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Manchester United can comfortably lay claim to being one of the biggest football clubs in the world and that’s whether you judge them according to financial clout, global reach or the team’s overall success on the pitch.
Quite simply, they are a giant when it comes to this sport, although the New York Exchange-listed outfit haven’t exactly been pulling up any trees since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager in 2013.
Since the legendary Scot finally decided to call it a day, it’s been a challenging phase for the north-west club who have been through a spate of first-team managers, while the United supporters have not only had to contend with Manchester City dominating the domestic competitions but also Liverpool surpassing them and standing on the verge of a first Premier League title in thirty years.
Nevertheless, we have identified a number of reasons for United fans to be cheerful at this moment in time. While the Red Devils are going to finish a country mile behind Liverpool in the final top-flight standings this season, the mood around Old Trafford has significantly improved in recent weeks and we examine why this is the case:
Ole’s At the Wheel
Recent Form Has Been Very Good
Fernandes Has Already Become a Fan Favourite
Ighalo Silencing the Doubters in Style
Manchester United Now Europa League Favourites
Red Devils Could Also Land a Domestic Trophy
United Have the Bragging Rights of Manchester
Let’s begin with the manager considering that’s usually where the buck stops. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the surprise appointment as caretaker boss in December 2018 before a fine cameo performance saw the Norwegian handed a permanent contract at Manchester United, although the 2018/19 season ended badly and not many expected the former Cardiff manager to last a full term in charge.
However, Solskjaer has remained positive at Old Trafford and he appears to have ridden out several storms as he aims to achieve that difficult balance of getting good results on a regular basis along with developing a team capable of mixing it with the other leading teams in England when it comes to future seasons.
After Manchester United’s 2-0 home reverse against Burnley on Wednesday 22 January, the knives were firmly out for Solskjaer and his team, especially as it occurred three days after losing to arch-rivals Liverpool at Anfield. However, the Red Devils bounced back with a 6-0 cup win at Tranmere and haven’t looked back since.
They’ve recently beaten Manchester City twice along with a 2-0 triumph at Stamford Bridge. At the time of writing, it’s eleven games undefeated since that defeat against the Clarets and the Solskjaer critics certainly can’t be heard at this moment in time.
It’s not a coincidence that the capture of Bruno Fernandes has coincided with this upturn in form. Indeed, the Portuguese hasn’t tasted defeat since arriving at Old Trafford for the princely sum of £47,000,000 – although he’s already starting to look cheap after a series of impressive performances in an attacking midfield position for Manchester United.
At the age of 25, the north-west giant appear to have captured the former Sporting player at the peak of his career and he’s already chipped in with three goals in the famous red, white and black colours. Ed Woodward has been criticised for his transfer activity in recent years, although he appears to have struck gold here.
Many football fans remember Odion Ighalo turning out for Watford FC between 2014-2017, with the Nigerian enjoying a healthy goals return for the Hornets, although nobody identified him as someone who would eventually do a job for Manchester United during the business end of the 2019/20 season.
Ighalo agreed to sign for the Red Devils until the end of the season and the Shanghai Greenland Shenhua forward has pilfered four goals for the club already including a spectacular opener against LASK in the Europa League. Nobody is lamenting the fact that Marcus Rashford is injured right now.
Ighalo’s brilliant goal against LASK paved the way for a comprehensive 5-0 victory and United are effectively into the last eight of the Europa League and are clearly the team to be avoided. That is a view reflected by the online bookmakers who have installed Solskjaer’s men as 5/2 favourites to win the competition.
A European triumph would be a double positive for a team who have come under plenty of criticism since the season began. Not only would it mean some fairly significant silverware being landed in the process, it would also guarantee a spot in next season’s Champions League irrespective of where the Red Devils wound up in the Premier League.
The FA Cup has had its fair share of critics, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has always attached a reasonable amount of importance to this season’s competition, fielding strong teams for both games against Wolves in the third round and following suit with his squad selection for the fourth round tie at Tranmere Rovers.
United have subsequently gone on to win comfortably at Derby to reach the last eight of the FA Cup and travel to Carrow Road for a place in the Wembley semi-finals, with the prospect of an all-Manchester final a very real one providing that the competition is allowed to run its course after several recent fixtures were postponed.
You could have got a massive price about Manchester United beating Manchester City on three different occasions this season although they’ve pulled off this fantastic achievement, with two of the victories coming at the Etihad Stadium. Solskjaer has managed to effectively outwit Pep Guardiola on several occasions and a Premier League double must feel particularly sweet.
