In the history of Manchester United, it’s safe to say we’ve had better years than 2018. We’ve had worse too, many of them fairly recently, but there’s been plenty of doom and gloom surrounding the club this year.
It’s hard to believe that a few months ago we finished second in the league, ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs. We also reached the FA Cup final. I suppose the issue was how far behind Pep Guardiola’s City we were and that we lost in the final.
The manager didn’t look happy, the players didn’t look happy and the football largely wasn’t up to much.
Still, as we approach a new era, under a new interim manager before a long-term appointment in the summer, there are worse things we can do than look to the positives.
So, who has been our best player this year?
Runner up: David de Gea
The obvious answer to this question, as it is most years, is our goalkeeper. Maybe I’m not giving it to him just because I’m so bored of him being our best player season after season. He’s fallen short of the high standards he had previously set himself in the few months of this season, although he’s still easily the best goalkeeper in the league.
It’s hard (and depressing) to imagine where we would be without him and his excellent saves. We almost certainly wouldn’t have finished second last season and our league position this season may well be worse if he wasn’t between the sticks.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named him captain for the Huddersfield game. The club needs to spend 2019 convincing De Gea to stay.
Winner: Anthony Martial
The Frenchman started 2018 brilliantly, scoring three goals in the first three games of the year. He scored a brilliant goal away to Everton, an equally brilliant goal against Stoke, followed by a quality winner away to Burnley.
However, when the January transfer window closed and Alexis Sanchez joined the club, Martial was inexplicably dropped. His form showed he clearly deserved a place in the starting line-up but Jose Mourinho thought otherwise and Martial started just five further games in the league before the season ended.
As a result, Martial missed out on a place in France’s World Cup squad. This would be bad enough but the fact France went on to win the competition was enough to make a man hold a grudge forever. His agent confirmed that Martial was looking for a transfer in the summer and Mourinho was prepared to let him leave. Thankfully, the club held on to him and, to Martial’s credit, he showed up when called upon.
His first big moment of this season came against Newcastle. United had gone 2-0 down after 10 minutes. Juan Mata pulled one back with 20 minutes left to play through a freekick Martial won, then five minutes later Martial equalised. It was such a cool finish when under so much pressure. Sanchez secured the points with a last minute winner.
In the next game, Martial scored two second half goals at Stamford Bridge after we had gone a goal behind against Chelsea. Painfully, Ross Barkley scored an undeserved equaliser deep in to injury time but the Frenchman earned us a point.
A week later, Martial scored the crucial goal in the 2-1 win over Everton. It was another exquisitely taken curling effort.
In our next game, Martial scored the equaliser against Bournemouth before Marcus Rashford secured the points in injury time.
Martial turned 23 earlier this month so has years ahead of him. United recently activated the clause to extend his contract by a season, but like with De Gea, the year ahead should see convincing Martial to sign another deal. Pay him what he wants. He’s one of the few players who brings genuine excitement to the team. He’s immensely talented and if used regularly, allowed to let his confidence grow, and given the freedom to express himself, who knows how good he could become.