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Staff Roundtable: Manchester United’s Best of 2021

Staff picks for the best of 2021...

Manchester United v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

2021 Schoolboy Q Man of the Year:

Colin: It’s Luke Shaw for me. He’s overcome a lot in his career, including a horrific leg injury and Jose Mourinho’s bullying, but had a remarkable year in 2021. A transcendent Euros performance for England is definitely part of it, but it started at United. Crucial as the Reds finished 2nd in the PL and reached the Europa League Final. His play down the left overlapping Rashford made him an elite attacking left back, and one of the best in the world at his position. It’s been a mix of good and bad to start the new campaign, but his absence due to injury has been noticeable despite a couple ok performances from Telles.

Suwaid: I’m going with Edinson Cavani. Just personal reasons, I suppose. I can’t say that I’ve really loved a player from this United side since Michael Carrick left. Most of those that came through the door post-Fergie just missed something that I can’t really put a finger on. I obviously love them cause they play for the club but there aren’t many that I love for other reasons. Edinson Cavani’s got everything I love about a footballer and there’s a long list of things that I’ll probably save for a piece when he leaves the club. So yea, El Matador is my Schoolboy Q Man of the Year.

Pauly: The answer is Luke Shaw but for the sake of being different I’ll go with Fred. Fred’s taken a lot of hate over the past year yet all he’s done is go out there and consistently perform. There’s a reason he’s started 31 of the 39 Premier League matches United have played this season - and why they win when he plays and struggle when he doesn’t. More than that, in a year that had so much based on vibes, Fred is the best vibes. He’s one of the most loved players inside the United dressing room and the genuine happiness of all his teammates is obvious every time he scores. If he was available to play 90 minutes in Gdansk, it’s highly likely United would have lifted a trophy last season.

Vince: For me it's simple, Bruno. The Portuguese Magnifico single-handily carried the team last season and continued it for this new season. He is proving match after match that it was worth the hassle to sign him. Personally, he should be captain, nothing against Maguire, but he isn't a leader.

Since the fans voted him player of the year for 20/21, I’m right.

2021 Favorite Match:

Pauly: Manchester United 5-1 Leeds United

Everything about that day was just so perfect. Old Trafford packed with fans for the first time in over a year. Raphael Varane being unveiled right before kickoff tore the house down. And on top of that all, Manchester United vs Leeds, two bitter rivals who hadn’t a played a top division match in front of fans in nearly two decades.

Then the match kicked off and United ran their rivals off the pitch for the second time in a year. Mason Greenwood scoring that magical goal - off a glorious pass and an underrated finish - in front of the Stretford End might have been biblical. Who knows, perhaps that was the loudest I’ve heard Old Trafford roar on a non-European night? Or maybe it just felt that way because it had been so long since Scott McTominay’s goal against City - the last time we had heard Old Trafford truly erupt.

I wrote at the time we didn’t actually learn anything from this match. That’s still somewhat true. Leeds were the perfect matchup for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United, playing right into their hands.

By that same note, that game showed us everything we should have needed to know for the season. Paul Pogba further forward is DANGEROUS. Bruno Fernandes is so so good when 1. he’s coming in rested and 2. when he’s making runs into the opponents box. Scott McTominay only able to give us 60 minutes was a reminder of how painfully barren our depth was in central midfield. If only were the things we took away from this match but alas, nothing gold can stay.

Suwaid: Spurs 1-3 Manchester United

The 6-1 loss earlier in the season. Paul Pogba’s interview prior to the game. Jose Mourinho. The disallowed goal and Spurs opener. Fred goal. Edinson Cavani’s diving header. Paul Pogba excelling in that left midfield role. Dean Henderson’s sweeping. Greenwood’s winner to cap off a brilliant second half. Luke Shaw’s redemption and the photo that did the rounds after that.

It was the most hopeful I’d been during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign. The other time we played a similar line-up was the 6-2 win against Roma. It’s perhaps down to all the injuries but we haven’t seen this line-up that often since. It was the sort of line-up I’d been suggesting all season on my Twitter account and to see it play out like that got me some petty validation as well but the Spurs game was more than that.

