José Mourinho has been under intense scrutiny over the Christmas period that got heightened even more as he entered a war-of-words with Chelsea boss Antonio Conte over the weekend.

When Manchester United were knocked out by Bristol City in the League Cup in late December, critics were out in full force suggesting that the Portuguese boss is ‘past it’, with some even suggesting that the Red Devils’ Board should look for alternatives.

Football is a fickle world, but it is easy to think that Manchester United are underperforming given Manchester City’s domination and success this season. There is a clear argument to suggest, however, that the Red Devils have considerably improved.

For starters, Manchester United are now second in the Premier League. A year ago, they were sixth and battling ferociously to make it into the top four. Wind forward six months and Mourinho’s men failed miserably domestically and put all of their eggs into the Europa League basket – which fortuitously worked out for them.

Not only is their league position considerably better, but also their style of play. While there is so much criticism about ‘boring Mourinho’ and his tactic of ‘parking the bus’, in fact, the Red Devils have scored the third most amount of goals in the Premier League this season.

It cannot be that boring to watch 45 goals go into the back of the opposition’s net in 22 games. They might not be as free-flowing or clinical as Manchester City, or Liverpool, but they have, by and large, improved in creating chances and scoring goals.

Players showing clear improvement

The easiest counter-argument to make is to say that is what you expect when you pump £300m into the squad over the summer. And, while that is a part of it, it is not the full story.

Mourinho gets an incredibly hard time with his youth record and developing players. He has a reputation to suggest that he only works well with the more senior figures at the clubs he has been at and can easily stifle younger players’ careers.

However, to counteract that statement, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are two players who have improved hugely under the Portuguese boss. While Rashford is going through a small crisis in confidence, he is, overall, in a much better position than he was before Mourinho arrived. Lingard is not as young, but a very late developer and has only really fully matured into a class player this season.

That has been thanks to Mourinho’s guidance, trust and coaching that has made Lingard one of the most consistent performers for Manchester United. The 24-year-old is given the number 10 role and can score when coming off the bench or starting – his away record is phenomenal for United and he has salvaged points for the Red Devils on a regular occurrence.

If the Citizens were not playing at the level they are currently, fans and critics would be viewing Mourinho’s second season in charge as a success, rather than another ‘failure’ in the league. While, of course, there is room for improvement, it is unfair to suggest that, with this squad, Mourinho could realistically challenge for the title and take City all the way until the last remaining fixtures.

Pep Guardiola clearly inherited a better and more equipped side to win the Premier League. Mourinho walked into a Manchester United team that had so many loose ends coming out of it after three years of a disorganised transfer strategy.

No one in England, and possibly Europe, can truly compete with this Man City team, but that does not make Mourinho’s second year in charge of Manchester United a disappointment. They have improved considerably on the pitch with better days to come after securing the players Mourinho needs to kick on to the next level.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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