Now that’s an ending…
After the season we’ve had, with all of the injuries, drama, doubts and bad times… we’ve qualified for next season’s Champions League. It’s unbelievable, brilliant and fully deserved!
Being a United fan has been really difficult at times this season; there’s been a lot of frustrating moments and we’ve often despaired at some of our results – the defeat to Newcastle back in October, for some reason, particularly stands out for me. But since the end of January and especially since the restart we’ve been fantastic – genuinely breathtaking to watch at times – and I truly believe we’ve warranted our place as the third-best team in the Premier League this season.
So after a truly brilliant end to the Prem campaign, this week’s edition of United Uncut will look ahead to next season’s run out in Europe’s premier competition, our upcoming run in the Europa League, and the rumours linking us with Kingsley Coman…
THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…
I can’t wait to hear the Champions League music ringing around Old Trafford again. Feels good, doesn’t it?
Here’s a friendly reminder that we were 14 points(!) behind Leicester after that defeat to Burnley back in January with 14 games to go, and six behind Chelsea. That match was a real low point – one of a few this season – but it changed so much. Just one week after, Bruno Fernandes was signed, sealed and part of the team, and some six months and a whole pandemic later… we’ve clawed our way back to where we belong thanks to his brilliance.
Sure, we’ve benefited from a monumental collapse from Leicester, but we’ve also managed to edge Chelsea, and we’ve not only finished in the top four… we’ve finished in third-place.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
It’s hard not to believe that Bruno has been the catalyst of this brilliant run. We haven’t lost a league game since the Portuguese midfielder joined the club, and as Jason Burt wrote in The Telegraph, ‘the initial £47million paid for the 25-year-old has been the soundest of investment’.
But we must build on this now. In the summer (or late-summer, or whatever we’re calling this period between seasons), the board needs to support Ole in the transfer window. Improvements need to be made to the first-team squad. If we’re really serious about challenging even further next season – and in the coming seasons – then the squad needs to be stronger. Next season is going to be really tough, and we need to be prepared. The expectations are going to be higher, the challenges will be harder – playing against the best-of-the-best in Europe midweek while competing in the Premier League at the weekend will be draining – and the team will need to be rotated consistently.
Our boys looked really tired on Sunday. Bruno Fernandes looked absolutely zonked and his performance was perhaps one of the worst I’ve seen from him in a United shirt. Maguire became the first outfield player to start every Prem match in a single campaign since the 1994/95 season, and while that’s a nice little record for him, I think it showcases the lack of back-up options at centre-back. And Wan-Bissaka, so usually full of beans, has looked a shadow of his start-of-season self in recent games. Ole will want to be able to rotate his players more frequently next season, keep them fresh for high-profile games and be able to make positive substitutions when necessary.
That being said, Ole deserves praise for the way he’s managed to make the most of his squad. We’ve seen starring roles for players like Martial, McTominay, Shaw and Fred, while youngsters Greenwood and Williams have proven more than capable of playing in the first-team.
KEEN ON KINGSLEY
Last week you might’ve heard the rumours linking us with a move for Kingsley Coman. He’s renowned for his explosive speed and acceleration, and I think he’d be a really fine addition to the squad and, honestly, I started to get quite excited when I heard the news (you know what I’m like). I will admit that I haven’t seen too much of him in recent years, but I know that he’s highly rated, a regular for France, and, as a bonus, is said to get on well with Martial and Pogba.
Currently at Bayern Munich, he’s perhaps best known for his unbelievable trove of accolades. Despite being just 24 years old, he’s won NINE league titles – two with PSG, two with Juventus and five with Bayern Munich. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?
Sancho remains the club’s top target, with Coman only considered an alternative to the young Englishman. But with Bayern signing Leroy Sane from Man City recently… it’s possible that Coman will be the easier (and cheaper) of the two to sign. However, according to reports in Germany over the weekend, Bayern have already decided internally that Coman will not be sold despite United’s interest. There are other names in mind as well apparently, including Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey – a long time United target – but I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens…
WHERE THERE’S A WILF, THERE’S A WAY
I wanted to throw another name into the right-wing transfer target mix… are you ready? Wilfried Zaha.
Alright, I know. Wilf has already been there and done that. It’s easy to forget now, but Zaha was once on our books – between 2013 and 2015 – famously becoming Fergie’s last transfer before his retirement. But his time at Old Trafford was hugely disappointing; the lad was barely given a sniff under David Moyes and, after being loaned back to Crystal Palace, re-joined his boyhood club permanently with his tail between his legs. Few of us batted an eyelid…
But since then, I think he’s been one of the great ‘what ifs’ of our post-Fergie era. There’s no doubt that, had he stayed, he’d be a first-team regular now and things for both him and our club might be very different. In recent years, he’s been talked up as one of the best players outside of the Prem’s traditional top six and a genuine ’big fish in a small pond’ – no disrespect to Palace, of course – and I must say I completely agree. There would be times I’d watch him on Match of the Day and think… this boy should be playing in the Champions League, not finishing around the mid-table!
Last season, he scored 10 goals in the league and in the summer he finally tried to force a move away, with Everton and Arsenal said to be keen. I mean, personally, I think he did the right thing to stay at Palace, as a move to either of those two feels like a sideways step for a player of his quality. Now, obviously, he’s not been quite so good this season; only scoring four goals. He’s still been Palace’s best player this season according to WhoScored with an overall rating of 6.98, but I still doubt anyone would be willing to cough up his £80m asking price…
The news that he wants to leave Palace this summer does complicate things for his club, and from a United perspective… I think he’d be a fantastic option for us. For starters, he’d work brilliantly with Wan-Bissaka – his old teammate and friend – on the right-flank, and he’d prove to be good competition for both Greenwood and James. But whether he’d want to come back and risk his career stalling again at a club that, quite frankly, didn’t give him a fair crack of the whip, remains to be seen…
ARE EUR READY?
With the Prem done and dusted, it’s time to focus all of our remaining efforts on the Europa League. We’ve done the hard bit by nailing down that Champions League spot for next season… now let’s win a trophy!
I’ve mentioned this previously, but the Europa League format will look a little different in this strange finale to the campaign; after our second-leg clash against LASK – who we lead 5-0 from the first-leg – we’d then face Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir or FC Copenhagen in the quarter finals as part of a mini tournament, which will be played in Germany from the last eight onwards.
United are the current favourites to win the thing, but Inter Milan are considered strong contenders along with German side Bayer Leverkusen. Prem rivals Wolves, Sevilla and Chris Smalling’s Roma are worthy challengers, too.
Diary dates worth jotting down; United player LASK on August 5 and then the quarter-finals take place on August 10 and 11. Semis take place just a few days later on the 16th with the final on the 21st. There’s no daunting trip to Baku for our boys, instead the final takes place in Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion. I’ve not been, but I’ve heard it’s a brilliant place.
Winning the Europa League, while not particularly important to us in the grand scheme of things, would still be brilliant and would really cap off a wonderful end to this long, difficult and strange season. And, honestly, seeing Ole lift a European trophy as United’s manager would have me bawling like a baby. We all want to see that, don’t we?