A disappointing 2-1 loss against Sevilla brought a historical Manchester United season to the close on the 16 of August 2020. It’s strange to think that under normal circumstances we would have already kicked off the new season and we are only finishing now. It was definitely a season to remember and forget at the same time if you are a United supporter. There is so much to cover about what has passed and what we need to focus on so let’s dive right into it.
A season of building
I must give Ole credit here in that the squad at the end of the season looks to be in a much better position than in the beginning of the season. Lots of pundits and coaches are calling this the best United team in years with a lot of youth on its side, it is only expected to mature and get better. However, by December the cracks were wide open showing that this squad lacks quality in depth and was missing a player that could unlock defenses. Fernandes was the savior who arrived towards the end of January and is a clear example that it is better to get your busy done early rather than wait until there are problems. What kind of season would United have if they had signed Fernandes in the summer window rather than the winter? Ed Woodward must learn from this and can’t afford to make the same mistake again.
So let’s look at the ins and outs of the season:
- Romelu Lukaku
- Chris Smalling (loan)
- Alexis Sanchez (loan)
- Matteo Darmian
- Ashley Young
- Ander Herrera
- Antonia Valencia
- Marcos Rojo (loan)
- Joel Pereira (loan)
- Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (loan)
- James Wilson
- Daniel James
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka
- Harry Maguire
- Bruno Fernandes (January)
- Odion Ighalo (January – loan)
Overall a step in the right direction. The squad looks a lot more balanced but there is still a big difference in class from the starting lineup to the bench. Something that will have to be addressed this coming transfer window.
Too many what ifs
So a third place finish and three semi-finals. I felt we had to win something season to get the players wanting that winning feeling again and again.
Coming third to the current City and Liverpool and team is no shame, but when you consider all the other teams in the league were in a rebuilding stage too I expected no less if I am honest when you look at our squad on paper. So many close league games that could have gone either way. We should have pushed City and Liverpool more I believe this season. We lacked consistency and had to rely on a late Bruno transfer and a run of good games at the end of the season to get us into a reasonable position otherwise it would have been a season to forget.
Getting knocked out of three semi-finals hurts and is a bit worrying for me. The coaches didn’t quite get it right in any of the games and the players didn’t step up when they needed too. To do all the hard work to get in those positions and then not finish the job is incredibly frustrating and shows a lack of maturity and leadership in the squad for me. Hopefully the lads learnt some harsh lessons this season and take what they have learnt into next season where they are expected to go the next level and not only make finals, but to try and win one.
Injuries in key positions at key times threatened to completely derail the entire season and to a certain degree Covid-19 saved us as we were able to have a fully fit squad for the closing stages. Pogba almost left the reservation, but now seems to be committed again. Shaw is finding form again, but needs to strengthen up and avoid injuries. Martial is turning into a world class centre forward. Maguire has definitely helped our defense and stepped up into the captains role when Young left, but there is still a lot him and Lindelof need to do before being considered world-class. Rashford hit some incredible highs and lows and needs to find consistency. Greenwood was probably the best thing to come out of this season and there is a lot of excitement there. Our wing-backs are looking solid going back but need to offer more going forward. De Gea is a big worry and was at fault for too many key mistakes this season, with the form of Dean Henderson and Romero, Ole will have a big decision to make this summer.
I think this season could be summed up in two words: Lacked Consistency
Too many times where we were the form team and then didn’t get the result we should have. We threatened to be decent team for most of the season but never took it to the next level. Next season we need to find that consistency we lacked.
A record 22 penalties in one season. The butt joke of all rival fans. Thankfully we signed Fernandes in January to convert them as between Pogba, Rashford and Martial they were making a real meal of them all and dropped crucial points from missed penalties. So why so many penalties?
While rival fans would love to say because United has paid the officials, when you reach those sort of numbers there must be bigger and more obvious reason, and it’s not too hard to see it either. United has formed a formidable attacking line filled with pace and skill. Between the likes of Martial, Rashford,Greenwood and Fernandes there are goals everywhere you look. You then add James’s speed and Pogba’s footwork and you can just see that United has become a team that defenders fear these days. It only takes one or two too be on form on the day and you know that if a defender gets isolated that a penalty is in the offering.
United’s counter attacking style does exactly that in isolating defenders and players are forced to lunge and dive in to stop these pace and skill merchants and the amount penalties are the result. You can see defenders are scared off allowing Martial to square them up or to allow Greenwood space to shoot and are getting tight and forcing tackles. This is great going into the new season with rival teams knowing they have to be careful in the box and hopefully offering that extra yard of space for our attackers to take advantage of.
The lack of open play goals in recent weeks will be a concern for Ole, but a look at the amount of shots and opportunities created will speak more to the goalkeepers form against us and our lack of clinical finishing. Something that desperately needs to be addressed which I will cover in my follow up to this.
Ole heading in the right direction, but still under the spotlight
I said when the League ended that I give Ole 6/10 for getting two semi finals and a third place and that I would give him 8/10 if he was able to win the Europa League. Unfortunately, we now know that is not to be so its a 6/10 for me for Ole this season.
The third place sounds great until you realise it is our second lowest EVER points total in the premier league (beating David Moyes total of 64 by two points). So second lowest points total in the league and three semi finals. If this was Chelsea, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Barcelona, Ole would currently be looking for a new job. But United was always in a rebuilding phase this year and the minimum was Champions League which he was able to secure, so Ole will get another year to show what he can truly do.
A great coach is able to get the most out of all his players. I worry in that Ole has only been able to get a lot out of certain players and not of others. Many players in the United squad are international players which means they are not terrible players. But we are made to believe there is this gulf in quality and that players are not good enough. Yet a quick look at the likes of Lukaku, Smalling and Sanchez show that these are still top players but they struggled to achieve the same performance levels as they are right now as under Ole. I’m not saying I would have kept those players. The squad is better off without them but I do have a small concern in Ole not being able to get the best out of his squad.
This is also shown in his substitutions where he clearly doesn’t trust his players on the bench to do the job. This, despite several players being key players at certain points in the season. James was probably our form players for the first three months and now can barely get more than 5 minutes. Fred and McTominay formed a great partnership in the middle of the park in the middle of the season and helped claim some big scalps but now with Fernandes playing and Pogba back along with the resurgence of Matic, both players are struggling to get a run out. Rashford has not been able to hit the same heights since his injury but still is an automatic pick. All very strange and it is worrying that players can have such highs and lows during the season and one will have to wonder if it is down to the player or the coaching staff.
On the positive side Ole’s transfer business has been top class. Getting rid of the right players and getting in quality signings. He has improved the squad moral to the point where all the players are enjoying their football again. We are now seeing some of the best attacking football we have seen from a United team in years. Ole has a clear plan to rebuild this squad and is well on the way to creating a squad that can compete for the title which a big feather in his cap.
I still have my reservations about whether Ole can take this squad to the next level but he has earned the right to have that opportunity. I love what Ole is doing I just worry he lacks the “next level” tactical know-how and management to make this team a title wining team. Ole will be judged on next season and whatever happens next season we all know that he has got the club into a much better place than when he arrived.
An underwhelming end of the season but overall not bad.
Third place and three semi-finals was a good but not quite good enough. Desperately needed this team to win something.
Transfer business: 7/10
Moved the right players out, brought in quality players but I would have liked to have seen Fernandes come in August rather than January. Still missed one or two players but a huge step in the right direction.
Player’s performances: 6/10
A lot of players matured this season, especially in the attacking areas which bodes well going into the new season. Defense is looking much better, but I still want to see more from them and the midfield.
A step in the right direction but lots to work on.