2019/20 in Review – Manchester United
In a season that could only be described as inconsistent for the Red Devils, Struan Garvie has a look back at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in the United dugout.
Where to start with Manchester United’s 2019/20 season… how about at the beginning? After being appointed permanent manager March 2019, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hoping to have a successful first summer transfer window in charge. The club brought in Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace, having developed into one of the most talented young fullbacks in Europe during his time in London. England international Harry Maguire from Leicester City and promising young winger Daniel James from Championship side Swansea City.
It has been a season that could be best described as a rollercoaster – nerves kicking in, plenty of ups and downs but an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Starting the season off with a strong 4-0 victory over top four rivals Chelsea, it looked like it was going to be a successful start for United in their first full season under Solskjaer. However, the next few results did not go as well. A draw to Wolves, a shocking 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace followed by another draw, this time to Southampton, proved it was not going to be plain sailing for United. The ‘take-away’ from these opening four results was the impressive form of Daniel James, who not only scored on his Premier League debut against Chelsea, but also picked up goals against Crystal Palace and Southampton. Many viewed James as only a bit-part player in United’s squad but after his strong start, he made himself a regular in the first team.
It seemed that every time a result went against United, Solksjaer’s position was called into question. This was never more clear than in December. After consecutive draws to Sheffield United and Aston Villa, it seemed Solksjaer’s days were numbered However, the Red Devils silenced the doubters (for a while) after picking up surprise victories against both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the space of three days.
One of the main problems for United this season has been their lack of creativity. An ageing Juan Mata, an out of form Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were all United could rely on to provide the spark from the midfield and, unfortunately, none could regularly produce it. In January, it was clear that United needed to sign a top class number ten who could both create and score goals. Bruno Fernandes was brought in from Sporting Lisbon, a club in which has done plenty of business with United in the past, for a fee of around £47 million. Fernandes hit the ground running by scoring 2 goals and proving 3 assists in his first 5 league games. This short run of games was sufficient enough to see Fernandes named in BBC’s Team of the Season – an inclusion that sparked plenty of controversy.
Another problem for United this season was injuries. Losing key players for long periods such as Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw meant United struggled to field a consistent starting eleven, which directly affected the team’s performance.
Despite all this United found themselves in 5th place in the Premier League, into the quarter finals of the FA Cup and into the last 16 of the Europa League. Not the worst but could definitely be better. To define it even further, I think of the quote from Gennaro Gattuso during his time as AC Milan manager – sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe…
Player of the Season: Marcus Rashford
Despite a fairly underwhelming season, there have been many players who have stood out in the current United side, none more so than Marcus Rashford. The 22-year-old Mancunian has taken the Premier League by storm this season, scoring 14 goals and providing 4 assists in just 22 appearances. It was not just the number of goals Rashford scored but also their importance. Scoring against, Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur proved Rashford was the man United could rely on in the big games.
Rashford unfortunately suffered a back injury against Wolves in an FA Cup tie in January after coming on as a sub. Rashford had already been carrying an injury that was exacerbated after a clash with Matt Doherty. The fact that Rashford was used as a sub, despite the risk, showed how important he was to the United squad.
Throughout many tough games this season, Rashford provided a spark to the squad and fans would hold their breath whenever he received the ball in eager anticipation of what he might do next.
Rashford also received lavish praise from club captain Harry Maguire who said Rashford was the most talented player he had ever played with. All this and the forward is only 22 years old. The local lad has a long career ahead of him and if this season is anything to go by, it will be full of success for him.
