Half the season has gone, and Man United find themselves close to the top four, but with little realistic prospect of entering into it. At the end of 2019 Solskjaer’s side seemed on the cusp of catching up with a faltering Chelsea in fourth, needing only to put together a sequence of a few wins to overtake Lampard’s side. But those wins never came, with United winning only one of their five games before the Winter break in 2020.
In the meantime, there are teams such as Leicester, Sheffield United and Wolves who have over-performed and remained solid, taking points off United and clogging up the table around them. None show signs of slowing down. Simultaneously, under-performing teams like Tottenham and Everton have been much improved under new management. They have climbed back up the table and will challenge United over the course of the season.
Realistically then, United are unlikely to make the top four and, indeed, Space Casino betting on football gives them only a 15/2 chance of doing so, behind Leicester, Chelsea and Tottenham. With Pogba, McTominay and Rashford out for the foreseeable future, and having only won nine of their twenty-five matches so far this season, United may even find it difficult to finish in the Top Six if things continue as they are.
So, United face a scramble to save face, and should be planning for an overhaul of the squad in the summer. The need for quality signings is perhaps greater than ever. The state of United’s squad means that their inability to pull away from sides who were recently competing in the Championship is becoming increasingly unsurprising. But to attract quality talent, United need Champions League football, and the only realistic route to it now is to win the Europa League, just like they did in 2017.
Winning the Europa League should be achievable. None of European football’s real heavy hitters dropped out of the Champions League into the second-tier competition this year, though of course United should be wary of Ajax, Inter and Roma. Get past Club Brugge – as they should, despite an unexpected draw in the first leg – and United will hope for a straightforward Round of 16 draw against one of the remaining minnows, the winner of Rangers vs Braga, or APOEL vs Basel for instance.
Thereafter United will certainly have to win matches against difficult opponents. But if United have done anything well this season, it is their performances against high-quality teams. They have beaten Man City twice, turned over Chelsea on the opening day of the Premier League, and remain the only side to take points off Liverpool in the league. Solskjaer tends to get his counter-attacking tactics right for the big games, and the players step up a level too.
United should have enough to get past the quality and quantity of opposition they must face in order to win the Europa League, and should focus their attention on doing so. If they don’t, the overhaul United’s squad needs this summer may not be possible.