While there were plenty of positives from the 2020-21 season, the campaign ended in huge disappointment when we lost the Europa League final on penalties.
With the new season upon us, some of the country’s best journalists have looked back on last season in the RoM charity season preview, with mixed views on how much progress Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made.
Daniel Taylor, Senior Football Writer at The Athletic: In many ways, there were encouraging signs. United finished eight points better off. The away form was great. There were more goals and a 9-0. You also didn’t concede a single goal to the champions in two league meetings … and you finished above a Liverpool side that left you for dead the previous year. Yet the most memorable game, I’m afraid, was the 6-1 at home to Spurs and in years to come that will probably be the occasion that comes to mind first. Or the penalty shootout in the Europa League final and seeing this once-mighty goalkeeper – David de Gea – looking so ordinary, vulnerable even. There are too many times when it feels like United might be on the edge of a mini-crisis. And there is always this sense that the modern team will always come up just that little bit short. So, yeah, it was mixed – I’ve seen too many trophies, and spent too long covering the Alex Ferguson years, to think that going from third to second constitutes a successful season.
Henry Winter, Chief Football Writer at The Times: Decent, promising, finishing second, but then so disappointing in Gdansk. 7/10. Would have been 8/10 with the Europa League. Off the field, the fans were vital in stopping the scandalous Super League (although you don’t go on the field). The Glazers were shown up for what they are, cold venture capitalists. The powerful work done by John Shiels and the Foundation, as well as Marcus Rashford through FareShare, has saved lives during the pandemic. United’s staff did fantastically to keep games going during pandemic, coping with the complicated medical protocol, so thanks to them for that. So many people working hard behind the scenes. All grounds suffered without fans, but walking into Old Trafford without the hub-bub of fans outside and inside was a soulless experience. Roll on next season, and full houses.
Oliver Holt, Chief Sports Writer at The Mail on Sunday: Another season of steady progress. It wasn’t spectacular and it would have been better if it had been garnished with a trophy but it was another stepping stone towards getting back to where United need to be. I like the way United have approached the rebuilding under Solskjaer and the patience they have shown but I think everyone is aware that the final step might be the hardest and that the season that lies ahead is when they have to take it.
James Ducker, Northern Football Correspondent at The Daily Telegraph: I’ve never been convinced there was the extent of the progress many have made out. Sure, they were better than the previous season and there were some obvious bright spots but was the 2018-19 campaign really a bar against which progress should be measured? That team finished with 66 points – United’s joint second lowest total during the Premier League era – and managed only 19 wins. They finished with eight more points and 21 wins last term but that was still a way off the 81 points and 25 wins they amassed under Jose Mourinho in 2017-18 – and that’s not even the bar they have to reach. Over the past five seasons, the Premier League champions have averaged 30.6 wins and 95.2 points so that shows the huge jump they still need to make.
Some will say I’m being overly negative but this is Manchester United we are talking about – a club that professes to be the biggest in the world with expectations and wage bill to match. But I think there’s a danger some fans have allowed their expectations to be downgraded after such a long period of stasis and the death of ambition under the Glazers who, let’s not forget, are so fearful of competition they wanted a closed shop European Super League to protect their own interests.
United got themselves into a position to challenge in late January and then the moment opportunity knocked they wilted, taking six points from 15 up to mid February with the defeat to Sheffield United and 1-1 draw to West Brom – both of whom were eventually relegated – particularly costly. The away record was very good but I do think the absence of fans in stadium has been a factor there. By the same token, you could argue the home form will improve once Old Trafford is packed again. The defensive base improved but, in the big games, that too often came at the expense of the attack and, when opponents sit deep, United can still look very short of ideas.
Charlotte Duncker, Manchester United Correspondent for Goal: Overall it was pretty positive. Solskjaer’s favourite word is progress and to be fair to him and his staff they’ve made progress since taking over. The Europa League final left fans with a feeling of disappointment and it really did feel like a missed opportunity for them to get that first piece of silverware under Solskjaer.
In the league, however, there was improvement and finishing second was positive. They just need to build on that either by winning the league or closing the gap and being in the title race until the very end.
Simon Stone, Football Reporter for BBC Sport: The Europa League final defeat stopped what was an encouraging season being one of real progress. Overall judgement based around a goalkeeper missing a penalty is harsh but it meant another season without a trophy. There is a plan evolving within the team structure but realistically, second was the best that could be achieved with that squad and there was still a lot of inconsistencies. But overall it was a step forward from the previous campaign, which was better than the one before that.
Purchase the charity preview to hear their view on potential transfers, who our most important players will be in the season ahead and predictions for what we will achieve.