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Giant in slumber – What to expect from the new Manchester United?

“We’re Cardiff City, we’re taking the p***” That was the cry that rung around Old Trafford in the 88th minute as Manchester United were 2-0 down to an already relegated Cardiff. It was a song that summed up how the season had gone for The Reds and many fans were just glad to see the back of it. 

Mediocre football on the pitch coupled with a severe lack of the basic, essential qualities you need to win football matches, have been the deciding factor in the side finishing sixth place in the Premier League this season. 

Too many times supporters have seen abject, lifeless displays that simply do not fit in with the ethos of the club. While there is a duty to entertain, there is also a strict need to leave everything on the pitch in every game. Win, lose or draw, to fall so badly below the required standards of work rate and commitment isn’t acceptable and something this team has shown repeatedly throughout this campaign. 

While all this is going on, Manchester City were crowned Premier League Champions for the second consecutive season. Pep Guardiola’s team not only play an exciting, free flowing brand of football, they also work incredibly hard on and off the ball. The City players bought into what their manager had tried to show them right from the word go and are now reaping the rewards of that. 

United have slipped so far that they ended up finishing a whopping 32 points behind Manchester City. With the gap between the two teams being so great and with City showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, what should Manchester United fans realistically expect from the new campaign?

Players who want to be at the club would be a good starting point. At the start of the current season, United had 11 first team players out of contract in June. Some like Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw were convinced to sign new deals; however, it wasn’t plain sailing with all of them. Ander Herrera has announced he is to leave the club and others like Juan Mata and David De Gea have yet to be convinced. 

The fact so many first team players were at the end of their contracts at the start of the season could suggest a desire to move elsewhere. Manchester United have had the long-standing reputation of being the biggest club in the world, certainly the biggest club in England. Players are now seeing other clubs as more appealing options and United are finding it tough to tie the players they really want down to longer-term deals.

This presents the manager with a headache as he can’t plan a squad when he doesn’t even know what players he’ll have to work with in the immediate future. It’s a small change but having players who are 100% committed and buy in completely to what the manager wants can make a huge difference. 

A team is only as strong as the sum of its parts and if some parts aren’t functioning in harmony with all the others, it’s very easy for the whole team to break down. 

A coherent football philosophy is another aspect that should be expected next season. You can’t win every game as a club, nobody does that. Draws and losses are accepted provided supporters can see a clear direction as a result. The football identity of this current Manchester United side has been in limbo for a number of years now. Nobody can really pinpoint what they’re trying to achieve with their play style because the harsh truth is, nobody really knows.

Gone are the days of flying wingers putting crosses into the box. The days of swift, brutal counter-attacks are also a distant memory. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to stamp his own playing style on the squad. Fans will appreciate a side that has some form of cohesion on the pitch; even if it isn’t perfect from the get-go. 

A high press was attempted by Solskjaer and his staff when he initially arrived but that soon faded away as the fitness of the squad was called into question. The running stats make grim reading for some. Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku were both in the bottom five for running out of Premier League forwards. A full preseason will be vital if this is the style that the coaching staff wants to see from the squad moving forward. 

Manchester United is also a club that i used to competing for and winning the big trophies. These targets will have to be adjusted in the short term as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer moulds this team in his image. The gap between the top two in the Premier League is just too vast for United to consider toppling them in one season.

 No Champions League football either means the club will have to wait until at least the 2020/21 season for a return to European football’s top table. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The playing squad needs a monumental rebuilding job and easing their way back into contention seems appropriate this time around, instead of being thrust into the deep end and expected to win straight away. 

The final thing and perhaps most important thing to see for this summer and beyond is a clear and well thought out transfer strategy. The past six seasons have seen over £700 million spent on incoming transfers, many of who haven’t worked out and subsequently shipped out to other clubs. Attempting to copy the Real Madrid ‘Galactico’ model hasn’t worked with big names such as Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Angel Di Maria and Alexis Sanchez all failing to deliver when so much was expected him them. 

Having a model based around players who actually fit the style of play you want, while fixing problem areas at the same time is essential if the club want to have a good transfer window this time around. It seems almost criminal that no right sided winger has been purchased since Ed Woodward has taken over control as executive vice chairman. This sort of neglect of the squad is part of the reason they’ve struggled so badly over the last couple of seasons. Supporters are intelligent enough to see this and will be patient with the manager and team if they see a genuine attempt at restoring the club to where they feel they should be. 

It will be a long road from here and won’t happen overnight, proper planning and dedication to making this work long term will be vital. Calm minds and some astute buys in this summer’s market might just be the tonic needed to get this giant of football back on the road to greatness once again.

Written by Joe Hinds

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