Can Solskjaer's United pick up where we left off?

Friday 04 September 2020 08:00

The summer transfer window is in full swing, and Reds everywhere eagerly await news of incomings and outgoings for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United squad.

Donny van de Beek, for one, is on board, which is music to the ears of those who feared that injury or burn-out for either Bruno Fernandes or Paul Pogba might leave the side short of midfield creativity.
But while the focus on transfers is inevitable, it should not be overlooked that, since Bruno’s arrival in January, United have taken more Premier League points than any other club in the division.

The Premier League table since Bruno signed


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Solskjaer’s men won 32 points in 14 games from the start of February until the season’s conclusion, putting us ahead of title-chasers Manchester City (30) and Liverpool (29).
That was six more than Chelsea and Arsenal over the same period, seven more than Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves and a whopping 18 more than Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City.
Of course, a season lasts nine months – or usually does! So to suggest that we could keep up that form over an entire campaign is, at this point, mere conjecture.
But that United were so much better post-Fernandes does not seem coincidence. Sometimes, five or six signings are not necessarily what’s required. Sometimes, the right one or two can have a massive effect.
Remember Eric Cantona? United were eighth in the table when he arrived in November 1992. A few months later, we were champions.
Impressively, the first five games after the Portuguese’s arrival were negotiated without Marcus Rashford or Paul Pogba. Among those five were wins over Chelsea and Manchester City.
When Pogba and Rashford returned to the side, United began to play with even more freedom and flourish.
So can we replicate that form over a full season?
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There are numerous positives that augur well. Our free-scoring and relatively young front three are maturing rapidly, and each progressed significantly in 2019/20. Fernandes's rapport with his team-mates will only grow – particularly with Rashford and Pogba, who he has enjoyed fewer minutes alongside.
There’s the return of Dean Henderson, plus the arrival of van de Beek, who has already influenced games at Champions League-level, scoring at both the quarter-final and semi-final stage.
Our struggles against more defensively-minded opponents seemed to disappear as the season wore on, and particularly once Fernandes and Pogba joined forces in midfield.
United’s form against the top six was good throughout last season: Liverpool were the only club to beat us across 10 games. The defeats at home to Crystal Palace and Burnley were the types of contest that really seemed to perplex us. With van de Beek, Fernandes and Pogba, plus the aforementioned front three, Ole will be confident he has the creativity and imagination to unlock the most stubborn and miserly of ‘low blocks’.

Donny van de Beek: His story so far


Did you know the Dutchman's first goal for Ajax was against Solskjaer's Molde? It's all here in his detailed profile.

But, of course, there are question marks. The last few months of 2019/20 were extremely condensed, with fixtures coming thick and fast. And it’s unarguable that towards the end of the campaign, the Reds didn’t appear quite as free-flowing as we had been in the period that immediately followed the restart.
This season will be even more demanding, and rivals like Chelsea and Arsenal appear to be significantly strengthening in the transfer market. There will, of course, be injuries. Rashford, Martial and Pogba all spent significant spells of last term on the sidelines and, at times, their absence was sorely felt.
That’s where squad depth comes into play. It seems indisputable that the squads with the richest, deepest seams of talent will prosper in 2020/21. 
Our strong starting XI cannot be expected to play 50 to 60 games across all competitions. Plus, we’re playing the Champions League next season, so it will not be possible to employ the same level of squad rotation seen in the Europa League last year.
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Van de Beek will help hugely in that respect, as someone with Champions League experience, and players such as Juan Mata and Daniel James will hope to make an impact in more big games, as they did on occasion last season. But Ole admitted more is probably needed in March, when he explained: “We know we lack one, two, three players to be considered a title contender, and some experience.”
Regardless of further additions, the last third of 2019/20 proved that Solskjaer has already developed a very good side that can match Liverpool and Manchester City over a lengthy period.
Could we potentially match them for the duration in 2020/21?
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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