As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United head into the season on the back of a 4-0 pre-season win against Everton, both manager and club will know that trophies is a must this upcoming season – anything less would be deemed a failure.
A very respectful year-on-year improvement has seen Manchester United push on under Solskjaer. Having finished sixth on 66 points in his first season, a third-placed finish followed again on 66 points and a second-placed finish last season on 74 points. Goal difference spiked by +19 from 2018/19 to 2019/20, with a one-goal decrease last season to +29.
To consider results alone would be unfair on Solskjaer. He has transformed the club from top to bottom. Emphasis is now once again placed on youth recruitment and signing players with a desire to win and excel in the red shirt, rather than the big name who lacks determination and might be more willing to sit on a large pay packet.
Signings are much more targeted than they once were – it seems that gone are the days of haphazard transfer policy whereby the club made do with whoever was available or whichever player was pushed on them by certain big-name agents.
Just look at the signings under Solskjaer. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles. No square pegs for round holes and, whilst some might have proven more success than others, they are all decent enough players who seem to possess a real hunger to do right by the famous Manchester United badge.
Edinson Cavani might be deemed an exception to the rule given his ripe age. However, the Uruguayan has been nothing but a hit since arriving at Old Trafford. Solskjaer will have been ecstatic when Cavani signed on for another year – his experience and guidance must prove invaluable to the likes of Mason Greenwood, whilst his eye for goal certainly isn’t diminishing if we go on his form from last season.
That brings us to this pre-season. Having finally tied up Jadon Sancho (a year late for some..) and later Raphael Varane – once again, all we see are well thought out signings.
Right-wing, despite all of Dan James’ effort, was still an issue. Whilst Greenwood is an intriguing option from the right, he will certainly move central at some point over the coming years. Therefore a very talented attacker like Jadon Sancho should prove crucial when it comes to tight games both at home and away.
Then we have Raphael Varane. Since joining Real Madrid, Varane gathered 18 major honours including three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey title, four UEFA Champions League titles and four FIFA Club World Cup titles. He was also a World Cup winner with France in 2018.
Varane’s pace will prove vital alongside Maguire and although some worry he might take some time to adapt to the Premier League – long term worries should definitely be quelled given his obvious talent and proven pedigree. This is a centre-half who should also be approaching his prime at 28 years-old and has averaged 32 La Liga matches across each of the last three seasons.
Ultimately, however, the currency at a club of Manchester United’s stature should and will always be silverware.
The second-placed league finish, Europa League final appearance, League Cup semi-final and FA Cup quarter-final was decent enough but will never be deemed good enough for Manchester United.
Some cause for concern emerges when you look closer at the limp defeats to both Villarreal in the Europa League final and to Leicester in the FA Cup quarter-final, as well as the rather weak surrendering of the league in the second-half of the season.
Yet the new three-year contract certainly offers an added sense of security to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial position. Still a valid question mark remains against Solskjaer and this squad’s ability to get themselves over the line on the biggest occasions.
Obviously all of this is subject to change. Varane’s winning mentality might be all they require. Or it might be that Sancho’s added x-factor was all that was missing. A packed Old Trafford crowd will be eagerly awaiting some answers against Leeds United next week.
One thing for certain is the upcoming season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United will either be the catalyst to bigger and better things or a case of what might have been for this romantic partnership between legendary player and former club.