Man United finally look to have turned something of a corner after what seems like an eternity of mediocrity. In fairness, United are just two years removed from a second-place league finish and three years from their latest cup triumphs in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
Since his permanent appointment on the 28th March 2019, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suffered a tumultuous run of results that had many, including some on this site, calling for his head. By the United, board have stuck by him and things seem to have taken a positive turn of late.
Man United Syndrome
Part of the problem that has burdened United in recent years is the incredible history of Sir Alex Ferguson. The years since his retirement have been barren by those standards, with only 3 trophies in the 7 years. Never mind that they have netted those three trophies in the same period that Jurgen Klopp won nothing at Liverpool.
Obviously, Klopp has subsequently managed to match United’s barren spell, and will soon lift the first Premier League trophy in Liverpool’s history. Man United are held to a higher standard as the beacon of British football.
Liverpool’s brand of football has been significantly more attractive, and fun to watch than United’s which is not something that has ever happened before in the Premier League years. The selection of Solskjaer to lead them back to the top was somewhat questionable despite his impressive spell as caretaker-manager.
In truth that caretaker run was massively overhyped as United beat no team of major note, with the biggest scalps of that time being Spurs and PSG who have never faired well in the biggest of games. The run of games that followed included losses to Barcelona x 2, Man City, Arsenal, and Everton.
That’s not to say the end of the 2018/19 season wasn’t disappointing. There were too many games where Man United couldn’t break anyone down, or create more than a couple of chances in 90 minutes.
The worrying truth was in games against Huddersfield(1-1), Everton(0-4) and a final day game at home against Cardiff(0-2). All three games showed a horrendously under-committed team that no longer seemed to be playing for the manager.
New faces and new hope at Old Trafford
This season has seen a clear out of some of the players who were clearly not giving 100% at the end of last season. The departure of Romelu Lukaku one of the more disappointing for United fans after what had been a promising first season. The second-year had been a major let down.
Alexis Sanchez left on loan, as did Chris Smalling, and Ashley Young left in January. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James were the summer signings that proved the new emphasis was on youth. And Harry Maguire finally arrived to solidify what has been a porous backline.
But while these moves had bought some stability to the team, it’s the January signing of Bruno Fernandes that seems to have ignited this team. While it is very early days, and the oppositions haven’t been the best, the early signs are very positive.
United are much more direct, with runs from midfield, the wings, and the full-backs. The first look by the man on the ball is always forwards, and the tempo of the passing is so much better than the first half of the season.
All three fullbacks (Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Brandon Williams) have been going forward aggressively and this has created numbers, and width, in the attacking third that has been sorely lacking in recent times. And this has paid dividends in games that United have been struggling to win of late against the lower teams who come to Old Trafford for a draw.
It’s those tricky games, where the teams sit in deep and make United break them down that have so far been the undoing of Ole’s teams. Since Fernandes has joined, this has changed. Again, it’s early days but this is a positive sign.
In the seven games Fernandes has played in, United have scored 15 goals on their way to four wins and three draws. The only game they haven’t scored in was Fernandes’s first game. So his importance should not be underestimated, and nor should the overall improvement in performances.
The pace, width, and ability to make the killer pass have been cornerstones of the great Man United teams. And finally under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that seems to be returning to Old Trafford.