Manchester City claimed the Premier League title on Sunday, but perhaps it said much about Manchester United’s campaign that it was the Red Devils’ defeat to West Bromwich Albion which clinched the trophy for Pep Guardiola’s side.
United’s season has been a case of nearlies. They have beaten every other team in the league, and had seemingly thrown a late curveball in City’s title procession by coming from two down to win 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium last week only to then undo their good work against the Baggies.
Jose Mourinho has cut a bemused manager at times, but he was identified by many as the reason for his side’s exit from the Champions League to Sevilla in the round of 16 in March. On the pitch, there may have been a number of players that have frustrated but there have also been some stand-out stars.
Paul Pogba might have gone off the boil lately, but before the New Year he was fantastic. His performances against the likes of Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal were among the individual highlights of United’s 2017-18, while Nemanja Matic’s impact in the early part of the campaign gave United a new dimension.
Ashley Young has surprisingly made the left-back spot his own with his consistency, while Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have gone through phases of excellence too.
However, Goal has selected United’s top three performers of the 2017-18 season and, given there were some incredibly close calls, feel free to join the debate in the comment box at the bottom of the page!
3. JESSE LINGARD
“He could have played in my era… In my Man Utd team,” said Rio Ferdinand of Jesse Lingard recently. “He’s that good, he would have been a player so involved in that team.”
Lingard has taken his game to another level at times this term, and has been United’s best No.10 for long spells. Having become a figure of fun in some parts since his promotion to the first team, his performances in 2017-18 have made him one of United’s most irreplaceable players.
Doubles against Swansea City, Arsenal and Burnley came during a spell towards the turn of the year which exemplified his staggering rise. Such were his performances at that time that the writing was on the wall for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who had started the season as the first choice in the 10 position behind Romelu Lukaku before he was shipped off to Arsenal.
Although Lingard saw his regular spot in the side threatened by the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, the Warrington native has continued to play a major part in Mourinho’s thinking, and his 13 goals so far outnumber every player other than Lukaku in the United squad.
Far from being a Pogba sidekick, Lingard has truly broken out as his own man in a marvellous individual campaign.
2. ROMELU LUKAKU
There were few people doubting his ability to score goals when he arrived at Old Trafford, but many wondered whether Lukaku would be able to refine his game to a point where he could be considered a complete striker for Manchester United.
However, he has been a runaway success for the majority of the campaign, with his all-round game showing significant improvement since the turn of the year.
He started like a house on fire, scoring 11 times in his first 10 games for the club, but a lull through the autumn had many worried about his long-term viability. Yet he has added a real work rate in the channels and improved his performances with his back to goal, and his goal return has also shown a consistency in recent months.
Crucial goals against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, as well as the FA Cup wins against Huddersfield and Brighton, have come during a spell of 11 in 15 games at the crunch time of United’s run-in. As a replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he has ticked every single box and only looks likely to improve even more after taking his United tally to 26 goals thus far.
1. DAVID DE GEA
Mourinho was perturbed to say the least about David de Gea’s three successive Player of the Year awards between 2013 and 2016, saying last season: “When, season after season, the goalkeeper is Player of the Season, it means that something is wrong. Hopefully he’s not Player of the Season this season but hopefully he keeps making important saves.”
The manager got his wish last term, with De Gea’s lack of involvement in the successful Europa League run helping to ensure that he wouldn’t grab the highlights in the same way in 2016-17. However, it has been a reversion to type this time around, with the Spaniard producing some phenomenal performances at crucial times in a season which has proved that United still have plenty to do to stem the flow of opportunities being offered up in their own box.
His stunning display at Arsenal in December saw him make a total of 14 saves including an incredible double stop to keep out Alexandre Lacazette with a lightning-fast right-handed save and then Alexis with an outstretched boot from the loose ball. A pair of wonderful reflex saves away to Sevilla also helped to keep United alive for longer than they perhaps deserved in their Champions League tie in February.
Even in the 3-2 comeback wins at Crystal Palace and Manchester City in February and March, there might have been no victory at the end of the game but for sensational stops by De Gea, with Christian Benteke denied by a particularly stunning effort at Selhurst Park and Sergio Aguero’s header being no match for the 27-year-old.
Like most summers, United’s biggest bit of transfer business might well be in keeping De Gea at the club. His 16 clean sheets top the Premier League ranks, and his reputation as the world’s very best goalkeeper has only increased over the course of 2017-18.