Manchester United sit in a disappointing fifth position in the Premier League, although it is roughly where many fans felt we would be at this stage, after a mixed summer last year.
There have been some promising signs over the past season in terms of progress though, particularly against rivals.
We have wiped the floor with Chelsea three times, beaten Manchester City three times, beaten and drawn with Tottenham, and have been one of just three teams to have taken points off Liverpool.
Right now we are on an unbeaten run. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, United cannot afford to be complacent and believe we are suddenly on the right track.
Next season will throw up completely new challenges. Look at Chelsea, who have already secured deals for Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, two outstanding players who would have been quality additions for United. Beating them home and away will be tougher next season.
And then over to City, who are now said to be plotting a big money move for Kalidou Koulibaly.
Strengthening their weakness
City paid a price this season for not replacing Vincent Kompany. We outbid them for Harry Maguire.
Now they are looking at one-time United target Kalidou Koulibaly in a £72 million deal, Italian newspaper Il Mattino report.
Will it happen? Having just relinquished the league title, City are hurting, and will want to respond. Finding a partner for Aymeric Laporte is a priority.
FFP is not believed to be an issue, with the complaints against City all pre-dating 2016.
At 29, the fee discussed for Koulibaly makes it a heavy gamble if they take it. His age, and the price, are the reasons why Manchester United will not be bidding, along with faith in our own centre-backs.
If the Koulibaly deal does not materialise, you can bet on City finding another top quality alternative instead.
Over to United to respond
United are playing cautious over transfers at the moment. Although we suspect the club will end up paying big eventually, there is not total certainty, as there previously looked to be before the shutdown.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told Sky Sports last week: “It’s not for me to say here now we are going to have X amount because I don’t really know. I don’t really know how hard we have been hit. We are a financially strong club, but we are also probably being hit more than anybody else.
“The Europa League will also qualify us for the Champions League, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and these three or four months, every businessman in the world, every footballer in the world, I think everyone is still unsure what the effect will be.”
He has to be cagey like this in public. It would hurt United’s negotiating strategy to declare we have £200 million to spend, if this was the case.
Yet Chelsea’s double deal, and City potentially moving for Koulibaly, really raises the stakes for United.
Even if we end this season with a flourish, and finish as high as third place and win a trophy, it offers no guarantees for season 2020/21.
The competition will get tougher, as activity from Chelsea and City shows. Two teams United have beaten three times, will become harder to beat.
And they won’t be the only ones. Liverpool will make a play, while the likes of Leicester, Arsenal and Wolves will all look to become more competitive.
That is aside from the potential takeover at Newcastle, and the possible nuisance of a Leeds United winning promotion, both complications to the current status quo. Next season will throw up completely new challenges for United to deal with.
Spending must be kept within reason, and we may have to sell to buy big. Getting rid of well-paid underperformers like Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard may not be simple.
But what we do know is that United have to show ambition, and make a statement, to move forward ourselves.
We are already too far behind, whether we finish third or sixth. First is the only place that matters, and next season is going to provide a new set of challenges.
United have to be up for the challenge, and go big. Fans do not want to see this opportunity to build on this young team wasted. After seven years without a title, and seeing it lifted over on Merseyside, supporters do not have the patience or stomach to hear excuses.
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