How many Manchester United players have actually improved under Jose Mourinho?

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho’s third-season crisis has kicked into gear extra early in 2018-19, with Manchester United currently sitting 10th in the Premier League table after losing three of their first seven games of the new campaign.

The club’s below-par start to the season, which has included defeats against Brighton, Tottenham and West Ham, as well as a League Cup exit on penalties to Derby, has led to intense speculation about Mourinho’s future at Old Trafford.

Some people have pointed the finger at the players, with underperforming record-signing Paul Pogba getting much of the blame, but it cannot be denied that Mourinho has not lived up to expectations since succeeding Louis van Gaal in May 2016.

Granted, he led the club to Europa League and League Cup triumphs in 2016-17, then followed it up with a second-placed finish in 2017-18, but the lack of individual improvement throughout the United squad over the last two years is staggering.

In the same amount of time that Mourinho has been at United, Jurgen Klopp has brought the best out of almost every member of his squad, from Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino to Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold and countless others.

Across Manchester at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola has achieved the same results with his City team, with Kyle Walker, John Stones, Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling among the players who have improved under Pep’s leadership.

At Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino can be credited for helping to develop the star names in his squad — Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min being the obvious examples — while new Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri can already be applauded for the form that Eden Hazard is showing early on in 2018-19.

In contrast, as you can see below, the majority of Mourinho’s United players have shown little-to-no improvement since he took over as manager at the start of the 2016-17 season.

David De Gea has kicked on over the last two seasons to maintain his status among the world’s best goalkeepers, so he’s one of the few exceptions. Second-choice goalkeeper Sergio Romero doesn’t play regularly enough for anyone to truly judge if he’s improved under Mourinho.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Eric Lindelof have had trouble finding form at centre-back. Luke Shaw has been better this season but his lack of playing time in the last two campaigns (combined 22 league starts) stalled his improvement. Antonio Valencia? Well, he’s remained a steady influence at right-back but it’d be a stretch to say he’s improved. Matteo Darmian? Marcos Rojo? You’d be forgiven for forgetting they even exist. So that leaves Ashley Young, initially a makeshift left-back, as the only defender who has shown real progression.

Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay have progressed since Mourinho took charge, but it’s telling that none of them are certain starters in the United XI. Supposed star man Paul Pogba has gone backwards since 2016. Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic haven’t been terrible but to say they’ve improved under Mourinho would be very kind. Memphis Depay is the only other one who has shown improvement, but that’s because he left United for Lyon.

As Mourinho showed in a press conference recently, Marcus Rashford has received lots of playing time since 2016, but his lack of minutes as a central striker has raised doubts about how much he can progress under the current regime. Anthony Martial is another whose career is stalling, not progressing. Romelu Lukaku remains a handful and a reliable scorer of goals, just like he was at Everton, but it’s debatable whether he’s actually progressed under Mourinho. As for Alexis Sanchez… well, we’ll just leave it there.

Overall, De Gea, Young, Fellaini, Lingard and McTominay have shown the most progress under Mourinho over the last two seasons, which is an embarrassingly low number of players compared to the rest of the Premier League elite.

And when you consider that De Gea is the only guaranteed starter out of those five players, it’s no wonder people are questioning whether Mourinho is still “The Special One”.

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