Manchester United head into the third game-week of the Premier League 2019/20 season with a win and a draw from their opening two fixtures. This is a better start to the season than in 2018/19 and it has come against better opposition. The draw away to Wolverhampton Wanderers could’ve even been a win for United, who lost on both their trips to the Molineux last season.
Despite this, there is still a belief amongst most of those connected to the club that this team has yet to come close to its peak. That could be some time away. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been working with this squad for about eight months or so now, and used this past summer to implement a new playing style while simultaneously integrating some of the club’s youngsters into the first-team.
This has resulted in the current squad having an average age of around 25. The starting XIs in the Premier League fixtures meanwhile, both had an average age of 24. The squad still has room to grow but Solskjaer has begun phasing out players who do not fit his style of play and has replaced them, either with new signings or players from the club’s academy.
United’s academy is one of the best in the country, if not the world. The purpose of the academy is to provide quality players to supplement the club’s first-team, as it has done for over 80 years. Solskjaer of course, played alongside the famous Class of ’92 during his playing days and has set about looking for a similar group of youngsters within his first year as the permanent United manager.
He has a long-term vision for this team and has been publicly backed by the club. His approach to the transfer window and to the start of the season has reinforced this. He has shown faith in academy players, particularly Mason Greenwood. Romelu Lukaku was sold without a replacement so that Greenwood would be given a fair amount of chances this season.
The 17-year-old, while incredibly talented, does not possess a goal-scoring record at
The Brazilian had no problems playing in United’s latest behind-closed-doors friendly against a Sheffield United XI, despite being demoted to the bench after providing an assist against Chelsea. This comes after no midfielder was signed to replace Ander Herrera or Marouane Fellaini. Something similar may happen in the near future, particularly if James Garner and Dylan Levitt continue their development.
This trend may even continue into defence, where Axel Tuanzebe has already usurped the club’s senior centre-backs to become third-choice. Full-backs Ethan Laird and Brandon Williams could be called upon to take the places of Matteo Darmian and Ashley Young in future. It is worth reiterating that this current team probably isn’t capable of challenging for the league title right away and supporters should remain patient.
The draw against Wolves was an imperfect performance which resulted in signs of improvement being ignored by a large percentage of the club’s fan-base. From a supporters’ perspective, the main objective for the 2019/20 season would be to avoid a repeat of the beginning and end of the 2018/19 season.
Solskjaer prioritising improving player fitness during pre-season, while also spending big on defenders who went straight into the starting XI, shows that he is in agreement with supporters on where and why United struggled last season. He has taken nearly all the earliest available steps to correct this. This includes marginalising players whom he cannot improve, alongside those who do not suit his intended style of play.
United’s current squad remains in need of refreshment and it is perhaps not going to happen as fast as the club’s fans or Solskjaer wants, hence the assurances and public backing he was given by the club. That being said, the steps he has taken ensure that the team has the prospect of improving on last season’s sixth-place finish, and possibly getting the club back into the UEFA Champions League.
Fitness and form for the club’s better players permitting, Solskjaer may even be able to earn his first piece of silverware as United manager. This is more likely to come from one of the other competitions. It may not happen right away, but patience is often rewarded.
Written by Shiven Nayager