2020/21 in Review – Manchester United

The 2020/21 season saw improvements from Manchester United, but none that were able to secure Ole Gunnar Solskjær his first trophy as United boss. Struan Garvie reviews the last season at Old Trafford.

This season saw Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side made real progress, but without a trophy to take home, it’s hard to call this season a true success.
(Photo Credit – Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Season Overview

Another trophyless season for Manchester United, however, one that displayed clear progress made under Ole Gunnar Solskjær. 

After an underwhelming transfer window in the summer of 2020, many doubted that United would be able to achieve anything in the 2020/21 season. Backing that up somewhat, Solskjær’s side made perhaps the worst possible start to the season by losing three of their opening six league matches, including a humiliating 6-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur. Fortunately, the side were able to turn their form around and went on a very strong run in the league over the winter period and into 2021. 

The aim for Solskjær at the start of the 2020/21 season was to improve league form and win a trophy. The Red Devils did improve their league form but did not win a trophy, therefore it is hard to call this past season a success nor a failure. 

United finished the season in second place in the Premier League, one place higher than they did in the previous campaign. They also went the entire league season undefeated away from home, only the fourth time this has happened in English football. In cup competitions, Solskjær’s side made it to the semi-finals of the League Cup, the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and the final of the UEFA Europa League. They were eliminated in all three competitions by the eventual winners of each. 

Looking ahead to the 2021/22 season, United must win a trophy, otherwise, the doubts over Solskjær’s job will grow. However, if Solskjær is to have any chance at winning silverware, The Red Devils must buy two or three top-quality players in to add to the squad.  

Player of the Season – Luke Shaw 

Despite an excellent season from Bruno Fernandes, I have decided to choose Luke Shaw as United’s player of the season. 

Shaw’s season did not get off to the best start and many believed that Alex Telles would become the club’s first-choice left-back upon his arrival in Manchester. As it turned out, Telles played second fiddle to Shaw. The Brazilian full-back gave Shaw the push and competition that he needed. Rather than accepting a bench role, Shaw showed some of the best form of his United career and became un-droppable. 

The England international made 32 appearances in the Premier League this past season, keeping 10 clean sheets, providing five assists, and scoring one goal in the process. He formed an excellent partnership with Marcus Rashford down United’s left-hand side and the two became a real threat for any opposition. 

Given the injury issues Shaw has had to overcome during his time at United, it is great to see him finally becoming the player the club believed they signed back in 2014. Still only 25, Shaw has a very bright career with both United and England ahead of him. 

Young Player of the Season – Marcus Rashford

While putting in a number of top class performances on the pitch, Marcus Rashford’s season will be remembered by his exemplary humanitarian work away from the sport.
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths via Getty Images)

United currently have a plethora of talented young players in their squad and therefore I was spoiled for choice with this decision. Although the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Dean Henderson, Mason Greenwood, and Scott McTominay have had very good individual campaigns, I have decided to go with Rashford, as I believe he stood out the most both on and off the pitch.

From performing well on a pitch, to writing a book with Carl Anka. From teaming up with FareShare, to speaking with former US President Barack Obama – Rashford has had a very busy season. The 23-year-old has now become one of United’s most important players and someone who Solskjær can rely on in big games. 

Despite carrying a few injuries, Rashford still made 37 appearances in the Premier League, scoring 11 goals, and providing 9 assists. He also scored some important goals outside of the league, including the winner in the UEFA Champions League group stage tie with Paris Saint-Germain. 

Perhaps the most popular footballer in the United Kingdom currently, many will be looking forward to seeing what Rashford can do at this summer’s Euros with England. 

Signing of the Season – Edinson Cavani 

It was tough to select the player of the season and young player of the season, however, the signing of the season is a no-brainer. I must give it, give it, give it to Edi Cavani…

Edinson Cavani signed for United on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract with PSG. Initially, many doubted that the veteran striker would be able to perform in the Premier League and believed it was a poor signing. 

According to the Agent Transfer Survey in The Athletic, Cavani was voted as the worst deal of the summer window. Cavani has certainly proven a lot of people wrong. The Uruguayan has scored some crucial goals and become one of the club’s most important players. 

In the Premier League, Cavani scored 10 goals and provided three assists in 26 appearances. He also scored six goals and provided three assists in the Europa League in only five appearances. 

Despite some uncertainty over his future, Cavani signed a contract extension with United in May, meaning he will remain at the club for another season – a decision that was greeted with a lot of excitement from United fans. 

Goal of the Season – Edinson Cavani’s 40-yard chip vs Fulham

The game against Fulham was the first time that Cavani had played in front of United fans at Old Trafford, and he marked the occasion with a screamer. 

