Manchester United have given Jose Mourinho the green light for important mid-season improvements to a squad competing on four fronts for silverware.
A January transfer budget “in the region of €90million” is an endorsement of the managers achievement in leading United to two major trophies in his first season at the club and United’s strongest start to an English Premier League campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
The Old Trafford board’s support for Mourinho’s efforts to prevent a Manchester City squad enriched by unprecedented spending on transfer fees and salaries from taking the title is also seen as an indication that it will extend the 54-year-old’s contract as manager.
Discussions are understood to have taken place between the club and Mourinho’s agent on renewing a deal that expires in 2019.
Of more importance to the Portuguese coach is accelerating the structural improvement of a squad that enters this weekend’s Manchester derby eight points behind City despite scoring 35 times in 15 Premier League fixtures and posting the division’s best defensive record.
Mourinho is conscious that Pep Guardiola is pushing City to spend in January on defensive reinforcements with a second bid for Alexis Sanchez also under consideration.
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Mourinho has identified three principal weak points in his current squad: left back, winger and central midfield.
No one has managed to consistently hold down a position on the left side of United’s defence since the club lost Patrice Evra to Juventus in 2014; and current first-choice, the 32-year-old Ashley Young, is out of contract at the end of this season.
The group is also short of a specialist winger with pace. Mourinho usually divides starting duties on the left side of his attack between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both right-footed attackers whose preference is for a more central role. Adding a left-footed wideman would increase the team’s tactical options.
Injuries and medical problems suffered by Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick have significantly constrained Mourinho’s midfield strategy on multiple occasions this season, and are again a critical factor as the manager prepares tactics for the derby.
With Carrick, Fellaini and Herrera all in the final years of their current contracts, the Old Trafford manager wants to strengthen the midfield for the remainder of this campaign and future years.
United’s point return for the first 15 matches of this Premier League season has them on course for a final total of 89 points – in only two of the last 11 years have the division’s champions surpassed that figure been surpassed.
Defensively, Mourinho’s team has conceded fewer goals than any opponent and their goals-for column is the division’s second best.
The defence of the League Cup has reached the quarter-final stage, while United confirmed their place in the knock-out round of the Champions League as Group A winners on Tuesday.
A 2-1 victory over CSKA Moscow matched a club record sequence of 40 games unbeaten at Old Trafford, a run of results in which no opponent has managed to score more than once against them.
Mourinho’s focus, however, is on returning the most important of titles to United. “I’m not proud because we had some bad results at home, we drew matches that are not good results,” Mourinho said last night.
“I’m not playing for records, I don’t want to stay in the books of the history of this club because of records. I want to stay there because we won the Europa League, and it was the first time. I want to stay there because we do more important things than that.”