Manchester United’s season finished in disappointing fashion on Sunday night as they lost 2-1 to Sevilla in the Europa League quarter-finals.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finished third in the league and so qualifying for next season’s Champions League but came up short in the cup competitions.
So can 2019-20 be judged a success and what needs to happen next? Here’s the view of Republik of Mancunia writer and Old Trafford season ticket holder Scott Patterson.
Man United’s season ended in disappointment as they lost 2-1 to Sevilla in the Europa League
Finishing third and reaching three cup semi-finals can never be deemed a successful campaign for Manchester United, even with the context of where they were last season, or even at the turn of this year.
Midway through last season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer inherited a team that were 11 points outside of the top four, after Jose Mourinho characteristically downed tools, but he closed that gap to five points without any new signings.
The club had reached two quarter-finals and were dumped out of the EFL Cup after losing in the third round to Championship side Derby County at Old Trafford.
Aside from just watching the games, which should allow you to see the progress United has made on the field has been vast, they jumped up three places in the league and got further in every competition.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has undoubtedly overseen progress but much work remains to be done
Solskjaer’s side secured a return to the Champions League with a third-place league finish
Clearly no United fan will be celebrating the fact they became the first club to lose in the semi-finals of all three cups but improving the league position while playing more games outside of the league shows progress.
Some supporters use our identical points tally to last season as evidence the club is not moving in the right direction but that is far too reductive.
In 2011, for example, United won the league and reached the Champions League final, but did so with fewer points than they amassed the year before when they finished second.
As Roy Keane rightly said earlier this season, you don’t remember how many points you achieved but where you finished. United moved from 6th to 3rd in a season and that shows improvement.
The signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have seen United claim more clean sheets than any side in Europe’s top five leagues this season, a statistic that surprised even the most devout supporter.
While the pair are clearly a defensive upgrade on the likes of Phil Jones and Antonio Valencia, they are still a long way short of matching the players United had in those positions when they used to dominate the Premier League.
The key arrival was Bruno Fernandes though who has been a revelation since joining the club.
Bruno Fernandes had a transformative impact on United after completing his move in January
Paul Pogba (left) has found some consistent form since returning from his injury lay-off
United have enjoyed the best form of any side in the league since he first played, while Paul Pogba’s return from a lengthy injury was an added boost to the midfield.
Had United signed the Portuguese magician last summer, instead of haggling over the transfer fee and postponing the deal until January, this season may have been very different for Solskjaer.
In the final weeks of the campaign, United played their first choice players in every league game, with the club desperate to secure Champions League football for next season.
Had Fernandes been a part of the squad all season, a place in the top four would likely have been wrapped up long before the final day, meaning more rotation would have been allowed to rest key players and prioritise the cups.
Anthony Martial and United’s forward line were wasteful as they lost to Sevilla in Cologne
After an early penalty by Bruno Fernandes gave United the perfect start, they wasted chances
As Sunday evening’s defeat against Sevilla showed, Solskjaer simply didn’t believe the players on the bench could have a bigger impact that the tiring players he had on the pitch.
The starting XI is stronger than it’s been for years but the squad is weak.
Teenage Brandon Williams has great potential for the future but, having started just 11 Premier League games in his career to date, he was called upon for both the recent cup semi-finals following Luke Shaw’s injury and he needed to do better for both of Sevilla’s goals.
Odion Ighalo was surprisingly useful in the cups this season, following his shock arrival on loan in January, but his goals all came against much weaker teams.
He was probably still worth a punt earlier on Sunday but it’s clear there’s a big step down between United’s first choice three forwards and their only other reserve striker.
Brandon Williams has burst into the first team picture during the season and looked at home
Odion Ighalo has chipped in with a handful of useful goals during his loan spell at United
To improve the attack, Jadon Sancho is the man most United fans are praying to see join their club this summer but, like most transfer business under Ed Woodward, it hasn’t been plain sailing.
The deadline Borussia Dortmund imposed passed a week ago and United appear no closer to getting the deal over the line.
Another drawn out saga, as so often is the case, is to be expected, which means Sancho has less time to prepare for next season with his new teammates, if the transfer even gets done at all.
But the former Manchester City player isn’t the answer to all of United’s problems.
Quality signings need to be made in several positions, which is why it stings to see Liverpool move in on players like Thiago and Chelsea secure Timo Werner.
Solskjaer is clearly wary, describing transfer business this summer as a race, and at the moment it is one United are losing.
It remains far from certain that England and Dortmund star Sancho will sign for United
Ed Woodward doesn’t have the best track record of signing key targets in a swift fashion
The manager claimed United were ‘nowhere near’ being the finished article and that means investment is required, but supporters don’t have faith that Woodward will get it right.
Still, after the limp ending to last season and the disappointing start to this one, United fans would have snapped the arm off anyone offering them a third placed finish.
The football is better, the morale in the dressing room is higher and the manager is invested in the club.
The cup exits are hard to take but for the first time in a while there are signs of optimism for the future and that will likely be more apparent once the dust has settled on this season.
That doesn’t mean that all supporters back Ole, although the divide is more apparent on social media than among the match-going fans, but he has a clear vision of where he wants to take the club.
It is now the responsibility of those higher up in the chain to enable him to make it happen.