So, we did it. Not long ago, we were hoping that that Manchester United could finish fifth in the league, following the announcement of City’s European ban, so that we could play in the Champions League next season. Even that wasn’t nailed on though. Following the Burnley defeat at Old Trafford back in January it felt like the only way was down. We were 14 points behind Leicester in 3rd and our goal difference was 21 off theirs. Finishing 3rd wasn’t even a possibility for us.
We were six points behind Chelsea in 4th, our goal difference just two behind them, but more worryingly, Spurs and Wolves were on the same points, Sheffield United were one off us, Southampton were three points behind, then the teams ranked 10th to 14th were only four points behind. We were a couple more bad results from the bottom half and it was terrifying.
Yet, remarkably, we haven’t lost a game in the league since then. We won nine of the 14 matches that followed, scoring 30 and conceding 7, earning us more points than any other side. To finish the season third, with the context of where we were a few months, is an incredible achievement. That’s not to say we can be content with finishing so far behind Liverpool and City, but to be the best of the rest will have to do for now.
While not wanting to dwell on Liverpool too much, it’s worth remembering they were 6th the season before Jurgen Klopp took charge. They finished 8th in his first season, then 4th and 4th again, winning nothing during this time. Building title winning teams doesn’t happen over night. We’ve been spoilt with the longevity of Sir Alex Ferguson, who was able to plan for the future, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t had that luxury. None of the managers since Fergie have.
Next season will be when we can judge whether he has what it takes to get United back to where we want to be, presuming that he’s backed in the transfer market. Jadon Sancho looks certain to join us now, with reports suggesting the only factor stalling the move was whether we would qualify for the Champions League or not, and he certainly has the quality you’d be looking for to build a team that was capable of winning things.
When United played their strongest XI after the re-start, we were flying and teams struggled to cope with us. The problem is, the players on the fringes of the best team didn’t have the same quality, so Ole opted not to rotate. Was he sending a message to Ed Woodward? Our lads have looked knackered in the last couple of weeks so reinforcements must be made.
But before getting bogged down by the worries of next season, it’s nice just to reflect on this one and see how far we’ve come. We haven’t been good enough for too many games but we pulled through in the end. The players, manager and coaching staff deserve recognition for that.
We’ve still got the Europa League to come, with our next game taking place on August 5th, and it’s so nice to go in that competition without the desperation of needing to win that to play in the Champions League. Solskjaer craves his first trophy as our manager and it would be great to lift that before next season’s campaign begins on September 12th.
Our squad isn’t as good as Liverpool or City’s right now, so finishing 3rd has to be good enough. But it feels like we are finally heading in the right direction again.
Well done lads and well done Ole.