Manchester United begin their 2022-23 season two weeks from now against Brighton at Old Trafford. They head into the season with no shortage of unknowns: who starts as the leading striker, if Frenkie de Jong will move to Manchester, and how the team will adapt to Erik ten Hag’s pressing system.
With that many unknowns, it’s hard for supporters to go into the season with specific hopes or expectations for the team outside of wanting this season to be more enjoyable than the last one.
United supporters didn’t experience much joy in 2021-22. Sure, there were good moments, especially early in the season. Leeds. Newcastle. Atalanta and Sevilla in the Champions League. But the bad days significantly outweighed the good.
With another season around the corner, and another new manager installed in the Old Trafford dugout, what is realistic for supporters to expect this year? In short, what they missed out on last season: more moments of joy.
This team isn’t strong enough to contend for the league title. They lack cutting edge up front, without a top-class striker capable of pressing the way Ten Hag demands. The spine of the team still has a glaring De Jong-shaped hole. Yet, there’s more than enough quality in the team to make them more fun to watch in 2022-23.
That, rather than top-four or winning the Europa League, should be the expectation for this team. It has the added benefit of being realistic for a team that has been unable to win a trophy since 2017 or seriously challenge for a league title since last winning one in 2013.
United have fallen far behind their rivals. Manchester City and Liverpool are considered among the three best teams in Europe. Chelsea will again contend for the Champions League. Spurs and Arsenal, while some way behind the top three, have a clear identity and strategic vision that unites their squad, management, and boardroom. United have none of these things yet, despite a positive pre-season.
That pre-season has shown signs of improvement that would help them close the gap on the top four. Ten Hag has a vision for how to play, but has downplayed expectations and said it will take time for his system to bed in. So, rather than focusing on a specific results target, supporters should look at whether the team is moving forward, working hard, playing attractive and, therefore, becoming fun to watch again. Supporting a football team isn’t supposed to feel like a chore. Give us some joy again.
Bring on Brighton.