We’ve made it fam. The transfer window is over and the new season is upon us.
It’s not surprising that Manchester United fans are completely divided about to feel heading into this season. It’s been like that for like four years now so why should we expect anything different?
It’s funny because most of those fans want to have their cake and eat it too. They spent all of last year complaining that United had too many guys who were just there for the money and didn’t care about the shirt. Then those same fans got annoyed that the team wasn’t pursuing the biggest names in the transfer market who they would have had to overpay for.
The reality is United had a really good window. They had a plan that not only had a long term view but made them better immediately too.
What’s ticked me the most over the past week has been the amount of negativity coming from both the fans and the local media (as always my boy Sam Luckhurst). It’s astonishing! You’d think the title and Champions League spots are decided based only upon the names you signed and what club they came from. It’s almost as if fans are basing their feelings around who the club didn’t sign rather than everything else.
Well I’m here to calm you down. It’s going to be ok. Manchester United are going to finish in the top four this year. Let me tell you why.
Fans have very short memories. It’s recency bias but when they think about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer they only think about the end. United won just two of their final 12 matches last year. They were run off the field by Everton and couldn’t beat Cardiff or Huddersfield.
Was it bad? Sure was! And yet, United only finished five points outside of the Champions League. Don’t forget that in addition to the bad finish, United also had their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign!
Despite that horrific finish, only Manchester City and Liverpool won more points than United after Solskjaer took over. Solskjaer’s hot start was never attainable. Eventually the team burned out and injuries caught up to them. (A source close to Solskjaer told The Athletic that the boss knew this was inevitable.)
Solskjaer’s preseason training sessions have been all about increasing the fitness levels of the players, precisely to avoid this happening again.
United’s poor finish coincided with a completely uncharacteristic loss of form from David de Gea. The goalkeepers gaffes easily costed the Red’s four points, and probably closer to seven or eight.
Logic says it’s a safe assumption that the Reds won’t repeat their worst start to a Premier League campaign again. It’s also hard to imagine them closing the season as poorly as they did.
That right there is improvement over last year but more importantly look at the sides around them. Just like United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham all crawled over the finish line and all have major questions heading into this season.
Arsenal had a nice little summer. They added to their attack, they got a midfielder on loan, and added a couple guys to their defense (plus David Luiz). I’m not sold that they’re much better though, David Luiz could be a roller coaster back there and they basically have a lame duck manager. It was a good window, but there are still a lot of questions there.
Tottenham still enter the season as what I believe are the clear third best team but that doesn’t mean they’re without question marks themselves. The club is short on fullbacks and their plan to move center back Juan Foyth to right back hit a major snag when he got injured in the Copa America.
Mauricio Pochettino has been phasing out Toby Alderweireld for years now, and it’s definitely worth asking how he’ll treat the want-away Christian Eriksen. Pochettino has a history of phasing out outgoing players, but if he doesn’t play Eriksen that would require their new signings to contribute right away.
And then there’s Chelsea.
This could be the most exciting team in years, mainly because the transfer ban is going to force them to actually play their kids. That could be a good thing but doesn’t that also put them in the same boat as United?
The difference between United and Chelsea is that Chelsea actually did lose their best player when Eden Hazard went off to Real Madrid. Tammy Abraham is probably going to be an upgrade over Gonzalo Higuain (because anyone would be), and Christian Pulisic is really good, but neither one of them are Eden Hazard, the man who single handily carried Chelsea to a top four finish last year.
Even if Tottenham don’t fall apart, Chelsea is very prime team for United to jump above.
The media’s criticism of United’s transfer window, mainly them not signing a new striker to replace Romelu Lukaku, shows how backward the media still thinks (and the fans, but fans aren’t supposed to be smart). Yes, people want more firepower in the squad in hopes of turning those 1-1 and 2-2 draws into 2-1 and 3-2 wins.
By upgrading their defense, which was the squad’s biggest weakness, United can turn those same 1-1 and 2-2 draws into 1-0 and 2-1 wins. Those three points are worth all the same.
Every morning I have to remind myself that fans are dumb. They don’t think Daniel James is a viable option because he came from Swansea. Andy Robertson came from Hull and is the best left back in the league now, but why let that get in the way of your narrative that the club doesn’t spend money.
It’s that same narrative that’s led to the commotion about United not bringing in a striker to replace Lukaku, leaving the club without a “proven goalscorer.” Hello people, Zlatan, Lukaku, and Alexis were all “proven goalscorers,” none of them worked out. The three of them have combined for 46 non-penalty goals in the league over the last three years. In the same time frame, Rashford and Martial, operating mostly from the wing, have scored 43.
Similar to Tammy Abraham, if James provides just four goals and four assists this season he’ll have contributed more than Alexis ever had. Additionally his pace scares defenders and he draws a ton of fouls. That’s pretty good for a team who just signed a big time set piece threat in Harry Maguire.
All in all United don’t need a classic no. 9 like Lukaku. They’re going to be playing a different style similar to that of Liverpool and City, neither of whom use a traditional no. 9. Their pace is going to create chances, and an increase in goals from Rashford, Martial, Lingard, James, and maybe even Pogba. David de Gea is going to sign a new contract and more than likely return to form.
Their defense will be better than last year, taking less pressure off the attack. United aren’t without question marks. Martial and Rashford are being challenged to take on the scoring burden and they need to rise to it.
But United certainly aren’t bad. If they play the way Solskjaer wants them to, they’ll breeze into a top four finish.
(Note: Yes, I’ve already bet on United to finish in the top four so I am literally putting my money where my mouth is.)