Across the first half of the 2020/21 Premier League season, it appeared as though we might have the most open title race for many years. Tottenham Hotspur were the surprise early pacesetters while Manchester United enjoyed a brief spell at the summit of the table.
Meanwhile, Manchester City endured a slow start but responded to a defeat at Spurs in November by going on a lengthy unbeaten run. From the New Year onwards, the destiny of the trophy was never really in doubt.
Manchester United may not have ended their long Premier League title drought but a second-place finish represents solid progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Red Devils ended with 74 points and enjoyed a five-point cushion over their closest rivals Liverpool.
Champions League qualification had been assured for much of the campaign and they were quite close to the Cityzens until they put their foot off the pedal in the last few PL fixtures. No Red Devils fan wants to see the blue half of Manchester at the top of the premier league table but most would surely be satisfied with Ole’s second full season in charge.
Second place shows progress and offers a platform for the campaign that lies ahead.
Highs and Lows
Solskjaer described Manchester United’s 6-1 loss to Spurs in October as the worst day of his managerial career. The side weren’t helped by the sending off of Anthony Martial, but it was a poor performance, even against a Tottenham side who were in solid form at the time.
Ironically, another low point of Champions League elimination gave the club their only chance of winning silverware this season, however, they even fell short in the Europa League final against Villareal last night.
Solskjaer’s men had reserved some of their best displays for Europe’s elite competition. United beat eventual semi finalists PSG and they demolished a strong RB Leipzig side by five goals to nil.
In the Premier League, a 9-0 thrashing of Southampton was an undoubted highlight.
(Manchester United scoring 9 goals over Southampton)
The 2-0 victory over Manchester City in March would have been even more satisfying. Another old rivalry was renewed, and supporters would have taken great pleasure in the club’s 6-2 pasting of Leeds United in December.
It was another campaign of highs and lows but what does 2021/22 have in store?
Among the Frontrunners
The 2020/21 Premier League campaign has only just been put to bed, but betting markets have already opened for next season. Many football punters like to look at long range, ante post bets as there can be better odds when staking well in advance of the next campaign.
It’s no great shock to see that early premier league odds put Manchester City as the clear favourites to defend their title. It may, however, be more surprising to see Manchester United as the fourth favourites behind Liverpool and Chelsea.
After a strong, second place finish in 2020/21, the bookmakers may have been a little more supportive of Ole and his men.
Bettors also like to stake on individual matches and Manchester United fans will be looking forward to certain fixtures with more interest than most. The bitter rivalry with Manchester City has been with the clubs ever since they were formed, but the animosity has been heightened since City have been consistently challenging for major honours.
The rivalry against Leeds United also stretches back for decades: Neighbours across the Pennines, things began to intensify when Leeds and Manchester United were both challenging for major honours in the 1960s and 1970s. Liverpool also began to re-emerge at around the same time and the Reds are another team who will guarantee a packed house at Old Trafford next season.
Like all Premier League managers, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will assess his squad in the close season and consider any possible new arrivals. Statistics from the 2020/21 campaign suggest that he only needs to make some minor adjustments, rather than undertake the painful rebuild that may be required elsewhere.
United conceded 44 goals across the league campaign, more than anyone else in the top four and five more than eighth placed Arsenal. Defence has been identified as a potential area of weakness, with Villarreal’s Pau Torres touted as a possible central partner for Harry Maguire.
Up front, the Red Devils were the league’s second highest scorers with 73 goals. Strikers are less of a concern, but the club could be in the market for an ‘out-and-out’ centre forward in Romelu Lukaku.
This summer, two very high profile attackers in the shape of Harry Kane and Erling Haaland may well be on the market. Both are likely to be listed at transfer fees in excess of £100 million and, while United may have that money available, can they match the lure of other big clubs around Europe?
A prolific striker isn’t essential, but a productive front man is desirable, even if it’s just to take some of the scoring responsibilities away from Bruno Fernandes in midfield.
In general, Manchester United’s current squad needs very little work in the close season. Second place and a European final is the result of a solid campaign and, with one or two key new arrivals, Ole’s men could well be challenging at the very top of the league in 2021/22.