It is difficult to fully comprehend just how a season that saw Manchester United suffer the embarrassment of a 7-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, their biggest in the entire history of the fixture, and a 6-3 mauling to Manchester City at the Etihad stadium, could be judged to have been a success, but it was.
The 2022-23 season offered incredible highs and gut-wrenching lows, but it could be argued was the most enjoyable campaign in the decade since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
United played a lot of games, just three short of the maximum possible last season, and so many of these saw them play with a new and attractive attacking fervour: the early season wins over Arsenal and Liverpool at Old Trafford, the win over Manchester City in January, the performance in the Camp Nou and the subsequent victory over Barcelona at Old Trafford.
These wins brought league points and progress in Europe, but it was the 2-0 win over Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final that delivered United’s first trophy in six years.
This might have been sneered at by some, and a sign of United’s fall that a trophy that until recently carried little interest was celebrated with such obvious joy. But it was a trophy, a tangible sign of success and progress, something to lift and admire at Wembley, which United had not been able to do since May 2017.
In a season where Manchester City won everything else, a trophy offered some consolation, and aligned with a third place finish provided United with a more successful season than the much lauded Arsenal, who threw away a glorious chance to win the Premier League.
During the previous season there was a shocking dearth of candidates for the club’s Player of the Year award, but last season there was a surplus; the rejuvenated Marcus Rashford scoring 30 goals, the calming presence of Casemiro in central midfield, the incredible impact of Lisandro Martinez in central defence and the continued brilliance of Bruno Fernandes.
Last season offered new heroes, great goals, thrilling wins and of course a trophy. More than anything it also offered real hope for the future.
The architect of this revival, who so quickly banished the grimness of Ralf Rangnick’s ill-fated and inept reign, was the United manager Erik ten Hag.
There have been some glimmers of hope with Louis van Gaal; Jose Mourinho with his two trophies and even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but there is now a far more compelling sense that United may have finally found a manager capable of genuinely reviving United.
It is the Dutchman’s ruthlessness that provides the most hope United are now in the right hands, which he first showed with his club captain Harry Maguire, who was dropped within weeks, then with the reigning Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, who was allowed to leave after three months, and most recently with the club’s longest serving player David De Gea who has not had his contract renewed.
Despite their past standing and achievements, these players did not fit into Ten Hag’s vision and have been jettisoned in his pursuit of trophies.
Over the course of the last decade United have made a succession of ill-advised purchases in the transfer market, but in the last year Ten Hag has promisingly bucked this trend with the signings of Casemiro, Martinez, Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia and Antony.
His only misstep was the loan signing of Wout Weghorst last January, who was always an obvious compromise when the club refused to provide him with any funds.
It is often forgotten United managed to win a trophy, reach another cup final and finish third in the table with Weghorst, a striker who scored twice in 31 games, and not once in 17 Premier League games. That in itself was an achievement.
The signing of Mason Mount and arrival of Andre Onana are smart additions, that fit into how Ten Hag wants to play, but United are were desperate to add a striker to really transform them and give them greater hope of making a title challenge.
There is a natural frisson of excitement about the new season, but so much still depends on whether Rasmus Hojlund can hit the ground running in the number nine position this campaign.
Let the season begin!