Man Utd 19/20 Review: Worst points record for 30 years awaits
Alex Keble's 2019/20 season review for Manchester United suggests the club are badly under-performing despite their position in the table...
Manchester United's battle for a place in the top four, plus their continued involvement in the Europa League and FA Cup, has left their season looking relatively successful - at least compared to their rivals.
But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been let off the hook by a remarkably low-quality Premier League season in which five of the 'Big Six' have performed considerably below their normal level. Winning 45 points from 29 games puts United on course for 59 for the season, their lowest for 30 years.
Season so far
Following a 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening weekend, Man Utd made a terrible start to the campaign as Paul Pogba's injury and the sale of Romelu Lukaku began to take its toll. They won nine points from the first nine league games and, with a squad desperately lacking in quality after a too-quiet summer, a midtable finish looked like a genuine possibility.
It was during this period that we had final confirmation Solskjaer's tactical coaching isn't up to scratch. A full summer under the Norwegian's tutelage yielded the same performances, and results, as those towards the end of the 2018/19 season. United were playing without any discernible plan or direction.
Except for when they faced 'Big Six' clubs, that is. Results generally improved in November and December but what most stood out were back-to-back victories against Tottenham and Manchester City, while United would go on to collect 17 points from nine matches against the 'Big Six'.
Solskjaer certainly knows how to sit deep, play on the counter-attack, and record unlikely wins against the elite clubs. And that could be a very useful commodity moving forward, if Bruno Fernandes' impact since January is anything to go by.
His creativity from the tip of midfield has energised United and inspired wins against mid-table clubs, suggesting individual talent can make up for the collective lack of sophistication at Old Trafford. Sign a few more Fernandes types and Man Utd can flat-track bully the smaller clubs, while engaging Solskjaer's 'Big Six' strategy to win points in the more important head-to-heads.
In other words, if United can build their own Galacticos - and approaches for Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho suggest that is very much the plan - then the club's extraordinary wealth will render Solskjaer's lack of tactical planning inconsequential.
Doing the double over rivals Man City is definitely the club's proudest achievement in 2019/20, particularly given Solskjaer's side richly deserved their win on both occasions. Pep Guardiola was outwitted by United's bullish approach and quick breaks down the flanks.
For all the weariness of the team's performances against mid-table clubs and lower, the manager deserves credit for continuing to motivate his players, leading to significant improvements from the likes of Luke Shaw, Fred, and Anthony Martial. All three of these players can be proud of their individual contributions, as can Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Marcus Rashford.
Perhaps the lowest point in the season was the 2-0 defeat at Burnley on January 22, a game that ended a decent run to leave United once again facing disaster. On 34 points from 24 games, Solskjaer's side were just four points above Newcastle in 14th.
Old Trafford has seen some pretty diabolical performances in recent years, but to be beaten by struggling Burnley on home soil was right up there with the worst.
The January transfer window was a humbling experience for the club, too, with Haaland choosing Borussia Dortmund and forcing Ed Woodward to settle for Odion Ighalo, presumably much lower down on the list. The Nigerian has been a surprise success, but in terms of feeling optimistic about the future the January deadline day was a real low point for United fans.
What they can achieve in 19/20
A top four finish, priced at 3.45 with Betfair Exchange, is the most important goal for Man Utd should the Premier League season resume. In order to attract the highest calibre targets and therefore recover their status in the European game it is essential United do not spend another year without Champions League football. They are currently three points behind Chelsea, but on a run of 11 matches undefeated they may well usurp Frank Lampard's side.
Another route into the competition is winning the Europa League, and after beating LASK 5-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie United are considered tournament favourites, at 4.20 with Betfair Exchange. The FA Cup is also an attainable goal, priced at 9.60, particularly given Solskjaer's record against the big clubs.
What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21
Woodward is looking to add a couple of star players to the team this summer while hanging onto Pogba, and the addition of a top striker and Jadon Sancho could quickly elevate United to a whole new level given how strong their defensive record has been in 2019/20. We can anticipate a long, drawn-out bidding war involving several of the game's biggest players.
After the Haaland/Ighalo situation, Woodward's dealings this window could make it the most significant summer in the club's recent history.
A top-four finish and one piece of silverware would undoubtedly make this a successful year for Solskjaer, whose side were never expected to challenge for the Premier League title.
But even if they achieve this goal it is safe to say their performances, and points tally, are nowhere near good enough for a club of Man Utd's size. The fault for that lies with multiple people, from the owners to the chief executive to the manager. Things are unlikely to get better any time soon.