The Euro Championship is now well and truly behind us, and with clubs already in the pre-season swing of things, I think it’s time we join them. Manchester United finished last season in second place and reached the final of the Europa League. It wasn’t necessarily a season that would see the fans calling for a bronze Ole Gunnar Solskjaer statue to be erected, but it was a season to illustrate steady progress and – in my opinion – belief in the manager.
I think United fans have every reason to look forward to this season with a quiet sense of confidence. Here is a look at six reasons why United can compete for all the marbles in the 2021/22 club season.
Finally, the powers that be have managed to get the deal over the line and an announcement by the club (at the time of writing) is imminent. Jadon Sancho is a Solskjaer throwback to United of old – at 21 years of age he is obviously a long-term signing, but with the undeniable ability to make an immediate impact at Old Trafford.
If you dare mention Manchester United on any public platform, don’t expect to hear ‘attacking’, ‘expansive’ or ‘creative’, and I guess to a certain extent rightly so. However, with 73 goals scored last year, United were the second highest scoring side in the league and by adding a more traditional winger to the cauldron, they are a team who can beat opponents on their feet, find a forward pass and score goals! Why wouldn’t you already start to think of new songs, for a new king, running down a new wing?
The Manchester United/Paul Pogba equation is clear, with his contract expiring he needs to either renew or he simply has to be sold. Now the favourable whispers seem to suggest the Frenchman is set to remain at the club with a bumper new lucrative deal, and I certainly hope that is the case.
Many agree that when Solskjaer plays Pogba as part of that double pivot in midfield, he hasn’t looked anywhere near as effective as he can be. Pogba’s performances at the European Championship for France, however, were outstanding.
He consistently delivered sensational moments, sumptuous touches, staggering passes and to finish it off, a simply smashing goal against Switzerland to remind us all of what he is capable of. The balance and fluidity he adds, correctly coupled with the brilliance of Bruno Fernandes, is a midfield of the highest echelons in the game.
A New No. 1 at Old Trafford?
David De Gea has been brilliant for United (he was the first player in United’s history to win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award four times) and it is a pity that his decline has seemingly come when a team capable of seriously challenging again is emerging.
The questions that persist around Dean Henderson largely revolve around whether the 24-year-old is ready to become United’s No. 1 right now. Is he possibly four or five years away from his best? It is risky throwing in a young goalkeeper? But there is no doubting Henderson’s quality and given what we saw in snatches last year, I think he could quickly grow into the role and continue to add to his confidence.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will know that it is vital that, if there is to be a change of guard between the sticks, it will need to be handled delicately in the interests of stability in the United camp.
Jose Mourinho did give Henderson the proverbial stamp of approval, saying the Englishman was ready to become England’s No. 1 – but with true Mourinho magic the Portuguese maestro simultaneously talked up the brilliance that is Henderson whilst also reminding us that he doesn’t think the youngster is phenomenal just yet.
For me, the take away for fans is simple: Henderson has shown quality and an inspiring self-confidence…with patience as a given, (and I say this while doffing my hat with insurmountable respect for David De Gea) he deserves to become United’s No. 1.
A Defensive Partner for Harry Maguire
Before the Euro Championships got underway, there were fears that Harry Maguire would miss the tournament due to his leg injury. Instead, the United captain was colossal at the back for his country, and without doubt one of the best – if not the best – performing defenders during the European summer.
Under the guidance of the ‘PE Teacher’, United are robust in the centre of the park and fancy around the edges, but the base of the spine is still a problem area. Victor Lindelof is not the Nemanja Vidic type and can’t make up for it with his footwork, and Eric Bailly is not consistently fit enough.
The rumoured links with Raphael Varane are positive but the fact that Solskjaer has supposedly identified the need for a defender should itself be a positive indicator for the fans.
CF – At the Top of the Spine
Edinson Cavani has been excellent for United with his experience but he obviously isn’t a long-term option. Is Anthony Martial the answer? I’m not sure, he certainly divides opinion, but for me he doesn’t do enough off the ball to get me jumping to his defence on his off days.
Nevertheless, Cavani is with us for another season so while that may buy the manager some time, lets enjoy the ride witnessing one of the best to play the game possibly bow out at United.
“If You Want the Best Fruits, Grow Your Own” – Sir Matt Busby
The academy and youth players are part of the fabric at Manchester United and what an exciting crop of youngsters United have just waiting to burgeon. Think Amad Diallo, Facundo Pellistri, Brandon Williams and Anthony Elanga – to name but a few.
But as John Ray once put it, he that counts all cost and shows no patience will never put plough to earth, and so never enjoy any fruit. Sir Alex Ferguson was possibly the grand master at timing this – bringing fresh, energetic and quality youngsters into a side that was (and this is the important part) already successful. They themselves were never required to carry the side to glory but rather earned the right to experience being bathed in glory.
This inevitably eased their transition into the side and allowed them to flourish under no unnecessary or added pressure. Solskjaer has shown his patience, now with the added substance of signings, hopefully the Theatre of Dreams will soon once again rain down trophies.