Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Are Manchester United enjoying their brightest run since Sir Alex?

Tom Dunstan in Editorial, English Premier League 2 Jul 2020

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Picking up a thumping 3-0 win at the Amex on Tuesday night, Manchester United find themselves in the midst of a real purple patch and many around Old Trafford feel that the former champions are finally turning a real corner.

Firmly still in the top-four chase and still firing in both the Europa League and the FA Cup, the mood around the red half of Manchester appears to be on the rise and the future for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to be bright.

With their win against Brighton earlier in the week extending their unbeaten run to 15 matches across all competitions, only German champions Bayern Munich with 25 contests on the bounce hold a longer streak without defeat among all sides in Europe’s big-five leagues.

Receiving a string of praise from the likes of former United icon Patrice Evra, how has Solskjaer managed to turn the tide at Old Trafford?

The Fernades affect

Putting in yet another Man of the Match display on the South Coast in midweek and bagging a brace on the road, it is no surprise that January arrival Bruno Fernades has played a vital part in United’s revival.

Cementing his spot at Old Trafford as the latest United icon, he seems to have almost single-handily eased the atmosphere around Manchester after the Reds had been jeered off by their own fans in a home defeat by Burnley days before his arrival.

Offering Manchester United that creative spark that they have been so desperate for over the past five years, the Portuguese playmaker has been directly involved in more goals in all competitions than any other Premier League player (10 – six goals, four assists).

In fact, since making the move from Sporting Lisbon in a deal that could rise to £67.7million, the 25-year-old has had a direct hand in eight goals in his first eight league games for Manchester United, only Robin van Persie had more goal involvements since making a debut for the former champions.

With Solskjaer saying that Fernandes has brought a “winning mentality” back to Old Trafford after Tuesday’s win against Brighton, his blossoming relationship with Paul Pogba has got many across Europe talking.

Handed an assist by the controversial World Cup-winner at the Amex in midweek, Fernades’ arrival really appears to have handed Pogba some much-needed freedom in the middle of the park.

While Fernades might not have wanted to just discuss his star-studded partnership with the former Juventus ace, the duo are already complementing each other beautifully and their new partnership could tempt Pogba to extend his stay at Old Trafford past the summer.

If United are to make any charge at lifting their first Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club back in 2013, then fans around Old Trafford will know that the Fernandes-Pogba partnership could be the catalyst.

A youthful revival

Although Fernades’ January arrival might be stealing all the headlines in Manchester, United’s decision to go in a more youthful direction has impressed many across the Premier League.

While former boss Jose Mourinho may have opted to go with more experienced heads during his tenure at Old Trafford, the Reds suddenly have the feel of a fresh, young and exciting outfit.

From the likes of Ryan Giggs through to Marcus Rashford, United have a well-documented history of handing youth a chance and Solskjaer appears to embody that Ferguson philosophy.

Already bringing in the likes of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka over the past year, the former champions have seen a string of their academy graduates receive plenty of plaudits this year.

Along with the likes of Scott McTominay and Brandon Williams really burst onto the scene this season, Tuesday night goalscorer Mason Greenwood has continued to impress despite making just seventh Premier League start.

Almost becoming undroppable on the right-hand side of United’s attacking trio, the 18-year-old has landed six top-flight goals on his maiden campaign, the first player to score this many top-flight goals before his 19th birthday.

With the likes of Anthony Martial enjoying a recent resurge, their third goal at Brighton showed real similarities to that lethal Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez trident.

In fact, out of their starting 10 outfield players at the Amex in midweek, 31-year-old Nemanja Matic was the only United player to be aged above 27.

An important summer ahead

While the signs of improvement under Solskjaer might be clear, many including Gary Neville have spoken about the importance of the summer transfer window that lies ahead.

If the Reds are serious about challenging Liverpool and their noisy neighbours next season, then United will need to invest wisely over the coming months and add to the foundation that Solskjaer has laid with the likes of Fernades.

Knowing that a top-four finish could be vital to attracting the list of targets that the Norweigan tactician would have highlighted, many in the red half of Manchester have been excited by the continued links to England international, Jadon Sancho.

While United might have made it clear that they aren’t willing to spend more than £50million on the Borussia Dortmund superstar, the former City starlet has enjoyed another stellar campaign in Germany and could be the catalyst for a potential title charge.

However, with it confirmed that youth team starlet Angel Gomes won’t be signing a new deal at United, a huge summer clearout is needed at Old Trafford.

With Alexis Sanchez on a contract worth in the region of £350,000-per-week, they still have fringe players such as Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly all taking up an undefendable portion of United’s transfer kitty.

There also remains a string of questions over David de Gea‘s position between the sticks at Old Trafford.

Enduring a campaign in Manchester that has been littered with a string of high profile mistakes since signing a bumper new deal last year, Solskjaer has made it no secret that Dean Henderson’s performances at Sheffield United hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Still expected to be handed a treasure chest from Ed Woodward despite the recent economic issues, it isn’t just important for United to bring new faces in, it is as important to move out some of the deadwood.

Already priced at 16/1 with 888sport to lift their first Premier League crown since 2013 next season, how close do you feel United are to mounting a serious title charge?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Dunstan


Formerly of The Independent, Tom is a freelance football and boxing journalist from Essex, England. Currently working for three online publications, Tom is a graduate of the University of Falmouth and has spent the last two years writing across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. He can be followed at @IamTomDunstan

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