Should Manchester United Fans Feel Hopeful This Season?
But this season, fans are feeling somewhat optimistic. For the first time in years, the atmosphere around the club is quite different. The optimism is genuine and fans are finally feeling that the club is ready to become a force for years to come. The man behind this change is none other than club legend and current first team manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Since his initially temporary managerial appointment in December 2018, OGS set himself to bring the "United Way" back to the club, from the academy to the first team.
After struggling initially, United is thriving again. The first team improved gradually, while the academy has started producing top talents again. The optimism around the fanbase is evident and the upward-trajectory should continue.
Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane are world-class additions in RW and CB respectively. And to top things off, United have brought back Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the biggest players to have played for the club in recent history. Their collective ability and experience take this squad to an exciting new level buoyed by a winning mentality.
The squad Solskjaer inherited was ageing, egotistic, and disillusioned to the core. Now, he has built a team of young, talented, and vibrant players who are humble and fully committed to the badge. The Leeds United game on the opening day was a testament to that. The performance players produced in that 5-1 mauling of their Roses rivals, driven by the passionate home support and how they returned that affection, speaks for itself.
Set-pieces were the Achilles heel of Manchester United last season. But it seems their new set-piece coach Eric Ramsey is doing his job really well. This was evident during last week's 1-1 draw with Southampton. United were secure defending set-pieces and very threatening attacking them, getting the all-important first contact almost every time. The presence of Raphael Varane would only enhance the set-piece prospects.
Unfortunately, there are issues hampering OGS's progress. A tough run of fixtures awaits United from October to November when they face three of last season's top five. Add the two UCL group-stage games and this period could well prove to make-or-break the Red Devils' season.
There are other issues too. The lack of a defensive-midfielder upsets the team's balance-of-play, as seen in the Southampton game where the Fred-Matic pivot had a stinker. The squad depth is lopsided where an injury crisis might derail the season. Moreover, Solskjaer's in-game management has been questionable at times. The UEFA Europa League final last season is a prime example. Any recurrence of that during crunch or knockout games would be fatal to their hopes.
This squad, for all the improvements, is still at a crossroads, even with the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Breaking the 5-year trophy-drought with a FA or Carabao Cup should be the priority, along with a credible title challenge till February/March and a run to the Champions League Quarter-Finals on the agenda. The current balance of power in the UCL is intriguing. Manchester United might spring a surprise there too because football is a funny old game after all.
For now, all United fans can do is hope that the team sorts out their shortcomings to continue their march back to the top of English, and European football.
Inqiad Bin Ali is patiently waiting for Ole's rebuild to be over. Ask him all things Man United at firstname.lastname@example.org