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Manchester United sit fourth in the fledgling Premier League table, level on points with rivals City, only two points behind early leaders Chelsea and with the returning Cristiano Ronaldo having scored six goals in six starts.
The 2021/22 season would appear to be so far so good … on paper. Football, however, is played on grass.
With an international break giving pause for reflection, we asked Manchester United correspondent Samuel Luckhurst to give us his assessment of United’s season so far.
And then you have your own opportunity to tell us how you think United have fared.
First of all, Samuel Luckhurst’s assessment.
How has the season gone so far? (Give mark out of 10) United have played properly well in one match out of ten and that was on the opening weekend against Leeds. Despite the most sensational transfer window in the club’s history, it is nigh-on impossible to take them seriously as credible championship challengers and that may remain the case as long as the manager is in situ.
Elimination from the League Cup was hardly a disaster but success this season for United is – don’t laugh – winning the Premier League or the Champions League. That is a dicey dynamic for a team without anything to put on the museum plinth since 2017.
Verdict on the new signings? Jadon Sancho seems fazed by the pressure, hardly a surprise when he was previously at the club where winning the German Cup constitutes a successful season. The would-be number seven has had a more subdued start to his United career than Michael Owen, Angel di Maria, Memphis Depay, and Alexis Sanchez. And now Marcus Rashford is back to push Sancho down the pecking order.
United are better with Raphael Varane, even though the numbers do not reflect that (one clean sheet out of ten matches this season). Varane has not been directly culpable for a goal and he has been their stablest defender.
Ronaldo already has five goals in six games and United counted the cost of not starting him against Everton. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management of Ronaldo, specifically, could define his season as United manager.
How has the manager performed so far? Ole’s at the wheel and his management is often surreal. Whether it is relocating an in-form player, a questionable substitution strategy, or excessive rotation for a league match United almost end up losing, Solskjaer has made some amateurish mistakes. Bizarrely, he is still learning on the job, a remarkable state of play for a United manager of nearly three years.
Solskjaer has still not settled on a first XI and the chopping and changing in midfield is preventing United from building momentum. There have been seven different midfield combinations at the start of matches already and Solskjaer still seems to be ignoring potential internal solutions.
United’s league position is not a disaster but it is flattering. They are fortunate there is not a standout contender to break into the top four this season, what with Tottenham getting worse and Leicester out of sorts.
Biggest surprise so far: That Jesse Lingard has not started in the Premier League. It is getting to the point where there has to be an ulterior motive there, especially when Anthony Martial gets in ahead of him. Lingard is out of contract in June.
What are the team missing? A defensive midfielder. There is little point in carping on about it when they were never signing one with no takers for Pogba and six senior midfielders already on the books. Solskjaer needs to reprogramme Scott McTominay and trial Donny van de Beek to see if he is compatible in United’s set-up.
Do you think they’ll do better, worse or about the same as pre-season predictions? My personal prediction was United had the squad to win the title but not the manager. So far, that remains the case. They might not even mount a challenge, which would signal regression.
Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think …