Manchester United’s 2018/19 season was arguably the club’s worst campaign since the 1980s. It rivalled 2013/14 for its occasional hopeless feelings, and featured yet another manager sacking saga. The disorder under José Mourinho, the incredible yet doomed run under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the transfer window thus far seem to have left many in Red dreading the start of next season. The future of the club is very uncertain, but it isn’t a total loss yet.
Before you go and label this pro-Glazer propaganda, try and understand that this is a sincere attempt to provide a positive perspective. The disastrous management of the club over the last decade has seen a lot of talent go to waste, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still talent or promise. There are still a few reasons why I’m excited for the start of next season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets a fresh start
The end of the 2018/19 campaign was like being dealt yet another critical blow right as you were beginning to get back up. Solskjaer’s inspired squad looked as though they had really turned things around, but were quickly grounded once again by injuries, inconsistency, and fatigue (physical and mental).
However, time off and a couple of new arrivals have given Ole time to regroup and prepare for his first full campaign. He gets a full pre-season to train his team for his style, bring in new blood, and set the tone for the new season. Additionally, the summer is uninterrupted by international football, with the exception of Alexis Sánchez (who is hopefully on his way out anyway).
The obvious hiccups this summer have been the uncertain future over stars Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, with the latter publicly expressing his desire for a “new challenge.” There has also been criticism of the lack of movement in the transfer market, particularly after Solskjaer’s implication that a squad overhaul would take place. But, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka both appear to be fantastic signings that address needs, and talks for more moves are ongoing, according to Ole.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling could very well be sticking around, but don’t let that spoil the season before it’s begun
Marcus Rashford is set up for success
Every one of Marcus Rashford’s seasons at Manchester United has begun with uncertainty over his position and his place in the starting 11. His production reflects this, particularly his often inconsistent goalscoring. However, it seems that Rashford may have found the position that works best for him, one that many have called for him to play in all along: Centre Forward.
Rashford was one of the engines driving United during their brilliant run of form under Ole. Not only did he step up regularly as a creative threat, developing a connection with Pogba, but he also made clear strides in improving as a finisher in front of goal. He scored all sorts of goals on that run of form before picking up an injury against Liverpool. Becoming a great goal scorer as well as a scorer of great goals is the next path for Rashford, and we’ve seen that he is capable of doing so in Ole’s system.
As of now, it appears Rashford will remain Ole’s first choice striker. Lukaku’s playing time last season was irregular, as was his goalscoring, and he appears to be keen on move to Italy. This is Rashford’s moment. The 21-year-old is leaving the safety of the “potential” zone, and will need to go beyond just 13 goals each season. He’s got the tools, the setup, and the manager that he needs, all that’s left is to go and do the damn thing.
Manchester United’s tour is an opportunity not just for Rashford and Anthony Martial to hone their skills as the starting forwards, but also for Solskjaer to usher the newer creative youngsters into his team. Under Mourinho, United had become a team that looked old, playing slow and conservative football (more on that later), and Solskjaer’s instant change of tactics brought back the youthful style that United fans have yearned for.
Solskjaer has made it clear he wants younger players that will be at Old Trafford for the long haul. Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka arrive as the only two transfers so far this window, with more deals supposedly in the works, and several academy prospects also made the cut for the tour squad. Mason Greenwood made waves last season with the youth team, and appears to be part of Ole’s plans, along with Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong, both of whom have made brief appearances in the first team. James Garner and Axel Tuanzebe come into position groups that desperately need new blood.
Whether this pre-season will be as disappointing and tone setting as last season remains to be seen, but the youthfulness of the squad and the tactics will ideally make it more watchable. The rest of the transfer business still needs to play out, with hopefully more centre back and midfield options to come (please, please, please actually do something Ed Woodward), but for now at least positional necessity means more opportunities for Academy players that don’t always get a fair chance.
Seeing a team that runs
Speaking of youthfulness.
Manchester United had taken on a bit of a reputation for boring, slow football from the unsuccessful Louis Van Gaal and José Mourinho eras. Many of the players brought into the side were a bit older, and the tactics favoured organization and stability over speed and creativity. Of the attacking players that did come through, many of them understandably struggled to perform in the defensive system in place, and only became further exposed when the defense collapsed. Now, under Ole, there has been a refreshing focus on quick buildup, creativity, and youthfulness.
This pre-season is about more than establishing a system and chemistry, it’s about getting players up to speed in a very literal sense. It was abundantly clear how exhausted everyone was by the end of last season, and the fatigue made several first teamers more prone to muscle injuries that only exacerbated the situation. The transition from parked bus to full speed will ideally be smoother after vacationing and conditioning.
Fans are also justifiably concerned about the reinforcements Solskjaer will get through the transfer market, and the Pogba and Lukaku exit rumours could further deplete the squad of talent while players like Alexis Sánchez and Marcos Rojo are still around. I don’t have a whole lot to say right now to be optimistic about that, but at least an attacking system would keep up the pressure on opponents. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is an excellent example of fortune favoring the bold, and their high-intensity attacking style eventually levelled out with the addition of competent defenders. United need and identity and direction before they can finalize squad moves and make a legitimate title run, and an energetic attacking style is much more attractive, and often more successful, than what has been on display at Old Trafford for the past few seasons.
What I’m most looking forward to about the start of the new season is moving on from the dumpster fire of last season. We could very well see the same sort of inconsistency on the pitch, and we’ll most likely have a lot more to blame the Glazers and Woodward for, but at least it’ll be a new experience. We’ve been caught in the typical offseason loop of transfer rumours and uncertainty over the future of the club, and are sitting around with the memory of last season’s failures still fresh on the mind.
The Glazers will still own the club, and Ed Woodward almost certainly won’t bring in a technical director, but at the very least we’ll get football back. There will be new things to talk about, the history will continue. I’ll write about things, and you’ll call me a dumb wanker. For 90 minutes a week we can forget everything else and watch Manchester United. We won’t have to sit around for two months tracking a player’s agent’s flight, refresh Twitter after a strong rumour hits, or find other things to do on
Saturdays Sundays anymore.
Despite the plethora of troubles surrounding Manchester United, troubles that will certainly continue beyond this summer, a new season always brings the opportunity to move past the bullshit and just play football again.
And sometimes the football is bullshit too, but at least they’ll be trying to score goals again.