
To extend the comparisons further, Mourinho has assembled a similar structure of midfield to that initial title winning team. The addition of Michael Essien in the summer of 2005 alongside club legend Frank Lampard created the perfect balance. A disruptor of play combined with a goal scoring midfielder and creator, like ying and yang.
Mourinho will look to deploy Ander Herrera and club record signing Paul Pogba to similar effect, hoping that the addition of Lukaku will inspire the best out of Pogba.
Previous Mourinho teams have blitzed the league with their counter-attacking displays. With Real Madrid in the 2011/12 season, Mourinho led a 100-point team that scored a staggering 121 goals in a single season, toppling even a generation-defining Barcelona.
Many argued at the time that Barcelona's beautiful football was unstoppable, but defensive solidarity and the pace of the barrage that Los Blancos threw forward marked a new era for football. The era of the counter-attack was born, and Mourinho's brand of football truly became world renowned.
With Chelsea now in his sights, Mourinho will be looking to repeat history once more and continue his winning ways in his second season, with all his pieces in place.
Now he has assembled his squad, and a successful pre-season without disruption draws to a close, Mourinho will attempt to return United to the attacking team of old, but under his own branding. For this reason, United are the team to watch this season.