The 2-1 triumph in December saw the Red Devils storm into a 2-0 lead before an outstanding defensive rearguard action helped the team seal a maximum haul, although there was a more offensive strategy during the recent 2-0 win at Old Trafford where the high press forced Ederson into some uncharacteristic mistakes.
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The Leaky Defence is Now Looking Watertight
It’s taken a while but Manchester United finally have a pretty good defence sitting in front of David de Gea. The team had previously been over-reliant on their Spanish goalkeeper to performing heroics, although the acquisitions of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have proved to be a sound investment, with the pair having slotted fairly seamlessly into the first team.
Maguire is the rock in central defence and has continued to perform as impressively as he previously did for Leicester and England. Wan-Bissaka has also shone in the right-back position and he’s been especially bright from a defensive point-of-view, with Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane among the players he has successfully managed to tame this season.
Martial Finally Making His Mark at the Club
Last summer, Solskjaer made his intentions very clear when it came to the attacking positions at the club. Romelu Lukaku was allowed to join Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez followed the Belgian to the San Siro and the Norwegian manager stated that Anthony Martial would be the first-choice centre forward at Old Trafford.
Even though he’s been at the club since 2015, it’s important to remember that the Frenchman is only 24 and he’s often been in and out of the United team under previous managers. This is truly the first season where Martial has been given an opportunity to play in his favoured position and he’s not disappointed with a return of 16 goals and counting.
United Flying Without Rashford
While Martial has hit double figures in terms of Premier League goals for the season, he’s still three behind Marcus Rashford, who hasn’t played for Manchester United since the middle of January. Before sustaining a long-term injury in an FA Cup game against Wolves, the England striker had been prolific since October, including a five-match scoring spree during the month of November.
The fact that the Red Devils are enjoying such a rich vein of form without their star attacking player should mean they’re even more powerful when he eventually returns, with the 22-year-old likely to enjoy a massive long-term future at Old Trafford considering that he’s a home-grown talent who wants nothing more than to play for United.
Red Devils Looking Good for Top Four Spot
A few weeks ago, it looked as though Manchester United were no more than rank outsiders to qualify for the Champions League by finishing in the Premier League top four. However, the fact that they have accrued ten points from four tricky top flight encounters means that they’re bang in contention to dine at Europe’s top table without having to win the Europa League.
The north-west outfit are currently stationed in fifth place which could be enough to compete for the European Cup considering that Manchester City are facing a UEFA ban, although United sit just three points behind Chelsea with a superior goal difference and they have the definite potential to leapfrog the Blues over the next nine matches.
United Looking Forward to Life After Pogba
While Paul Pogba remains on the books at Manchester United, there seems a fair chance that the Frenchman has played his final game for the English club. It would appear that the player no longer wishes to turn out for the twenty-time champions and has instead focused on a potential return to Juventus where he enjoyed plenty of previous success.
Solskjaer continues to tow the party line by claiming that Pogba has a future in the team, although he must privately feel as though the squad are better off without a player who has often looked like a toxic presence in the team. While few can dispute the World Cup winner’s ability, the lack of desire and workrate has consistently been an issue.
Solskjaer Bringing Through Talented Young Players
Jose Mourinho never really allowed youth to have its fling at Old Trafford during an increasingly negative reign at the club, although Solskjaer is adamant about building a squad for the future and we’ve seen several players enjoy a prominent role for Manchester United this season to illustrate the point.
Full-back Brandon Williams has acquitted himself well, teenager Mason Greenwood has scored thirteen goals despite largely being used for cameo appearances, while Daniel James has played an unexpectedly enormous amount of games following his £15,000,000 arrival from Swansea City. Axel Tuanzebe and Tahith Chong are also on the cusp of breaking through.
United Stable for First Time Since Ferguson Left
It’s been a rocky road following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. His replacement David Moyes barely got an opportunity, Louis van Gaal was never the long-term solution and Jose Mourinho finished second in his first season at Manchester United before the team regressed to that post-Ferguson average finishing position of fifth in the Premier League.
However, Solskjaer deserves enormous credit for not only steadying the ship in a post-Mourinho climate but also casting an eye towards the future and shaping a squad that can be competitive over the coming seasons.
While nobody is expecting the Red Devils to win the 2020/21 Premier League title, we can reasonably expect United to get much closer to Liverpool and Manchester City next term and give supporters some real hope that they can add to those twenty league titles at some point in the not-too-distant future.
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