Opinion: The Reds are moving in the right direction
Manchester United head into a new calendar year with renewed optimism after back-to-back wins in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, the next few months offer the Reds real hope of gaining silverware, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men still alive in three cup competitions.
Work certainly remains to be done in the second half of the 2019/20 season and beyond, but, as we begin a new year, in this feature - which first appeared in the January 2020 edition of Inside United - we’re reflecting on the encouraging signs the campaign has offered up so far…
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Upon his return to Old Trafford just over a year ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made no secret of his desire to bring exciting, attacking, happy football back to Manchester United and already in 2019/20, the Reds have passed enough signposts to indicate that this is the right road. Greater attacking expression, pace and unpredictability have made United unplayable at times, and the conscious shift in mindset has been relentlessly indoctrinated behind the scenes at the Aon Training Complex.
“Ole, Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick are steeped in the United way of doing things and what the style of play should be,”says first-team coach Kieran McKenna.
“It's the message the players are always getting: we want to be on the front foot, we want to attack quickly, we want to create chances, we want exciting play, we want action. And we want to give the crowd what they want.“
Any long-term rebuild requires solid foundations, and United have been steadily plotting future success by securing components seen as key to the process. September’s announcement of a new long-term deal for David De Gea was hailed by the boss as a ‘vital part of our plans, as we look to take Manchester United back to where it belongs’. The goalkeeper’s retention marked a real statement of intent, as did tying Marcus Rashford down for the long haul. Experienced pros like Juan Mata and Victor Lindelof have also been handed contract extensions this term, and so too have burgeoning talents Mason Greenwood, Andreas Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams.
The embodiment of the culture United’s staff are trying to create – humble, brave, industrious – in a few short months, Scott McTominay has evolved into one of the leaders of the team. A driving midfield force with his energy and commitment, the Lancaster-born Scot has also proven a threat in the final third, with eye-catching strikes against Arsenal and Norwich City. But most impressive is the age-defying maturity – the ability to intuit what his team-mates and the match situation demand.
“McTominay was dominant,”assessed Jose Mourinho after United had dispatched his Tottenham team. That’s becoming a familiar assessment, for fans and opponents alike.
Solskjaer’s ‘desire to give young players their chance’ was cited by Ed Woodward upon the Norwegian’s appointment as permanent manager, and the United legend has been unfailingly true to his convictions. Mason Greenwood has led the way – with eight goals so far – but the Academy’s influence spreads much wider. Axel Tuanzebe returned from his loan spell with Aston Villa and was leading the team out as captain against Rochdale by September, while left-back Brandon Williams needed only a short cameo in the same fixture to impress his tenacity upon the Old Trafford crowd. Since then, Williams has featured across all competitions, earning three Man of the Match awards to boot. In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan – some 2,973 miles from Manchester – six further Academy starlets were handed debuts against Astana: Di’Shon Bernard, Ethan Galbraith, Ethan Laird, Dylan Levitt, D’Mani Mellor and Largie Ramazani.
Fate decreed that next month’s Carabao Cup semi-finals will see a two-legged Manchester derby, with the victor going on to face either Leicester City or Aston Villa in March’s Wembley final.
“Fantastic days in Manchester,”grinned the boss after learning of the draw, while he will no doubt be looking forward to our last-32 tie with Club Brugge in the Europa League. Three seasons ago, the Reds won both competitions in the same year and who could bet against us doing the same in 2020…
This feature first appeared in the January 2020 edition of Inside United, which is still available to purchase online.