After an encouraging 2020/21 season where Manchester United secured the second position in the Premier League and reached all the way to the Europa League final, they were supposed to mount a title challenge this season. Thanks to Brighton & Hove Albion’s heroics against West Ham United, the Red Devils barely managed to qualify for the Europa League on the final day of the season. Not only was this their lowest points total in the Premier League era, but they also finished the season on a zero-goal difference. It couldn’t have gotten any worse for the men in red.
With four wins in five, the season indeed started on a solid note under the stewardship of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, the humiliating 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road saw the Norwegian coach getting replaced by interim manager Ralf Rangnick. Keep in mind that Watford have scored a combined thirty goals in the other thirty-seven matches. Then again, the entire season has been full of such embarrassments – including the 5-0 and 4-0 losses to Liverpool, the 4-1 and 2-0 defeats to Manchester City, the 3-1 and 3-2 losses to Arsenal, the 4-0 defeat to Brighton and the list goes on.
Affairs were expected to improve with the arrival of Ralf Rangnick, but it would be an understatement to say that things kept getting worse until they hit an all-time low. The players were greeted with ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ chants while internal feuds became public. Abuses were hurled at Edinson Cavani, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba and several others, while Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard started calling out the coach on social media. It came to a point where certain players didn’t even bother turning up to the training sessions as they found no success in the German’s style of play.
Individualism won. Manchester United stood defeated as a team.
Nonetheless, Cristiano Ronaldo’s ability to deliver on the biggest stages at the age of 37 is one of the few positives that can be taken from the disastrous season. If not overplayed, the Portugal international still has the calibre to win matches on his own.
Despite being heavily criticized for his overall game, David de Gea did his job reasonably well between the sticks all season. Jadon Sancho showed glimpses of brilliance, but expectations were more from the £72m-signing.
Apart from these few individuals (and arguably Fred), the rest of the squad was astronomically poor on all fronts, capable of putting even the worst on shame.
Erik Ten Hag brings the sole ray of hope amid all the darkness. A massive overhaul is needed in the summer – a rebuild focusing on creating harmony and developing players rather than inflating the wage bill unnecessarily. Those behind the dressing room toxicity should be shown the exit door right away, while academy players should be promoted to lay a solid foundation.
Good luck, Mr Ten Hag, because that’s the one thing you’ll need in aplenty.