This was always going to be a pivotal season. For Manchester United, but even more so for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. After a remarkable start to his tenure as manager, it quickly turned sour at the tail end of last season. Critics were quick to point their fingers at the board’s naivety at appointing the Norwegian. So how did he and his team perform in what has been a strange season for everyone involved in the game?
Putting a Smile Back on People’s Faces
Before we get into the nitty gritty of statistics there is something Solskjær undeniably has done – he has brought the club back to the fans. He has also made, if not the club then certainly the team, one that is suddenly admired and liked by football fans, not just Manchester United fans. For the first time most people can remember, the club has a manager who is actually popular and liked by the football world in general. Across the water from the UK, Manchester United has become the second – or first team – for a lot of Solskjaer’s fellow Norwegians. They have joined the ranks of millions of United’s international followers who harbour little to no hope of visiting Old Trafford, but avidly watch matches and follow their odds on sites like Unibet.
It is something of a chicken and egg scenario. Solskjær has spoken about the club and the training ground being a happier place than when he replaced Mourinho. The togetherness on the pitch and the way the players are enjoying playing for the club again is evident. It is always a better place when results are going your way, however. It is harder to play with a smile, no less a swagger, when you are in a run of defeats and are facing criticism or worse after every game.
The League and the Cups
Solskjær spoke after the Leicester game, saying that his aim was to get into the Champions League. For a club of United’s status, exclusion from that competition, especially now it is opened up to so many, is unthinkable and Wednesday nights during the Autumn and Spring must have been purgatory for fans and players alike. They achieved it, a feat that is more impressive considering where the club was six months ago. Third place behind two teams that even the most ardent United fans would admit are currently in a league of their own, is certainly a success and one that Solskjær can rightfully feel proud of.
Regarding the cups, United are all but through to the quarter finals of the revamped Europa League, and will be confident of going all the way. Their disappointing FA Cup semi-final is the one real blot on their post restart landscape, and losing in the EFL semi to City is never going to be easy to swallow. Overall though, three semi finals at the very least is further indication that the team is going in the right direction, as well as perhaps one that there is still a little further to go.
The Turning Point
There may be several reasons why Manchester United turned their season around, but there is no denying the fact that the overriding contributing factor was the signing and subsequent form of Bruno Fernandes. United have been a different team with the Portuguese maestro in their ranks. He has been the missing piece of the jigsaw, not only bringing all those in front of him on the pitch into the game, but making them better players. In the 14 games since he joined the club, Manchester United have won more points than anyone else in the league. Two more than City, three more than Liverpool.
United are playing with a verve and vigour that is a million miles from 18 months ago. They have young, pacey and talented players that are exactly what every fan wants for their side. If the rumour mill is to be believed, Sancho could be added in the summer which would further improve that part of their game.
No matter which way you look at it, it has been a good season for United. What they have achieved however will only be worth something if they are able to build on that in the season and seasons to come, therefore closing the gap between themselves and their two great North West rivals.