After a year in Europe’s secondary competition, Manchester United have rounded out their 2019-20 campaign with a finish in the Champions League places.
It will be only the fourth time the Red Devils have competed in the competition since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, and their third place finish is the second highest position they’ve reached since the Scot departed the club.
Why They Can
Manchester United were hardly favourites in the soccer betting markets for a top four finish at the end of January, languishing fourteen points behind Leicester City following a dismal 0-2 home loss to Burnley that actually saw the side booed of at the end of both halves, but the side arguably demonstrated a Championship-winning mentality in being able to bounce back in a way few could have ever imagined.
From the Burnley game onwards, United went on an unbeaten run of fourteen games in the league, picking up crucial wins against the likes of Chelsea and completing their first league double over Manchester City for the first time in a decade, before winning their crunch match against Leicester City to secure third place.
This sort of revival obviously doesn’t come solely from one player, however it’s pretty undeniable the impact Bruno Fernandes has had on this side.
The side have never lost in the league following his arrival, his eight goals and seven assists makes him the third most productive player in the team despite only playing half a campaign, but the added injection of raw passion coupled with genuine star quality has helped galvanise the side in a way unlike anyone else since Robin Van Persie joined the club in 2012.
Paul Pogba’s improved form and seemingly happier demeanour is the immediate example, however even the likes of Fred, Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw have all seen their level of performance surge following Fernandes’ arrival.
Then there’s the unearthing of the front three of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to talk about.
The trio netted 44 of United’s 66 goals this season, and they all seem to be playing with a frightening amount of confidence and control.
They push on eachother, often swapping roles and bursting forward with a level of pace few defences can compete with, and their skill ceilings are all potentially salivating for fans to think about.
Why They Can’t
Despite the obvious improvement in the style of play, the balance of the side and the record against the better sides in the division, Manchester United didn’t actually pick up more points than they did in 2018-19.
With both of United’s campaigns finishing up on 66 points, the side’s final positions of 6th and then 3rd indicate that the Red Devils benefitted massively from a far weaker Premier League in terms of overall quality.
The form of Manchester City, the capitulation from Leicester, Chelsea’s transfer ban and implosion in Arsenal and Spurs do seem to indicate this as well.
The fact as well that United have only ever registered more than 70 points once post-Ferguson indicates that bridging the gap between Champions League challengers and Premier League champions could be a bridge too far at the moment for Ole’s side.