This campaign will forever be remembered as an opportunity lost for Manchester United. It could have been a season that included a serious title challenge, or some much-needed silverware, but eventually, all the hope and opportunity fizzled out to nothingness. At the outset, finishing 2nd in the league and reaching a final of a European competition should amount to something. But Manchester United knows more than most, coming 2nd simply means you were the first to lose.
After a brilliant run for most of the season, United’s season disappointingly ended on a whimper. The Red Devils won only once in their last 4 league games before suffering a demoralising defeat in the final of the Europa League to Villarreal on penalties. No manager should be judged based on a penalty shoot-out but the Europa League final presented an opportunity to Ole to prove the doubters wrong but if anything, it only added more fuel to their fire.
What went right?
After an indifferent start to their league season, Manchester United went on an incredible run that saw them lose only once in 28 league games between the 1st of November and the 11th of May. The signing of Edinson Cavani on a free transfer proved to be a masterstroke, while the improvement of the likes of Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw raised the level of Manchester United’s first XI. Manchester United also won 12 games this season after conceding the opening goal and their performances in the second-half and ability to come from behind were signs of a champion team.
What went wrong?
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The Europa League Final was sadly the perfect example of the problems of the Solskjaer tenure so far. United lacked clear ideas in possession and when faced with a competent low block, they haven’t created too many chances from open play. Bruno Fernandes solved a lot of the creativity problems because of his general quality, but United still lacked a clear tactical identity and patterns of play that most top sides possess.
Player of the season
While Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw both had excellent seasons in their own right, the most important player for United this season has been Harry Maguire. Maguire might not be as distinguished of a player as Van Dijk or Dias, but his impact on the team is as big if not greater than those two. There is no panic with Maguire in defence and his ball-carrying and retention abilities are incredibly crucial to United’s build-up play. Not to mention Maguire will head away anything that moves in the 6-yard box and provides dominance in the air that Lindelof and Bailly just can’t provide.
Disappointment of the season
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Donny van de Beek was always a peculiar signing given United’s depth in attacking midfield and the Dutchman has looked a shadow of his former self. Admittedly, Van De Beek hasn’t been given consistent playing time and a run of starts this season but the midfielder has struggled to make a mark in his first season in Manchester.
For the past few seasons, Manchester United have always been on the verge of a Premier League title challenge but never quite made the final step to bridge the gap to the top clubs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done an excellent job to bring stability around at Old Trafford and consistently secure a top four berth. The burning question, however, is if he can take them to that next level that places them in the upper echelons of teams in Europe.
[Image Credit: Premier League]