Perfect day,

Vince: Ronaldo 2-2 Atalanta

It was a semi-meaningless Champions League match but it was my favorite match of the year so far. I love individual performances and Ronaldo single handily made that match a draw with his goals, the second one coming out of nowhere.

Yes, you can say bringing in CR7 was more of a marketing move than a performance on the field move but he proves people wrong time and time again.

Colin: Manchester United 3-2 Liverpool

We entered 2021 with the (certainly hopeful) expectation of Manchester United and Liverpool battling it out at the top of the Premier League. Unfortunately their 0-0 Premier League clash at the top proved emblematic of the impotence of both teams’s league form as a boring but predatory Manchester City crept up from behind to take hold of the title race. However, what followed just a week later in the FA Cup lived up to the hype. An unfortunately empty Old Trafford bore witness to what was a thoroughly entertaining clash of rivals, decided late in the end by a spectacular Bruno Fernandes free kick.

If only fans had been there to see it.

2021 Favorite Individual Performance:

Colin: Edinson Cavani against Roma. Could tell he’d really found himself in the side by that point in the season, and his driving performance in the Europa League semi-final was really special. 2 goals in each leg, but the first leg in particular he just ran the show. Roma’s 2 away goals never seemed to matter the way he glided between the defense, distributed in tune, and struck each opportunity he found with venom. Hope there’s more of that to come in his final months with the club.

Suwaid: I’m going to go with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba’s showing in the 5-1 game against Leeds. 7 goal contributions between them. What more need be said.

Pauly: Paul Pogba against Leeds had it all. Given the freedom to roam around he was in complete control of that game, pulling all the strings, racking up four assists, and frankly he should have opened the scoring himself. Yes, he overachieved against his xA significantly but perhaps that was just life evening things out after all the chances he put on a plate only to watch Zlatan miss in his first season.

But that was already mentioned by Suwaid so the performance that caught my eye was Mason Greenwood in that game. Given the chance to play centrally he finally showed us that he really belongs there. Getting him off that right wing and able to run into the channels, the banana run he made to keep himself onside on his goal was just as nice as the finish itself. It was a performance that showed a tremendous amount of growth in his game.

Honorable mention goes to the 20 minute cameo Greenwood made against West Ham in the League Cup where he showed he just wasn’t even on the same planet as everyone else on the pitch. Unfortunately it didn’t end with a goal.

Vince: See my favorite game contribution

2021 Best Goal:

Suwaid: Edinson Cavani’s strike against Fulham.

I miss the days when ABBA was my most popular artist of the month.

Vince: ^ What @Suwaid said ^. That strike still amazes me!

Colin: Bruno Fernandes vs. Everton

The goal that sparked Eric Cantona vs. David Beckham comparisons, and it was worthy. It was the kind of goal that made you stop and appreciate the kind of player you watched score it. A truly magical footballer at times.

Pauly: Fred vs Crystal Palace

“Who is scoring the first goal of the Rangnick era?”

That was a text I got about 25 minutes into the match. The original response was “well we’re playing with a steady diet of ‘just pump the ball into the middle to Ronaldo’ which is opening some chances for McTominay and Fred at the top of the box so the long shot play is one of them.”

As someone who has seen and gif-ed every single goal United have scored this year, what really stood out to me was how few goals actually came to mind. Sure there was Bruno’s strike against Everton, Cavani’s diving header vs Spurs, and Pogba’s winner against Burnley was really sweet but I think I subconsciously eliminated any goal that took place without any fans. It’s just not the same. Cavani’s midfield chip vs Fulham came in front of about 15k people at Old Trafford, but the rest of that match was so bad that I’ve basically blocked it from my memory.

Greenwood’s goal against Leeds gets a shout but - nailing the first goal of the Rangnick era prediction aside - I think the balance still tips to Fred. Just a week earlier he was being targeted for a poor shot against Chelsea when United had a chance to win. A week later he’s hitting one with his weak foot to give us three points and getting the plaudits he deserved.

Plus, the team doesn’t celebrate anyones goals as hard as they celebrate Fred goals.

2021 Best Gif

Pauly:

Man these guys love each other so much. They just wanna play football and have fun.

Vince: