September: Manchester United started the season in catastrophic fashion with a 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace. The visitors went 2-0 up before new signing Donny van de Beek gave United hope in the 80th minute. But Zaha added his second and Palace’s third in the 85th minute to ensure the Eagles left with all 3 points.
Next up was a trip to the Amex for a lunchtime kick off against Brighton & Hove Albion. It was one of the most dramatic games of the season. The home side had seen numerous chances come and go whilst also striking the post and bar before Fernandes won the game in the 10th minute of added on time! United won the game 3-2 and were up and running for the season. September also saw United advance to the quarter-final of the League Cup after beating Luton and Brighton respectively.
October: United started October in the worst possible way with a 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Fernandes had given his side the lead after just 24 seconds but by the 7th minute United were 2-1 down. It got even worse for the home side after Martial saw red just before the half hour mark and Spurs went on to score 4 more. United had been ripped to shreds and questions were starting to be asked.
They responded by coming back from a goal down to beat Newcastle United 4-1 at St James’s Park 13 days later. Goals from Maguire, Fernandes, Wan-Bissaka and Rashford sealed the 3 points. Despite the emphatic 4-1 win United were 15th in the table and after a goalless draw with Chelsea at Old Trafford that’s where they stayed. The end of October saw the start of the Champions League. United won back to back games against PSG and RB Leipzig with Marcus Rashford the star of the show in both games. Rashford had hit a devastating hat-trick in 11 minutes v RB Leipzig putting United in firm control of Group H.
November: The start of November saw United welcome old rivals Arsenal to Old Trafford. Clear cut chances were few and far between but with just over 20 minutes remaining Arsenal took the lead. As the rain poured down United fell to their third home defeat of the season. Out of four home games they’d picked up just one point. Next up was a trip to Turkey where United suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to İstanbul Başakşehir. Solskjaer’s side had offered very little and couldn’t complain with the result.
United arrived at Goodison Park having won just two of their six league games. Everton would certainly of fancied their chances but Solskjaer’s side put in an excellent display running out 3-1 winners with Fernandes (2) and Cavani doing the damage. Next up was newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. Once again United failed to impress at home and it took a Bruno Fernandes penalty to secure all 3 points. Three days later United ran out 4-1 winners against İstanbul Başakşehir. They were sailing through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. All so it seemed..
United’s last game in November was a five goal thriller on the south coast. Southampton raced in to a two goal lead before Fernandes sparked a wonderful comeback. Cavani scored a trademark header in the 92nd minute to ensure United left with all 3 points.
December: United arrived at the London Stadium off the back of a 3-1 home defeat to PSG in the Champions League. Solskjaer’s side fell behind to a Soucek header but an excellent second half display saw them win the game 3-1. The following game would see United play their final group game in the Champions League and it ended in defeat. The 3-2 loss to RB Leipzig sent United crashing out at the group stage. They’d failed to get the one point needed from their final two games and the the Europa League awaited in February.
They would then pick up eleven points from their next five league games, winning three drawing two. The standout result was v Leeds at Old Trafford where United ran riot winning 6-2. Amongst their busy league schedule Solskjaer’s side also beat Everton 2-0 in the League Cup meaning they would face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the next round.
January: United made a perfect start to the month beating Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford with goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes. Next up was a League Cup semi-final against noisy neighbors Manchester City. Pep’s team dominated the game and goals from John Stones and Fernandihno saw City through to the final. Once again Solskjaer’s side had fallen at the semi-final stage of a competition.
United’s FA Cup run began with a 2-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford. The away side had gave a good account of themselves but it was United who advanced to the fourth round. Next up was a trip to Burnley and United knew 3 points would take them to the top of the Premier League. Solskjaer’s side pushed and pushed and on the 70th minute they finally got the goal they’d been craving. Paul Pogba broke the deadlock and United held on for all 3 points.
Liverpool were still many peoples favourites to win the Premier League. When they met United on the 17th of January the game finished goalless but it was United who’d had the best two chances of the game. Solskjaer couldn’t believe his side had left Anfield with just a point. But it kept United top and they then went onto beat Fulham at Craven Cottage strengthening their grip on first place. Just like against Burnley Paul Pogba had stepped up when it really mattered. His fantastic strike put United 2-1 ahead and Fulham had no reply.
United were on a 13 match unbeaten run in the Premier League when Sheffield United arrived at Old Trafford. The Blades sat bottom of the league but that didn’t stop them leaving Manchester with all 3 points thanks to a shock 2-1 win. This opened the door for Manchester City and after a goalless draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Pep’s team started to pull clear.
They did have one positive to take from the end of January though as they beat Liverpool 3-2 in an FA Cup classic at Old Trafford. The game had been end to end but Fernandes finally settled it with a wonderful free kick.
February: Solskjaer’s side started February by thrashing Southampton 9-0 at Old Trafford. The Saints had gone down to ten men in the first minute after a crazy challenge by Alex Jankewitz and United took full advantage. This was the second time they’d won by a 9 goal margin in the Premier League after they beat Ipswich 9-0 at Old Trafford in 1995. Next up were Everton and the Toffees were having a good season. United were 2-0 up by half time but some catastrophic defending saw the game end 3-3. The reds had dropped more points at home!
United faced West Ham Utd in the next round of the FA Cup. It was a tight game and it took a goal from Scott McTominay in extra time to settle the tie. The Midfielder had stepped up when it really mattered. United would then go on to beat Newcastle United 3-1 before drawing 0-0 with Chelsea seven days later.
February also saw the start of United’s Europa League campaign after they’d joined at the round of 32 stage. Solskjaer’s side got off to the perfect start beating Real Sociedad 4-0 before drawing 0-0 in the second leg a week later.
March: United played 3 Premier League games in March picking up 7 points out of a possible 9. The 2-0 win at Manchester City was the standout result and it closed the gap on Guardiola’s men at the top of the Premier League. In the Europa League United were drawn against Italian giants A.C Milan. Like United the Serie A side had dropped off in recent years and the fact they were meeting each other in the Europa League not the Champions League said it all.
The first leg was at Old Trafford but United couldn’t make home advantage count. The game finished 1-1 and Milan had a crucial away goal. Solskjaer’s side arrived at the San Siro a week later knowing they had to score and on the 49th minute they did. Pogba stepped up when it mattered and United held on to win 1-0 progressing to the next round.
The month would end on a sour note as Solskjaer’s side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Leicester City. Understandably United had looked fatigued for large parts of the game after their midweek trip to Italy and the Foxes had taken full advantage. Leicester had been the better team all over the pitch and they were good value for their 3-1 win.
April: As we entered April United were on a 9 game unbeaten run in the Premier League. The last time they’d lost was against Sheffield United at Old Trafford on the 27th of January. Their first opponents of the month was Graham Potters Brighton. The Seagulls put up a brave fight but left Old Trafford empty handed after Mason Greenwood scored a late winner which saw United win 2-1.
United’s Europa League campaign was really gathering pace. Four days after beating Brighton they saw off Spanish side Granada 2-0 in the first leg of their quarter-final tie. A first half strike by Marcus Rashford and a late penalty by Bruno Fernandes was enough to see United over the line.
United followed up their Europa League win with an impressive 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur before finishing the job against Granada four days later. A first half goal from Edinson Cavani and a late own goal saw United progress to the semi’s. They then beat Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford before drawing 0-0 with Leeds United at Elland Road a week later.
The semi-final saw United drawn against Italian side Roma. It looked a mouth watering tie on paper and it didn’t disappoint. The last time the two sides met at Old Trafford was in the Champions League in 2007 with United running out 7-1 winners. This time they would take Roma apart again winning 6-2 and it could easily of been more! Not a bad way to end the month.
May: The final month of the season had arrived. United started it by losing 3-2 to Roma in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final tie. Thankfully for Solskjaer the damage had been done in the first leg and United were through to the final where they would face Spanish side Villarreal
United then beat Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park. Fernandes, Greenwood and Cavani were all on target as they increased their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 14 games. But that’s where it would end as they then lost back to back games against Leicester and Liverpool before drawing 1-1 to an already relegated Fulham at Old Trafford. United were limping into the Europa League final.
The final league game of the season saw United travel to Molineux to face Wolves. With the Europa League final just three days away Solskjaer made a host of changes. One of those changes was 19 year old Anthony Elanga and he opened the scoring after just 13 minutes with a bullet header. Wolves drew level soon after but Juan Mata put his side back in front from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time. United held on for all 3 points and with avoiding defeat it meant they’d gone the whole Premier League season unbeaten away from home! Incredible achievement by Solskjaer and his players. Next stop Gdansk!
United arrived in Gdansk looking to win their first trophy in nearly 5 years. Villarreal had the better of the first half and deservedly lead at half time. United looked a different team after the break and It didn’t take long for Solskjaer’s side to respond. After some pinball in the box Cavani pounced to make it 1-1 and now we had a game on our hands!
United pushed hard for a second goal but they couldn’t find it and the game went to extra time. The next 30 minutes felt like an hour with both sides seemingly going through the motions. At the end of extra time we were still level meaning the final would be decided on penalties.
The first ten penalties were perfect from both sides with all 20 outfield players scoring. Next up were the goalkeepers. First up was Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli. He made no mistake lashing the ball into the top corner meaning De gea had to score. The United keeper stepped up but his penalty was weak and it was easily saved. Villarreal had done it! They’d beaten Manchester United and the Europa League trophy would be heading back to Spain. Once again United had come so close to silverware but had fallen at the final hurdle.
A season which at one point promised so much had ended in disappointment and once again United had fallen short. A second place finish and a European final is no disgrace. But ultimately you don’t get anything for finishing second. It’s clear that United are close but not close enough. They have a big summer ahead of them with 3-4 top quality players needed to take them to that next level.
All Competitions: Credit – BBC