It was heartbreak for Manchester United last night after they fell at the final hurdle in their efforts to win their first trophy since 2017. United were favourites to win the Europa League, but they lost the final to Unai Emery’s Villarreal in the worst possible way… on penalties — what does this mean for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United?
Well, first of all, it means that they go yet another year trophyless, which is not only disappointing due to the need for trophies at this club, but it could also have implications on next season.
Before the match, Solskjær said that winning the cup could help propel the club towards more silverware and success, and that it could be the start of something new for his young side. He said: “It might be the stepping-stone of something better to come, a brighter future because this team is a young team. It’s a team that we’ve rebuilt over the last couple of years so hopefully this is the start of something more.”
Many of the players in the squad are yet to win a trophy with the club and this would’ve been a great opportunity for them to not only build momentum but more importantly to build confidence. This has been one of the most exciting squads to watch at Old Trafford (well actually away from Old Trafford!) in recent years, but they have had many set-backs which will almost certainly have an impact on the mentality and confidence of individuals in the side.Embed from Getty Images
Winning breeds winning, and a trophy would’ve certainly given a boost for the 2021/22 campaign, however we shouldn’t throw our toys out of the pram just yet.
This team have been showing clear progression over the last two years and while a step-by-step process may be frustrating for a club of Manchester United’s stature, these steps are needed after the post-Ferguson years that we’ve experienced.
Consistency has been a rare sight since the United legend stepped down from his throne in 2013, but with back-to-back finishes in the top four for the first-time since he retired, we are beginning to see a more consistent team take to the field for the club each week.
This is yet another reason why Scott McTominay and Fred have been the preferred pairing in the centre this season, while they might not get everyone off their feet, you know what they will offer and in 27 games where they’ve started alongside each other this season, United have been on the losing side on just four occasions (vs Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and PSG), which also shows the blow for the side that their Brazilian was not fit enough to make the starting XI on Wednesday. They need improving upon as this team progresses, but they are a sturdy base for a free-flowing attacking team at this moment in time, however, I digress.
It is the performances in the Premier League this season which give a clear indication that the failure in the Europa League will not ruin a team that finished second to Manchester City despite missing some important pieces in the picture that Solskjær is trying to make.Embed from Getty Images
It always comes back to the issue of the transfer window. United are close, but they cannot have a repeat of their 2018/19 summer transfer window, where José Mourinho’s grave was dug for him before the season began, when the club signed Lee Grant, Diogo Dalot and Fred to attempt to close the gap to the top of the league. This team needs improvements and in key areas too.
Marcus Rashford came out and gave a powerful interview following the loss on Wednesday and stated that while the team were clearly hurting, they will come back stronger. United’s number 10 told BT Sport: “All I can say is that the team won’t give up. There’s no chance that the team gives up. The manager won’t give up, he won’t allow us to give up and we will come next season with a bigger desire.
“I don’t want to hear ‘we were so close’ it means nothing… We believe in this process, plenty of ups and downs. I promise we don’t give up, we come next season with more desire, more hunger. We are close, I promise.”
This could’ve been a large building block for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, there’s no questioning that. Yet, a 61st game of a fixture-congested season will not define this team, and they can still go on to succeed — it hurts, but it is not the end.