WITH RONALDO ADDED TO AN ALREADY STRONG SQUAD, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM MANCHESTER UNITED THIS SEASON?
Manchester United are having a blockbuster of a transfer window. They have pulled smart signings in the form of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane for budget prices. It only got better with the dramatic re-signing of club legend and Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo. With deadline day approaching, there might still be scope for further signings at the Theatre of Dreams. Manchester United needs to challenge for trophies to have a good season.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 27, 2021
Manchester United now have a well-rounded squad with talent oozing across the pitch. Right from David de Gea at the back to Cristiano Ronaldo up top, world-class quality and squad depth are well evident. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did a commendable job in his tenure. He inherited a moderate squad from Jose Mourinho and started the rebuild. He cleared the deadwood at the club and promoted youth wonderfully. After three seasons of the rebuild, it is time to launch an assault on all fronts.
United have been short of silverware in the past few years. The Red Devils won the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017. They have come close to trophies in the form of cups and the Europa League itself. They have stumbled at the semi-final stages of the Carabao Cup and the final of the Europa League recently. Ole didn’t have success in the Champions League as well. This time with an improved squad and a better pre-season they look to go all the way and win some silverware.
— Express Sport (@DExpress_Sport) August 22, 2021
With raised expectations, FootTheBall looks at Manchester United and their realistic trophies challenge on all fronts and what would be defined as a success.
Manchester United have been improving in the league massively under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Norwegian steered them to a sixth-placed finish in his first half-season in charge. The signing of Harry Maguire in the summer of 2019 changed the dynamic. The English centre-back became the leader of defence at Old Trafford and fortified their rearguard. With further signings of Aaron Wan Bissaka coupled with Bruno Fernandes in the winter, they secured a third-place finish in 2020.
The Red Devils went a step further and finished as runner ups in the league to Manchester City in 2021. They led the league at one point of time but weren’t able to hold on to it. Bruno Fernandes was fantastic in his first full season as he performed at a world-class level and also elevated his fellow players.
United under Ole were characterized by specific sets of game-play. Against fellow top-six teams, they were a potent counter-attacking team that absorbed pressure and hit on the break with pacy forwards. This tactic worked perfectly as they slew Manchester City and Liverpool successfully. They dismantled Leeds in this season’s opener while playing as a free-flowing team.
But when they face mid-table oppositions they struggle to break them down. The opposition sides surrender possession to United and sit back. United failed to penetrate such stubborn defences and dopped points against them. It is these types of games that determine the Champions’ resolve. Dropped points at Southampton would again remind us of this.
🤯 @B_Fernandes8 has been involved in 48 PL goals since his debut
That’s four more than any other player in the same time!
All the key Matchweek 2️⃣ stats pic.twitter.com/MsXTB7SxYx
— Premier League (@premierleague) August 21, 2021
The signing of Jadon Sancho is aimed to counter that. With Cristiano Ronaldo, they have an absolute clutch player who could win those types of games with a 95th-minute strike. They are now a defensive midfielder away from one of the best squads in the league. Ole must lead a title challenge.
EXPECTATION: TITLE CHALLENGE
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Ole masterminded a fantastic comeback win against PSG as a caretaker manager. It is that magical win that made a strong case for him as the permanent manager. However, they had to play in the Europa League next season in 2020. They reached the semi-finals and were knocked out by Sevilla.
A 3rd placed finish in the league granted them a ticket to the Champions League. United were drawn with RB Leipzig, PSG and Istanbul Basaksehir. The Red Devils had a terrific start to the league stages with wins over PSG and Leipzig. It looked like they were certain to make it to the knockouts after matchday 3. A horrible collapse in the second stage saw them finish third in the group stages. They were sheepishly relegated to the Europa League.
🏆 Our completed #UCL group looks like this…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 26, 2021
A strong run in the Europa League took them to the finals where they lost to Villarreal on penalties.
This time they got a favourable draw in the Champions League. Drawn alongside Villarreal, Atalanta and Young Boys they have got to make it to the knockouts. Their squad strength means they can rotate for cup games and still win them comfortably.
As a qualification to the knockouts become a must, they need to be sharp going beyond that. Finishing as group winners may hand them a favourable knockout fixture. With the away goals scrapped, they have to be at their best to win the ties effectively.
United have lifted the trophy most recently in 2017 under Jose Mourinho. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s man of the match performance in the final gave them EFL trophy against a dazed Southampton.
However, they have failed in the competition since then. Their noisy neighbours Manchester City have won the title four times in a row and are current holders.
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) August 27, 2021
They booked a home date with West Ham United in the third round this season. It’d mark a return to Old Trafford for David Moyes. The cup tie means both sides would square up twice in three days after their league fixture.
West Ham’s resurgence means United needs to be at their best to beat the hammers and progress to the next round.
THE FA CUP
The Red Devils are the second-most successful team in the cup history with 12 titles to their name. With its last success in 2016, they are keen to end the drought this season. A shocking quarter-final loss to Leicester last season put pressure on Ole.
With the cup proper beginning in January, squad management would play a key role. Games come thick and fast during that period and the squad has to be injury-free to have a realistic shot at the tournament.