This season has been markedly different from every other in Premier League, and British football history, for one very obvious reason: most clubs will not have had a single supporter through the turnstile all season long.
Manchester United are in that category, with the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to have an unprecedented influence on the game. But that does not mean fans’ voices have gone quiet, or that their opinions no longer matter.
Quite the opposite, in fact. And they’ll be cherished more than ever when they return to the stands.
But what do United fans think about their club’s current season? From some wildly inconsistent results, big wins in cup competitions, Champions League failure, to a possible title challenge, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s current side have provided plenty of talking points and continue to split opinion.
The Manchester Evening News asked prominent United fans Rob Blanchette, Jimmy McBride, Tom Wade and Ben Pearce for their views on the issues affecting the club right now.
Asking each of them the five big questions below, this is what they said:
What’s your view on the job Solskjaer is doing right now?
JM: “I think Solskjaer has grown into the role, he’s got together a squad of players that are developing into the best squad we’ve had since Sir Alex Ferguson left and he’s also getting better regarding tactics and in-game management.”
TW: “I think you have to give credit to Ole for the job he is currently doing. He’s had so much stick and sometimes it’s been warranted but it now feels like he’s found his feet, the team has settled and things are heading in the right direction. You cannot ask anymore (although a trophy or two would be nice).”
RB: “I think Ole has done a good job during his two years in charge, but more progress is needed in the next 12 months. He’s balanced the squad and overseen good recruitment, but United remain a couple of key players away from their true potential.”
BP: “I think we can only really give a true answer to this question at the end of the season. So far this season United have broken the record for our away form, reached another domestic semi-final, sat at the top of the league and continue to be in the top two. Of course, the Champions League exit was a disappointment but IF we finish in the top two and win a trophy, will we look back at that Champions League exit and dampen our season? The answer is no.”
Are United title challengers?
JM: “I’ve been of the opinion that we are still short of a few players to take us to the level of genuine title contenders, it’s a strange season but I don’t think we have enough to win the league this season.”
TW: “Do I think they’ll win it? Probably not but you have to look at the bigger picture here in my opinion. Yes, they have an opportunity to win it if they get the right results, but even a second place finish is a success to me given where we have been in previous seasons and even last year. Progression is all I’m asking for and we are clearly seeing that.”
RB: “The short answer is no. United have made the most progress of any of the top six clubs in the league, but they remain short of the consistency to win the title. If Ole can galvanise a winning mentality, United could be title challengers next term.”
BP: “There are still so many hurdles for both United and City to overcome this season that anything can happen. So United must keep the pressure on. The next six league games are crucial for both City and United. Whoever comes out of those games unscathed will be in pole position to win the league this year.”
Have the club got things right in recent transfer windows?
JM: “The transfer windows since Ole took over have been really good. I’d like to think he’s had a direct input into that but no one can deny that the ins and especially outs have been excellent work from the club.”
TW: “I think they have done an okay job. Naturally you are always going to ask and expect more from them but it’s all about building a foundation and they have done that. Bruno Fernandes set the tone in terms of the class we need but depth is also huge for any team looking to compete. Donny van de Beek hasn’t worked out unfortunately, but for me he’s not had the opportunities to get into the team — even though when he has he’s struggled to make an impact. He’s clearly not the same player as he was in Ajax which is a shame. I’ve not given up on him just yet but it’s definitely the most puzzling signing made this season.”
RB: “United have vastly improved their recruitment since the departure of Jose Mourinho. The club has bought to reinforce the playing philosophy of the team, and so far, Solskjaer’s signings have been prudent.”
BP: “I have been extremely impressed with how we have gone about our business. Maguire, Wan Bissaka and Bruno have come in and cemented their places within the first team. I’ve also been impressed with the recruitment at youth level. We have some promising young talent coming through and the majority of those have only recently come to the club. Hugill, McNeil, Amad and Pellistri all look like great players that will be given the chance to create careers for themselves at United.”
What should be the priority in the summer?
JM: “The priorities in the transfer window for me are a top class centre-back, a proper defensive midfielder and a right-sided attacker but that could change if Amad Diallo steps up to the plate. We also need to make a goalkeeping decision but that will be done in-house with Henderson in my view.”
TW: “The centre-back situation has risen again over the last few games and, while we’ve missed Eric Bailly and as much as I rate Axel Tuanzebe, we still need a solid addition to come in and tighten it up. Who? I’m looking at Jules Koundé. I’d even go as far as bringing in someone like that and maybe trying to persuade Sergio Ramos to join. We also need a right winger which has been the case for a while now and I will not mention who that signing should be…”
RB: “United’s three pressing concerns are centre-back, striker and defensive midfield, in that order. If United succeed in their pursuit of these positions, the club will be prepared to win trophies across all competitions.”
BP: “We can’t do everything in one window. If the opportunity comes to sign Sancho, we must get the deal done. We are lacking every time someone who can play naturally off the right-hand side. I also don’t think it helps Wan Bissaka that he hasn’t been able to forge a partnership with anyone down that flank. Maguire also needs help. He needs a centre-back that can trust to support him when needed. Someone who is quick, strong and can move the ball through the lines. Kounde and Pau Torres are two players that many speak glowingly of. Finally, we need a Kante-style player who can pass, resist the oppositions press and do the dirty work in front of the defence. Ndidi is that sort of player and I wouldn’t be looking at anyone else.”
Where will United finish this season and why?
JM: “In my opinion, another top-three finish would be a reasonable expectation and if we can get to one of the cup finals, all the better.”
TW: “I think United will ultimately fall short and end the season in second, which is still a success to me. A second place finish, a trophy or two and some solid summer signings is what I’m predicting — accomplish that then in a year’s time I think we are having a different conversation.”
RB: “I would say top three, but the most important thing will be to achieve Champions League qualification and finish single-digit points behind the champions. That would represent a huge leap forward.”
BP: “The target has to be top two now. I’m optimistic that we will finish second. Leicester still have some massive games to play. They seem to be holding their nerve so far, but I do expect United and City to build a gap at the top. Like they should be doing at this stage.”