Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester United ended last season with disappointment on the field and uprising among their support off it, but the rancour has dissipated as two major signings have allowed the Red Devils to look ahead to the new campaign with renewed confidence.
Jadon Sancho’s arrival at Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund was a drawn out saga two years in the making, but United moved quickly to secure Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.
An outlay of over £100 million ($139 million) has temporarily at least quelled the anger directed at the club’s American owners, the Glazer family, for their attempt to form a breakaway Super League and a perceived lack of investment in the club since a controversial leveraged takeover in 2005.
United’s Premier League clash with Liverpool was postponed in May as fans stormed the pitch before kick-off at a time when they were still shut out from the stadium due to coronavirus restrictions.
With restrictions now eased, Saturday could see the first full house of 76,000 at Old Trafford for 17 months when Leeds visit on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
But planned protests against the Glazers have been muted with the focus instead on what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men can achieve once the action gets underway.
– Better prepared –
Despite defeat on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League final in May to stretch United’s wait for a trophy to four years, Solskjaer was handed a new three-year contract last month.
The Norwegian has been rewarded for steady progress in his two-and-a-half years in charge.
For the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, United have finished in the Premier League top four in two consecutive seasons to secure the lucrative source of Champions League revenue that has allowed the English giants to continue making marquee signings like Sancho and Varane.
However, after a finishing second to Manchester City last season, the pressure is on Solskjaer to end an eight-year wait to win the title.
“We’ve gone from third to second and a lot closer in points; we’ve gone from three semi-finals to a final and one kick away from winning, so it’s about taking the next step now,” said Solskjaer. “That’s the challenge.”
United are at least far better prepared for that challenge than they were 12 months ago.
A rapid turnaround between seasons caused by the pandemic and a lack of reinforcements contributed to three defeats in their opening six league games to leave a mountain to climb.
“Transfer-wise, we’ve done our business early and I’m very pleased with what we’ve done,” added Solskjaer.
“I felt we lost too many points early on (last season). From November 1 until the Leicester game in May, we only lost one league game. That’s the consistency we want to see again.”
A favourable opening run of Southampton, Wolves, Newcastle, West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton to follow Leeds’ visit offers Solskjaer’s men the chance at a flying start they will need to get the better of a strong pack of title contenders.
City have broken the Premier League transfer record to sign Jack Grealish for £100 million and could do so again before the end of the month in their bid to land England captain Harry Kane from Tottenham.
Chelsea are set to add Romelu Lukaku to a squad that won the Champions League in May, while Liverpool are expected to bounce back after an injury-ravaged season.
Since Ferguson’s departure sent United into a spiral, they have rarely boasted a squad with the quality and depth to sustain a title challenge.
Solskjaer has admitted he has been given everything he wanted, now it is time to deliver.
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