Young Player of the Season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
One thing that is clear about United this season was Solkjaer’s desire to promote youth to the first team – desire would become reality, with the squad maintaining an average of 24.5 years old throughout the season. This gave many young players such as Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood an opportunity to shine but none more so than 22 year-old summer signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka. After arriving from Crystal Palace for a fee of £50 million, there was a lot of pressure on the young Englishman’s shoulders to live up to his price tag. So far, he has done pretty well. One of the few United players who has played consistently well throughout the whole season, he has become a vital part of a United defence that has kept the second highest number of clean sheets in Europe this season, behind only French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
Wan-Bissaka has also played a pivotal role in some of the biggest games for United this season, including the first Manchester derby in which he was able to keep one of the best wingers in world football, Raheem Sterling, quiet for the full 90 minutes. It is performances such as these that have seen Wan-Bissaka labelled by many, including Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher, as the best one-on-one defender in Europe.
Defensive capabilities aside, Wan-Bissaka’s attacking game has improved massively this season. 3 big chances created, 2 assists, 75 crosses and 514 passes forward in the Premier League show Wan-Bissaka has also got a lot more going forward. It’s a testament to his game that in a league full of talented fullbacks, he has stood out as one of the best this season.
Signing of the Season: Harry Maguire
As much as I’d love to give this to Bruno Fernandes who arrived in January, I must award it to Harry Maguire.
Maguire has been a revelation in United’s defence this season. As mentioned previously, United have the second most clean sheets in Europe and Maguire is one of the main reasons for that clear improvement over last season. Despite an £80 million transfer fee, a record fee for a defender, Maguire has not shown any signs of pressure. He has gone from to strength to strength and has even taken the captain’s armband from Ashley Young who departed for Inter Milan in January. He has formed a good partnership with Swedish defender Victor Lindelof and the two have strengthened their partnership as the season has progressed, with the duo having zero mistakes leading to goals so far in the league this season.
I could well have given this award to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who many consider to be the best signing from any Premier League team in the summer. However, I have opted for Maguire as I feel he has not only improved the defence this season but also the team as a whole on and off the pitch.
Goal of the Season: Marcus Rashford vs Chelsea (A)
Tied at 1-1 in the League Cup. Chelsea had just equalised and now had the momentum, United had their backs against the wall. A freekick was awarded to United from 40 yards out. Up stepped Marcus Rashford, down went Willy Caballero and in went the ball. One of the best freekicks I will probably ever see. To have the confidence to go for goal from such distance takes a lot of courage and confidence. This also turned out to be the winner and sent United through to the next round. Gary Neville’s reaction effectively sums up how every United fan felt during the moment – a truly wonderful goal.
Honourable mentions must be given to McTominay’s 40-yard lob against City, Ighalo’s juggle then half volley against LASK, Maguire’s screamer against Tranmere Rovers and Daniel James’s curler against Southampton.
Moment of the Season: Derby Winners in February
I must admit it feels odd picking a moment of the season in what was a fairly underwhelming season. However, I have chosen the 2-0 win over Manchester City in March.
Following the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January, United seemed like a totally different team and it was he who provided the spark that saw United take the lead. A lovely disguised ball from a freekick put Anthony Martial one on one with Ederson and he made no mistake volleying the ball past the Brazilian to put his team ahead. United were able to hold onto their 1-0 lead for most of the match with yet another impressive performance from Aaron Wan-Bissaka in defence. United were able to grab their second and see off the game in the 96th minute after a mistake from Ederson saw him give the ball to Scott McTominay who lobbed the ball in from 40-yards out.
This result was not only important for bragging rights but it also showed the improvement in United this season as it was the third time United had beaten City this season. It also meant it was the first time since the 2009/10 season that United had completed the double over City and meant Solskjaer was only the second manager to beat Pep Guardiola three times in the same season, the first being Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the 2017/18 season.
Moment to forget: Defeat to Watford
There could be a point made that Rashford’s injury was the moment to forget. However, I have instead chosen the 2-0 defeat to Watford in December.
Watford were on their third manager of the season and had only picked up one win in the league. Despite this they were able to beat United 2-0. Two huge mistakes, first from De Gea and then from Wan-Bissaka all within the space of four minutes spelled disaster for United. This match was supposed to be a walkover for United and also a match that would see Paul Pogba return from injury. Instead, it turned out to be a nightmare.