Are Manchester United Becoming a Legitimate Title Challenger Again?

Posted on by SoccerPunter

When Sir Alex Ferguson left, it seemed almost unthinkable that the following years would result in a relative barren spell. Manchester United have won trophies, notably the F.A. Cup and the Europa League. They’ve flirted with title pushes: during José Mourinho’s second season and Ole Gunnar Solksjær’s 2020/2021 season, they finished second – though, in both instances, there remained serious doubts about their credentials, with their underlying performance numbers lacking and inconsistencies plaguing them. The difference between those two second-place finishes, though, is that with Solksjær, the club does seem to be in a better position for progress. Will the post-Sir Alex blues be coming to an end?

Last Season

The 2020/2021 season, in general and for Manchester United, was representative of a couple of things and misrepresentative of others. It was a congested and difficult season. Manchester United managed to maintain fitness levels well, rotating frequently and successfully, avoiding many major blows, and putting together sequences of results that propelled them into threatening and comfortable positions, as well as helping them reach the Europe League final.

On an individual level:

  1. Paul Pogba showed glimpses of form which appears to be only unlocked while he’s playing for his national team.
  2. Edison Cavani provided genuine value for money, scoring a number of important goals, and seemingly imparting priceless knowledge to his fellow strikers (even though it seems only Dan James has made significant box-movement improvement, when ideally Rashford would’ve benefited too).
  3. Bruno Fernandes continues to be the most surprising revelation since his transfer from Sporting Lisbon, notching considerable output with his safety-last approach.
  4. Marcus Rashford still tends towards being an elite wide-forward, despite not playing for a coach that gets the best out of him.
  5. Luke Shaw’s renaissance has not slowed down, with him excelling as an out-to-in left back who can progress the ball well, and these qualities have worked favourably in England’s Euro 2020 environment too.
  6. Harry Maguire’s price tag overshadows his performances, but he is a reliable defensive centre-back with effective ball-progression skills.

The squad has all great components. The club’s 2020/2021 leading standing was built on being as safe as possible at the defensive end and letting the talented attacking players do their thing. It was built around individuals. It was liberating, in some cases, and restrictive in others.

Their results and final positioning was helped by underperformance and chaos in other teams, notably Liverpool and Chelsea.

This, to an extent, was why there are questions about Solksjær’s Manchester United being serious title contenders. Is he the manager who will take United back to their perch?


Solksjær will always be games away from being sacked, it seems, just as he is as likely to be backed from the board. He is fighting the inevitable. He is a temporary manager who seems permanent. The managerial merry-go-round around Europe has helped and not helped his cause. Punters looking to make use of free bets and 38 new betting offers at might be looking at the current odds for Manchester United’s next manager and be considering how talented the field is.

Mauricio Pochettino has only been in the PSG hot seat for half-a-year and has already considered returning to Tottenhom so may be tempted by another offer. Brendan Rodgers is widely viewed as ready to make that next-step back to a major club, despite his Leicester City team being on a path to consistent top-four pushes. Zinedine Zidane has left Real Madrid – though, he seems quite happy to only manage when he wants to, having one basically everything possible in his short managerial spell (and is he not just a slightly better Solksjær?). Julian Nagelsmann, despite only just taking up the Bayern Munich job will be the coach most tipped to join the Premier League’s elite over the coming seasons, with Guardiola and Klopp’s reign likely to end sooner rather than later, as well. Could Maurizio Sarri be an option?

Should Manchester United persist with Solkajær, though? His managerial approach, as mentioned, is to create a safe environment which allows the attacking players to do their own thing. It’s an emphasis which needs the kinds of talent which Manchester United has and can attract. However, whether Solksjær actually coaches his team to solve problems in the way that world-class managers, like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, do is up in the air. Therefore, the limit for Solkajær’s success appears, then, to be the players at his disposal. A hollow statement to an extent as success in any sport is determined by talent. However, Klopp and Guardiola can improve players and cause them to overperform. They improve players; they maximise talent.

Sancho and Camavinga

Manchester United is still an attractive prospect for all the best players across the world. They can sign Jadon Sancho and Eduardo Camavinga with their financial and cultural might, despite not being at the pinnacle. Both players, while both having room to grow and improve, offer immediate value. They come in as the best up-and-comers in their positions, even among the best in their position regardless of experience.

Sancho fits into the Solksjær mould, in that, on his own, he will solve problems and produce shots without much coaching input, without any sort of attacking structure. Camavinga can do the same, though he will likely be asked to hold off some of his attacking surges from deeper-central areas, unless there is defensive cover.

Could Solkajær eke more value out of lesser talents? Does that matter for Manchester United, who can routinely dip into the market for players costing £50+ million?


Rafael Varane is a twenty-eight-year-old centre back who has won everything he can. He’s a star. One who is now intent on doing is away from Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos, going out on his own. At twenty-eight, he is a win-now signing. While players in his position can extend their careers into their early thirties as long as their physical attributes remain or they’re asked to defend less space, Varane is the kind of signing that will take a team towards a title in the next season or the one after. He will likely be able to perform in a Solkajær system, with the variable being how much area he has to defend, but with his talent, he can scale to these demands.

The Next Steps

The next step for Manchester United appears to be, then, wait-and-see. If Solksjær pulls a Zidane and is able to let the talent he has do enough to win a title (be it the Premier League or the Champions League) then he’s a success. While Manchester United want sustained and continued success, their ability to turnover their squad almost immediately to result in another title push is better than most other clubs. Chelsea have done it numerous times. Manchester City will likely be able to do it post-Guardiola. Liverpool’s capability will rely more on being savvy and overperforming, at least in the near future. Solksjær’s United, while set-up for the future, will continue to be day-to-day.

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