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Eyes on the Prize: What Constitutes Success at Manchester United this Season?

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The last trophy won by Manchester United was in May 2017, a UEFA Europa League triumph led by Jose Mourinho. It’s fair to say United are now on a trophy drought, having come painfully close to recapturing the Europa League last season while also making it to the latter stages in both domestic cups over the last few seasons. 

It’s undoubtedly clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done a stellar job in transforming the culture of the club and assembling a strong team during his tenure. However, his doubters will argue that silverware is the only true measure of success, and with United’s early exit from the Carabao Cup at the hands of West Ham, there are now just three competitions left to win something in for this season. 

This article will look at the chances United have in each competition, while also attempting to answer the question of whether Solskjaer needs to capture a trophy this season if he wants to keep the United manager position.

Premier League:

United have had a good start to the Premier League on the surface, having won four, drawn once and also only lost once. However, a question surrounding whether United deserved the number of points they’ve picked up so far is there, as the team has struggled at times to dictate games and take their chances in the final third. 

Critics of Solskjaer will argue there is no clearly established pattern of play, with the build-up disjointed, while others will also point out there is a tendency to rely on individual brilliance a little too often. This is now Solskjaer’s third full season in charge, and expectations now must naturally shift to those that include winning silverware. 

Despite mounting pressure and criticisms, United are keeping pace with the big hitters in the Premier League so far. A tricky run of games through October to November will be the true litmus test for Solskjaer and his players, perhaps even defining whether the chance of winning the title is feasible this season. 

It’s been said before, but it’s been too long since United have won the Premier League Title, Sir Alex Ferguson the last to do it back in 2013. Since then United have had to endure the likes of bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City lifting the title, a deeply souring sight for anyone connected to the club. 

Rivals’ success has showcased how United have slightly fell behind the other big teams over the last eight years, but it seems Solskjaer has built something that can bridge the gap. However, it’s the team from London that looks set to be the fiercest competitors to the Premier League Crown this season, as Chelsea have invested well and look frighteningly cohesive at times.

This is not to say that Manchester City and Liverpool are not a threat, as both teams have also made impressive starts in the league, while possessing highly talented squads. Overall, recapturing the Premier League is going to be a very difficult task, the first league loss of the season against Aston Villa exemplary of this, United will have to win this type of game in future and be consistent throughout if they are going to have any hope of winning the league this season.

Champions League:

The Champions League is a big deal. Europe’s premier elite competition is a benchmark for the highest quality teams in the world, and United return to try their luck after being dumped out into the Europa League last year. 

Despite picking up nine points in the group stage last season, United still weren’t able to progress to the knockout stages, which was bitterly disappointing for everyone connected to the club. Solskjaer will hope to rectify that this season, with a plethora of reinforcements from the summer transfer window, progression from the group will now be the minimum expectation. 

Regarding United’s group, on paper it looks like a very favourable draw, avoiding all the big teams such as Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich. However, banana skins in the form of Villarreal lie in wait, who cruelly beat United on penalties in the Europa League Final last season. 

Atalanta and Young Boys round off the group, and United’s early shock defeat to Young Boys on Matchday One has proved that this group is in fact no walk in the park. It’s clear this group will be anything but routine, so United need to find their best form and consistency fast if they don’t want to repeat the same fate as last season. 

Another dumping out of the group stages could be particularly costly for Solskjaer, as his position as manager is scrutinised even more. United last won this prestigious competition all the way back in 2008, beating Chelsea on penalties in Russia. It was Cristiano Ronaldo who scored a header and missed a penalty in the shootout, and many claim his return could, or perhaps even should, herald a return to European glory. 

This line of thinking is optimistic at best however, as the Champions League is currently littered with top teams, meaning the feat of winning it is going to be a monumental task for any club, which is why it is unlikely Solskjaer will find silverware in the competition this season. 

However, this doesn’t negate the fact that United need to progress to the latter stages as a marker of improvement, and a morale booster for the fans- it’s been too long since Untied have had a deep Champions League run.

Emirates FA Cup:

There’s a certain romanticism when it comes to the oldest national football competition in the world, and United have had a good history with the FA Cup. Winning the trophy 12 times, just short of the 14 wins by Arsenal, United have almost always taken this competition seriously. 

Despite this, United last won this competition way back in 2016 under Louis Van Gaal, a long time ago for a team with so many past victories. Solskjaer led United to the quarter finals of the competition against Leicester last season, and previously before that to a semi-final against Chelsea, however, has had no such luck in winning it. 

United got close back in 2017 in the final against Chelsea, however, once again came up short. Domestically United are already out of the Carabao Cup this season meaning the FA Cup takes on even more significance for Solskjaer and co this time around, as it is potentially the most realistic option for winning a trophy. 

The third-round proper gets going in January and I expect nothing less than a full-strength team to be fielded from United as Solskjaer will be desperate to finally win something as United manager. It’s difficult to predict cup runs but United stand as good as chance as anyone to win this famous trophy once more, and it’s realistic to expect United to do so considering the quality of the squad. 

In conclusion, United must win something this season for it to be considered a successful season, being runners up is not enough anymore and Solskjaer will know it, he’s now had time to build the team to his liking and will be expected to deliver. 

However, It is still likely that a strong Premier League campaign in addition to a strong Champions League campaign will just about keep Solskjaer his job, but as previously stated, trophies really have to be the target in order for success to return to Old Trafford.

Written by Sam Wilson

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