Ole's At The Wheel But The Car Keeps Faltering In The Final Lap: Season Grade, MVP, Best/Worst Moment And More
Manchester United came into the season looking to build on the steady progress made under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the club reached three semi-finals in the 2019-20 season. Expectations were high after a good finish to the season and fans were looking forward to moving another step closer to the promised land of a PL title. How did this season pan out for the club? Let’s find out.
Manchester United started the season in a stuttering fashion with a surprising home loss to Crystal Palace in the first game of the season. Home games continued to be an issue that would plague the team throughout the season.
Short pre-season was laid as a reason behind this start and sure enough, the machine started whirring after a few games marked by emphatic wins against RB Leipzig and PSG in the Champions League. However, consistency remained an issue as the side were dumped out of UCL into the Europa League despite topping their group after four games.
The FA Cup and Carabao Cup campaigns were cut short by Leicester City and Manchester City in Quarter-Final and Semi-Final stage respectively. They went the whole season unbeaten away from home to seal the second position in the table, the joint highest finish post-Sir Alex Ferguson.
End of season excitement was provided by the Europa League but the team lost that trophy to a determined Villarreal side who prevailed in a nervy penalty shootout.
No matter the competition.
No matter the result.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 26, 2021
Premier League- 2nd
Champions League- Knocked out in Group Stage
FA Cup- Quarter-Finals
Carabao Cup- Semi-Finals
Europa League- Runners-up
BEST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Man City 0-2 Man United (Premier League)
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 8, 2021
City came into the game as heavy favourites on the back of a sterling run of 21 consecutive victories and 28 games without a defeat. United, winless in their last three games and juggling a punishing schedule, had a tall task of keeping their unbeaten away streak alive while reeling in the runaway PL leaders.
In a performance as convincing as any against this Manchester City side, United got a comfortable victory by two goals. Helped by an early penalty converted by prolific playmaker Bruno Fernandes, United held their nerve to blank the blue half of Manchester. When Luke Shaw got United’s second, a professional day at work ensured that victory seemed like a given.
Success in the face of adversity has become a hallmark of the side under Solskjaer. He became the first manager to have faced Pep Guardiola more than three times across all competitions while winning more (Four) than he lost (Three).
Although United never really got close to the title, this win stamped their credentials as the second-best team in the league at the very least.
Honourable mentions: 9-0 win against Southampton, 6-2 against Leeds, 5-0 against RB Leipzig
WORST MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Istanbul 2-1 Man United (Champions League)
Istanbul 2-1 Man Utd FT:
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) November 4, 2020
While there was a loss in the finals of the Europa League, United should have done enough to not be put into that competition in the first place. Having beaten PSG and RB Leipzig in the first two games of the UCL group stage, United had one foot in the knockout rounds.
However, just as this side is capable of pulling out breathtaking wins from the jaws of defeat, they are equally capable of finding banana skins to slip on.
The 2-1 loss had disastrous ramifications for their CL campaign but what rankled even more was the manner of it. Schoolboy defending for the goal scored by Demba Ba has entered the stuff of legends as a lesson in how not to defend at a professional level.
A win in the return leg against Istanbul was not enough as United were out of the competition with consecutive losses against RB Leipzig and PSG. The UCL campaign showed that there is still some way to go for this developing side.
(dis)Honourable Mentions- 1-6 home loss against Tottenham, Europa League final loss to Villarreal, 1-2 home loss against Sheffield United.
THE SEASON MVP
Who else? Going by the literal definition of the acronym ‘MVP’, there probably isn’t a more valuable player to this squad than the Portuguese “Magnifico”, as United fans call him. With barely believable 45 goal contributions (28G, 17A), 30 of which came in the league, United finally have the player that can take the game by the scruff of the neck and inspire people around him. Added to that his fiercely ambitious personality and his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, fans finally have an Idol to look up to as the perfect United player.
Honourable Mentions- Luke Shaw, Edinson Cavani, Harry Maguire
As the holder of the No.9 shirt, coming off his most prolific goalscoring season with 17 in the league in 2019-20, much was expected of Anthony Martial. However, an injury-riddled campaign combined with dipping form changed the narrative around the Frenchman. He scored just four goals in the league from 22 appearances.
From being expected to take the next step and become truly world-class, Martial now faces a fight to secure his future at the club. Veteran striker Edinson Cavani’s blazing debut season and golden boy Mason Greenwood’s continued emergence has put Martial in the background. Coupled with the club’s interest in attacking reinforcements, next season could be pivotal for Martial’s immediate future at the club, as well as his long-term career.
(dis)Honourable Mentions- Donny van de Beek, Brandon Williams.
It was a season of “nearly” for the red half of Manchester as they went deep into every tournament they were in only to end the season trophyless. The team faltered when the stakes were at their highest and after ending the last season as losers in three semi-finals, the next challenge will be to break the glass ceiling and bring a trophy back to Old Trafford.
Final Grade: B