Manchester United 2018/19 Season Review

Photo by Manchester Evening News
Manchester United’s 2018/19 season has (thankfully) come to an end on Sunday evening, and those last two performances of the Red Devils’ campaign really summed up everything that has been wrong at the club over the last nine months.

United finished sixth in the Premier League and concluded the season by amassing one point (out of a possible six) against two sides that have already been relegated. A dire draw away to arguably one of the worst sides in EPL history in Huddersfield, followed by a 0-2 loss at home in the final game of the season against Cardiff, in what ended up being a wasted opportunity to leave the fans with the hope of a whole re-scaling at Manchester United in the summer transfer window. 

After coming second in the league last season, despite being lightyears behind champions Manchester City, United entered pre-season far from where they left off in the 2017/18 campaign. The constant negativity from former manager Jose Mourinho, and the apparent conflict between the Portuguese coach and the board as they failed to agree on the transfers, created a dark cloud over United which quickly turned to a maelstrom of chaos before the season even started. 

It was evident that Mourinho and the board were not on the same page. And when Mourinho, in true Jose fashion, began to be more vocal in the media about everything that is wrong at United — within the squad and beyond — the already fragile players of today got even more unsettled, and it showed.

Though it seemed at one point that Mourinho may just be able to overcome his third season syndrome and survive the bumpy spell at United, the atmosphere surrounding the club got more toxic by the minute. Mourinho clearly grew frustrated with the players and vice versa, and after managing to get by until December, “The Special One” was relieved of his duties after a disappointing 1-3 defeat away to Liverpool. Up to that point, the season was way below expectations, again. More down than up. The manager had lost the dressing room, the dressing room was as polluted as ever — and someone desperately needed to come in and cleanse the air around the club. Bring back the feel-good factor, let the players enjoy their football again, and see where Manchester United stands in preparation for the future with the season all but over in December. 

To the surprise of many, from all the names that were linked with United, former fan-favorite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as the interim manager until the end of the season. A man who certainly knew his fair share about the culture of United, and the way the club is supposed to be operating from the inside to out, being an aspiring understudy of Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite Solskjaer’s appointment being surprising at first — the fans grew to love the idea of a manager that is aware of the club’s key principles coming in and taking the shackles off the players for the rest of the season. There was really nothing to lose. It was a ‘let’s see what happens from here on out’ kind of mindset. 

Little did the United faithful know, Solskjaer and the Reds were about to go on one of the most exciting runs in the post-Sir Alex era. The team took the new manager effect to another level, as they took the gust of positivity in their stride and went on a 12-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup in the process. 

On that run, United dispatched the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal, all away from home — while also providing what was arguably the best European night in the club’s recent history by defeating PSG on away goals, after seemingly being dead and out following a 0-2 loss in the first leg at home. 

The feel-good factor was well and truly back. United were playing with a swagger again. Paul Pogba looked at his very best, scoring goals, providing assists. Marcus Rashford was razor sharp in front of goal. Everything was just clicking. All of a sudden it seemed like perhaps the old United way was not as far away as it had seemed just a few weeks ago. Solskjaer deservedly received a three-year contract to become United’s permanent manager, and the team looked like it was a few summer tweaks away from being a dangerous outfit next season. 

But unfortunately, all good things come to an end, just like this period of ecstasy which had taken over United for the best part of a two and a half month stretch. Injuries happened and with the injuries along came the struggles. It didn’t take much for this seemingly unbeatable team to get derailed — again raising questions of the mentality and character of those players who put on the sacred red shirt every week. Every team faces adversity over the course of the season — but to fall apart like this United side did was just odd (two wins in the last nine league games). 

For the most part, United were not playing terribly per say, in what was a pretty tough stretch of fixtures to end the season. But that is no excuse for the results that came with those at times gutless performances. That sharpness, that edge, that willingness to run and win every ball, that creativity in the final third, all disappeared. It’s like the life was sucked out of the team in a matter of weeks, and even a man like Solskjaer, who has United’s best interests at heart, was not able to keep this sinking ship above water. 

One of the worst performances in recent history (0-4 loss away to Everton), and the aforementioned let downs against already relegated Huddersfield and Cardiff are just a few examples of how bad things got at United as the season came to a close. 

Adam Sweeney (@AdamWSweeney) summed up United’s season in a nutshell in a Twitter post following the shameful loss to Cardiff on Sunday:
“Delighted we’ve lost in this fashion today. The only thing they had to play for was pride, and they’ve shown that they’ve got none.” 
The story of the season in less than 140 characters. 

Evidently, there is a lot more wrong at the club than the manager. The recruitment over the last few years has been questionable at best. When adversity hit, and strong characters, leaders, were required to step up and drag this team out of a hole — there were none. 

In fact, during some of the season’s most embarrassing performances, it almost seemed like some of the players who were out there representing that great badge didn’t really care. All the fans would see is heads dropping on the way to the tunnel in search of a quick exit. No sense of pride or responsibility whatsoever. Not very encouraging to say the least. And so, at the end of what has probably been the most disappointing season in the post Sir Alex era, there is nothing else left to do other than think … every cloud has a silver lining right? 

With a huge summer coming up, there are a few positives to take from this season:

The football that was on show during the unbeaten run after Ole took over was more than promising. It felt like the old United. So, we know what this team is capable of. It is now about getting rid of the players that don’t fit that identity, and replacing them with ones that do.

On the point of getting rid of players, this tough, adversity filled season has certainly exposed the players that are simply not cut out for a club of Manchester United’s stature. Alongside some names that were already on the list prior, the ‘deadwood’ has been identified. It is now down to the club to start shipping off the players that are below the standards expected of Manchester United players. Not just in ability, but in character and personality. 

Lastly, the incredible European night at PSG showed that United have a core of young players coming through that can be a big part of the rebuild of this football club. Players who have bags of talent, but more importantly, players that know what it means to play for this badge.

And so, after blowing multiple chances to secure top four and Champions League football for next season, the rebuild needs to start now. This summer will be crucial for the club to show an indicator of the direction it desires to head in, and for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to prove that he is the right man to take United forward, and back to its glory days. 

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