Can we start to get excited? Fresh from the recent announcement of his contract extension, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer awaits the start of his third full season in the hot seat at Old Trafford. As the Manchester faithful pinch themselves – with regard to the remarkable transfer window to date – renewed optimism and a sense of belief is flowing through the fan base.
The 2021-22 domestic season is a little over two weeks away, and Old Trafford awaits the visit of our old enemy Leeds. Pre-season is in full flow and Solskjær is beginning to welcome back many of his first team players. The squad has been bolstered with the additions of veteran keeper Tom Heaton, Bundesliga sensation Jadon Sancho and World Cup winning superstar Raphaël Varane.
The overall result of these events is an undeniable sense of positivity around the club. The manager has meticulously rebuilt the structure from ground to ceiling, and his sights are firmly set on silverware. Fans expect nothing more and, given the lucrative additions made, the time has firmly come for United to solidify their rightful place as perennial title challengers.
United ended the 2020-21 season in 2nd position, 12 points off of top spot. Despite the gap, and obvious requirement for better, this was statistically the closest that United have been to top spot since the 2012-13 campaign. It’s nothing to celebrate, but it’s certainly a positive indicator as to the perennial progression that the club has made under Solskjaer.
United begin the league campaign with a favourable run (on paper); not meeting a top six side until GW 8. If we are serious about mounting an assault on the league, it’ll be imperative to fly out of the traps. A repeat of last seasons inadequate start will simply not do; collecting only 7 points from a possible 18, and not tasting home victory until the 5th attempt.
Much was made of the Red Devil’s reliance on Bruno Fernandes during the 2020-21 campaign. The Maia native contributed a team high figure of 18 league goals; 7 more than compatriot Marcus Rashford and 8 more than Edinson Cavani. Fast forward to present day: the introduction of Jadon Sancho, a fit again Anthony Martial and a rejuvenated Mason Greenwood, United now boast a plethora of attacking talent to rival the very best in the country. An array of youth, experience, pace, technique and interchangeable qualities, make for a tantalising prospect.
Recent reports have suggested that Ole is hoping to alter the tactical approach employed; shifting from a double pivot to an attacking 4-3-3 formation. If this were the case, it’ll provide a perfect platform for the likes of Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek to impact the game in the final 3rd. This is yet another phase in the Norwegians rebuild and further evidence of an attempt to reinforce the ‘United of Old’; a philosophy built on attacking principles that force the opposition to alter their tactical approach to accommodate United.
With the acquisition of Varane, the defensive structure is now amongst the very finest in football. This acquisition provides a legitimate world – class CB partnership; coupled with two of the strongest full backs in the league. With this, the requirement for 2 CDM is extinguished. We now have two ball carrying central defenders, comfortable on ground and air, with the ability to break the lines with ease.
Over the past two seasons, we’ve seen a United side built largely around a double pivot. A lack of confidence in a CB pairing dictated a requirement for additional defensive support. Whilst I’m not against an additional defensive midfielder being introduced (I very much welcome the addition), I feel we’re now in a position whereby the onus can be shifted from not conceding, to a move toward our obvious attacking strengths from back to front.
The goalkeeping situation continues to be a prevalent topic. Uncertainty remains as to who will start the season between the sticks. The signing of Heaton adds further fuel to this fire; in suggestion that it is only a matter of time until one of De Gea or Henderson is allowed to leave the club. With uncertainty, there is always suggestion. It’s best to wait for concrete clarification but I’m told that we can expect Dean Henderson to start against Leeds. The 24 year old has established himself as one of the finest in the league and, despite a couple of notable errors last term, is held in high regard by Old Trafford hierarchy.
Consistency is the most common word used with this side. United became just the third side to go an entire Premier League season unbeaten away from home. This is a miraculous feat and one that truly encapsulates the potential of this team. United also became the first PL team in history to win 10 matches after conceding first in a single season – a unique record that’s both good and bad.
Despite these amazing statistics, questions are still asked of the manager and his side. The past two seasons have been a journey. There have been up and downs, highs and lows and a continued wait for silverware. When Manchester United are good, they can be extremely good. On paper, we have a squad that is capable of competing with anybody.
However, this is a young team that have endured several high-profile cup exits and the longer that that continues, the harder it’ll be to quash that stigma. This also supplies ammunition to a contingent of supporter that will never except the progress that the manager has achieved. It’s simply not enough to achieve a European qualification spot and, despite my clear support of the manager, I too agree that a trophy is now required.
Whether it’s as a result of Murtough and Fletcher, the fan protests, Woodward’s last hurrah or a combination of all, the manager has been backed with necessary first team starters. After an underwhelming summer transfer period last year, the squad is now transformed for our beloved Norwegian. Rumours of additional transfer activity still loom l, and we are yet to see how our squad starts the campaign. Despite this, now is the time to deliver.
Manchester United is a football club that is built on success stories. Whether it’s a beautiful trinity, enigmatic continental kings or home – grown kids, trophies have decorated the halls. Those who understand the nature of progression will fully appreciate the foundation that’s been solidified these past two seasons. Now is the time to lift our collar, stand with chest cocked out and embrace what is rightfully ours. Talk of past glories will not suffice and as a fan base, we desire trophies today. This is the best position we’ve been in since the great Scot stood down. It’s time to get behind the team as one, and it’s time for the team to deliver.