After a bright start to the 2019/20 season with a 4-0 win over Chelsea and a draw away at Wolves we should have won, we were feeling pretty optimistic.
This led to us writing a piece titled ’10 reasons for Manchester United to be positive after two games’ as we looked ahead to what could be a very promising season.
Little did we know that a home defeat to Crystal Palace was just days away, along with further losses the next month against West Ham and Newcastle, amid a very testing and difficult start to the season.
Yet after 38 games, United finished the season in third place and qualified for the Champions League. This was higher than many predicted.
So were our positive feelings about the team right all along? We’ll let you be the judge of that. Here is a look back on our 10 reasons to be optimistic from August 2019, and see how many held up, were disproved, or were irrelevant.
Anthony Martial is back
Our number 9. Anthony Martial has moved back into a central striker’s role and he is grabbing his chance. He has two goals in two games and looks like he could be the player we hoped he might become. There’s a strong chance he passes the 20 goal mark for the first time.
Verdict: Yes, we nailed this one. Martial scored 22 goals in total, and counting, with 17 coming in the Premier League. If not for injury he may have got even closer to 30. He has established himself as United’s first choice striker.
The defence is strong
“The biggest problem this summer was improving a defence which conceded 54 times in the Premier League last season, more than Newcastle. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire look tremendous already and have made a big difference.
“The back four picks itself, and there is strength in depth with Dalot and Tuanzebe if needed. United may have weaknesses in midfield, but a strong platform at the back means this won’t be exposed as much.”
Verdict: United ended the season with the third best defence in the Premier League, with just 36 goals conceded from 54 games.
There is still room for improvement, but the strength at the back has been a key platform for our success. Diogo Dalot and Axel Tuanzebe however, may as well not have been there, combining for just three league starts due to injuries.
United held onto Paul Pogba
“If we were not going to buy a central midfielder, then keeping hold of our best one was essential. Despite the rumours, Pogba stayed put, and he has begun the season well, with two assists. If we achieve anything this season, Pogba will play a major part.”
Verdict: That last line really did come true. It was not the season we envisioned for Paul Pogba last August though, as injury would rule him out for the next six months.
When he returned to the side after a lockdown nobody predicted, Pogba started nearly every game as United went on an unbeaten league run to finish third. He now looks set to stay next season too.
Picked up lost points
“Last season United drew with Chelsea at Old Trafford and lost to Wolves. So getting four points from those two fixtures this season is better than just one last. When we wobbled against Wolves in midweek, the new look defence rallied, instead of crumbling. In theory the games get a bit easier from here, with Palace and then Southampton up next.”
Verdict: Forget about this one. The good work from the first two matches was undone with a loss to Palace and a draw at Southampton.
Pace in attack
“Dan James gives United a dangerous option going forward which puts opponents on the backfoot. He still has to refine his game, but his quality was clear against Chelsea when he scored his debut goal. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are no slouches either, and the mobile, versatile forward line is a danger for defences. Its already an upgrade on last season.“
Verdict: Dan James’ bright early form faded, but the attacking energy he showed was replaced by Mason Greenwood later in the season. United’s attack improved as the season went on, and the ability to hit teams on the counter remains, as we showed with impressive goals against Brighton and Aston Villa.
When you compare this to the stagnant attack we saw under Jose Mourinho, led by Romelu Lukaku, United just look so much more dangerous now. This group of forwards have outstanding potential, especially if you add a certain Dortmund winger to the mix.
“It’s clear what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to do. He wants a British core to the squad, and a young one.Young players will get chances, and Solskjaer’s pressing, counter attacking game is made for the modern era. Having a clear plan is essential if United are going to reach the top of English football once again.“
Verdict: The jury is still out on whether Solskjaer will be successful. He will be judged on trophies and not Champions League qualifications. After one season though, he has taken United forward, and we should be pleased that there is a clear plan, rather than the haphazard approach of previous managers.
A strong transfer window will set United up for future success. We will see whether Solskjaer can land silverware, he could even do it this month with the Europa League. His faith in youth has been a big success so far with Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams stepping up as first team regulars, and others hoping to stake their claim.
Plenty in reserve
Several United players haven’t even got started yet. Fred and Diogo Dalot have not featured, while Mason Greenwood has barely had a kick as a substitute.
Young players like Tahith Chong, James Garner and Angel Gomes are just the tip of the iceberg from the academy. We could be talking about Ethan Laird, Brandon Williams and Dylan Levitt a lot more by the end of the season.
Verdict: It has to be mixed here. United’s squad depth has been a contentious issue all season long. Fred has stepped up as a key player and proved himself. Dalot less so, and he looks set for an exit.
Chong and Garner have still got it all to prove, while Ethan Laird is getting closer, although Gomes has gone. We are glad to see we correctly picked out Williams as a player who could step up.
Signs of ruthlessness
“While it was hard to sell unwanted players this summer, Solskjaer has been ruthless in his team selections. Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Matteo Darmian have not made any squads, leaving little doubt over their futures.“
Verdict: Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian were promptly moved on. Rojo also mid-season. Jones was axed to the point he did not play a single league game after his 45-minute horror show at Bramall Lane in November.
Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira felt this in the second half of the season. They did not start a single league game after January, with Solskjaer realising quite simply, that he had better options.
Not just two games
“United’s start to the campaign has not come out of nowhere. It follows on from a successful pre-season. United won every game and looked good doing so, with young players featuring prominently. The start to the season is continuation of that groundwork, and concentration on improved fitness.”
Verdict: This one is largely irrelevant a year on, after the way the promising start to the season imploded. However, it is worth noting that the fitness work Solskjaer instilled in his players paid off in the second half of the campaign.
Requirements are obvious
“Through just two games, its clear United need to sign an attacking midfielder. As the season goes on, this will expose itself as obviously as the need to sign a right-back became last season. United can’t ignore it, and might even end up rectifying it as soon as January.”
Verdict: Oh yes. As far as predictions go, you don’t get more nailed on than this. United’s shortcomings were magnified as the season wore on, and the club had to act.
United paid up for a player who should have been bought last summer, Bruno Fernandes. We were just lucky he was still available. Fernandes tore up the Premier League, with eight goals and seven assists in 14 games, and led United on an unbeaten league run to finish in third position.
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