How Ole created our best attacking side since Sir Alex

Monday 27 July 2020 18:59

Mason Greenwood's bullet of an equaliser against West Ham United last week was not only one of the most-important goals of Manchester United's Premier League season, it was also the Reds' 106th strike across all competitions in 2019/20, making Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team the highest-scoring United side since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.

The 18-year-old's master-blast took the Norwegian's charges one beyond the 105 notched by Jose Mourinho's class of 2016/17, and eight games quicker than their predecessors.
Following the 2-0 victory over Leicester City on Sunday, our count is now 108, which puts us just six shy of the 114 goals achieved by Ferguson's 2012/13 vintage. And with the Europa League yet to conclude, things could get even better. 
Solskjaer would no doubt shrug his shoulders at all this, and claim that it's only right that United should be matching the feats of the Ferguson era. But for fans, the Reds' free-scoring panache since the arrival of Bruno Fernandes is an encouraging indication of the squad's progress.
Watch every Premier League goal of 2019/20! Video

Watch every Premier League goal of 2019/20!

From Rashford against Chelsea to Lingard at Leicester, relive all 66 of our strikes from the league season...

To say it's all down to our January acquisition from Sporting Lisbon perhaps does Solskjaer a disservice, too. While we average almost 2.5 goals a game since Fernandes's first appearance in February – a goalless draw, ironically – we'd already scored three or more on 10 occasions this season before the playmaker rocked up in M16.
While Fernandes's instant impact is already the stuff of minor legend – no less than Ryan Giggs and FIFA were praising our no.18 on Monday – what else is behind our most-prolific campaign since Sir Alex stepped down? And, more importantly, what do the Reds need to do next season to reach an even higher level?
The sale of Romelu Lukaku to Internazionale last summer was a big talking point among fans. Where would the goals come from without the big Belgian? Martial had never passed 20 strikes during four seasons with the club. Rashford hadn't reached 15. Their best totals were 17 and 13, respectively. Meanwhile, the only Reds to surpass 20 in a season in the post-Ferguson era were the hugely experienced Zlatan Ibrahimovic (28) and Lukaku (27). 
Laying responsibility at the feet of Rashford and Martial – who were 21 and 23 years old at the outset of this season – was a bold gamble. It's paid off handsomely. The duo are the first United pair to notch more than 20 each in the same season since Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez in 2010/11.

Why United's youthful attack will only get better


Statman Dave puts our forwards' 2019/20 efforts into perspective by comparing them to their rivals.

The bravery of Solskjaer's Lukaku decision became apparent in the autumn, when Martial missed almost two months' football due to an injury. The only back-up to Rashford was the then 17-year-old Mason Greenwood. While fans familiar with our youth team have been gassing about Greenwood's talent for a year or two, there's never any guarantee that an Academy hopeful will immediately take to the first team. But Solskjaer made space for the youngster, and his talent has flourished. 
No teenager has ever delivered a better goalscoring season at United than Greenwood, and his form since the lockdown pause has been thrilling. Eagle-eyed observers will have also noticed his appetite for creating chances: think of his delectable chip for Bruno's goal at Brighton & Hove Albion, or the tackle he won against Leicester City that led to Martial's penalty.
All The Angles: Greenwood v West Ham Video

All The Angles: Greenwood v West Ham

Mason Greenwood struck in his 50th appearance for the Reds, and it’s a belter, whichever way you look at it…

Even the most red-eyed United fan would concede that our squad required plenty of work when Solskjaer arrived as interim manager in December 2018. And not every transfer the club has made since Ferguson's days has worked out swimmingly. But since the Norwegian moved in, things have taken a turn for the better. Even the left-field decision to bring in Odion Ighalo in January – which drew scorn at the time – has been a big success. The Nigerian has been a positive influence around the club and mucked in with key goals in the Uefa Europa League and Emirates FA Cup. His presence has also allowed the boss to rest Rashford, Martial and Greenwood when required. And as for the Fernandes transfer? I'll leave you to dream up your own superlatives here...
When Rashford and Martial combine Video

When Rashford and Martial combine

Heard the one about the Englishman and the Frenchman? Well, it’s no joke for opposition defences, as our video shows…

We mentioned that the 108 goals scored so far in 2019/20 was the best since Sir Alex Ferguson's era. So how much better do Solskjaer's side have to be to take things to the next level? Well, in the final seven seasons under the great Scot, we averaged 117 goals, with a high of 123 (2006/07) and a low of 110 (2007/08). Interestingly, the lowest total came in the year we won both the Premier League and the Champions League, which shows just how important a solid defence can be. United had the third-best in the top flight this term (36 conceded), but are still a good way off the record posted by the Ferdinand-Vidic axis in 2007/08 (22 conceded). 
For comparison, champions Liverpool have 117 goals in all competitions this season. How can we get there? Perhaps the secret lies with that youthful front three, who boast an average age of just 21.3. If Greenwood can reach 20 goals by adding three or more in the upcoming Europa League games, the club will have three players with 20 or more in a single season for the first time since 1964/65, when Denis Law, David Herd and John Connelly plundered freely. When you consider the improvements made by the trio in just the last 12 months alone, and the form we've showed since Fernandes joined, is it too fanciful to believe that Solskjaer's United can do it? If the last few months of this season are anything to go by, it's going to be fun watching them try.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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