The move started with David de Gea, who took a goal kick aimed at Fernandes on the halfway line. Fernandes then flicked the ball onto Cavani who spotted Alphonse Areola was off his line and decided to chip the keeper from over 40 yards out. Needless to say, it sent the Stretford End crazy. 

Honourable mentions:

  • Marcus Rashford’s solo run against Brighton.
  • Bruno Fernandes finishing off a fine team move against Newcastle.
  • Bruno Fernandes’ long-range strike against Everton.
  • Amad’s header in the Europa League against AC Milan.
  • Paul Pogba’s first-time strike against West Ham. 

Unsung Player of the Season – Aaron Wan-Bissaka

With a club such as United, it can be hard to say a particular player is ‘unsung’ due to the popularity of the club and the large fan base. Often, every player receives a large amount of praise (and criticism) throughout a season. 

I have decided to choose Aaron Wan-Bissaka for this as he made more appearances than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues this past season and barely put a foot wrong. Despite this, Wan-Bissaka has not received as much praise as many of his teammates. 

Interestingly, this was the first time in the last three seasons that Wan-Bissaka did not make the most tackles in the Premier League. However, many would say this was Wan-Bissaka’s most impressive season to date. His attacking output improved a lot this past season, scoring two goals and proving six assists in all competitions. For a full-back who is seemingly bad going forward, Wan-Bissaka is pretty good going forward. 

On the defensive side of things, Wan-Bissaka was as impressive as ever, with many talented wingers spending time in his pocket this past season. Once described as ‘the best 1v1 defender in Europe’ by Jamie Carragher, Wan-Bissaka will certainly continue to be one of United’s most important players.  

Unfortunately, Wan-Bissaka did not make it into the England squad for the upcoming Euros despite having an excellent season with United. Given Wan-Bissaka is eligible to play for the Democratic Republic of Congo, we may see the full-back switch nations very soon. 

Underperformer of the Season – Anthony Martial 

After scoring over 23 goals and providing 12 assists in the 2019/20 season, it looked like Martial had finally become the player many believed he could be. Fast forward to the end of the 2020/21 season and the doubts over Martial’s ability are more apparent than ever. 

To be polite, Martial had a bad season. In 36 appearances in all competitions, the Frenchman scored seven goals and provided nine assists. Although those numbers are not terrible, compared to his 2019/20 season, there is a clear drop-off. 

In fairness, Martial has struggled with injury this past season and was unable to build on any momentum he could create. His first ‘goal’ of the season was an own-goal against PSG in the Champions League. 

He was also sent off in United’s third league game of the season against Tottenham. Add to that a thigh muscle strain, a hip injury, and ruptured knee ligament, it becomes clear Martial could not catch a break.

Still only 25, Martial has a bright future ahead of him and will likely feature a lot more for United next season. Nonetheless, the Parisian will likely want to forget the 2020/21 season as soon as possible. 

Moment of the Season – Beating Southampton 9-0

After Alex Jankewitz was dismissed in the second minute of the match, United kept their foot on the gas and demolished Southampton in this February encounter.
(Photo Credit – Chloe Knott/Danehouse via Getty Images)

Of course, without winning a trophy, it has been quite hard to select an exact moment of the season. I have decided to go with the 9-0 victory over Southampton as I believe it was United’s most memorable match of the season. 

After Alex Jankewitz was given his marching orders after only two minutes, it became clear that United could get at Southampton. Although, I don’t think many saw United scoring nine unanswered goals. 

Jan Bednarek was also sent off for Southampton in the 86th minute after scoring an own goal and giving away a penalty. A rather disastrous match for the Polish centre-half.

When Daniel James scored United’s ninth goal in the 93rd minute it sent many fans crazy. Under the management of Louis Van Gaal and José Mourinho, scoring more than two goals was seldom for United. To be able to score nine was something very special. 

This was only the third time that a team has won 9-0 in the Premier League and the second time in two years Southampton have been beaten by that scoreline.

Moment to Forget – Harry Maguire’s Injury

Hang on… surely defeat in the Europa League final was the moment to forget? Whilst that is true, the injury to captain Harry Maguire is one of the main reasons that United fell away at the end of the season. Before this injury, Maguire had played every minute of Premier League action for United since his debut in August of 2019. 

Not only did United lose to Villareal after Maguire’s injury, but they also lost 4-2 at the hands of rivals Liverpool and 2-1 to Leicester City. Straight away it became clear just how important Maguire was for Solskjær’s side. 

The United skipper now faces a race against time to be fit for England’s games at the 2020 Euros. Had the England international not picked up an injury, we may just have been calling United the Europa League champions.

Although it was a very good season for United in the Premier League, showing clear progress, the defeat in the Europa League felt like a real punch in the stomach for Solskjær and his side. All eyes will now be on United’s transfer business to see if Solskjær gets the backing he deserves. 

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