While their 2020/21 campaign might have ended in a bitter way following the Europa League final defeat to Villarreal, Manchester United are climbing their way up the Premier League ladder.
After finishing third in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge at Old Trafford, the Red Devils went on better last time around and bagged the ‘best of the rest’ spot behind Manchester City. A lack of proper pre-season combined with chaotic summer dealings led to a poor start to the 2020/21 season, amassing just seven points from their first seven games.
Solskjaer wanted a fast start this time around and his boys delivered it on the opening weekend of the new season, laying down an early marker by crushing bitter rivals Leeds United 5-1 at Old Trafford. It was just the perfect tonic Manchester United wanted in the first game of the 2021/22 season as well as the returning Old Trafford supporters.
After a really promising start, it is time to be optimistic. Here are three reasons why Manchester United can win the Premier League title this season.
1. The signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane
Solskjaer identified the two key weaknesses in his squad and has reinforced it with the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
Jadon Sancho, 21, was the Reds’ primary target last summer but Borussia Dortmund standing firm over their demands didn’t materialise a transfer. This summer, though, Dortmund lowered their demands for the player due to their need for money following the financial losses caused by the pandemic, and Solskjaer eventually got his man.
The England international, one of Europe’s hottest talents, can play on either side of the wing, create opportunities and unlock the tightest of defences with his flair, dribbling and pace, as well as score goals. So, Sancho has added the ‘X-factor’ to United’s attack, which already had the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Daniel James.
There’s not much really to speak about Raphael Varane, it is his CV that does the talking. 18 major honours with Real Madrid, including three LaLiga titles and four Champions League titles, speak volumes about the Frenchman’s winning mentality, pedigree and experience at the highest level. In addition, he’s also won the 2018 World Cup with France.
Due to his experience, pace, awareness, aerial strength and big-game mentality, Varane is possibly United’s missing piece in the jigsaw.
2. Strength in depth
The acquisition of Tom Heaton on a free transfer from Aston Villa to join hands with David de Gea, Dean Henderson and Lee Grant means Solskjaer’s goalkeeping department is good to go for the season.
The signings of Sancho and Varane have added serious mettle and top quality to the Solskjaer-managed United’s spine. More than that, though, the Reds have got strength in depth in every position.
Once Varane gets enough training sessions with the new bunch of players under his belt, he’ll be the ideal partner for Harry Maguire in central defence. However, this will mean Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly become squad options. Luke Shaw already has competition at left-back in the form of Alex Telles, while Diogo Dalot apparently staying at the club could be beneficial for United’s first-choice right-back, Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The Reds’ midfield is loaded with plenty of quality and experience. In Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Scott McTominay, Solskjaer has midfielders with different attributes. Even though a young, dynamic holding midfielder is very much wanted, the current look at the midfield options is really exciting.
Up front, United has an array of talent with Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial set to battle it out for the no.9 position. Greenwood and Martial’s flexibility to play out wide only helps the manager, who also has the likes of Jadon Sancho, Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga as natural wingers.
Not to forget, Marcus Rashford could return to training this month after recovering quickly from shoulder surgery in what’ll be a big boost for Solskjaer’s United.
Even if some United players run out of steam in certain games or after a point of time in the season, Solskjaer can now afford to rotate his squad without really compromising quality.
3. Fans returning back to Old Trafford
This one’s pretty simple, really: Having the fans back at Old Trafford is what Solskjaer and his players have long waited with bated breath. And the fans were finally back last weekend, thoroughly thrilled with the performance and the manner in which Solskjaer’s attacking machine dismantled Leeds in the second half.
United went a full last season unbeaten away from home in the Premier League, extending the record to 26 games with the final day 2-1 victory at Wolves in May. A draw or win against Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on Sunday would take United’s record to 27 games.
At Old Trafford, though, Solskjaer’s men often struggled to break teams down, which was a complete contrast to their away form. In fact, United’s six league defeats last season came at home that had no spectators.
A boisterous, noisy jam-packed Old Trafford could help Solskjaer’s side massively in turning around their fortunes at home. The cliché of fans being the ‘12th man’ will always stay, as the United fans at Old Trafford looking to play a mighty role in helping their club get back to where they truly belong.
I am Rohan Sengupta from one of the busiest cities in India, Mumbai. A Journalism graduate with a keen interest in sports, football is something I simply cannot live without and writing, discussing and analyzing the game is what I do 24*7.