With four teams from Italy and England flying over to our sunny island to warm themselves up for the rigours of the upcoming season, we have decided to recap their performances last season as a build up for their upcoming International Champions Cup 2019 (ICC) friendly matches here. Seeing that this is the first time this team will be visiting Singapore since 2001, we shall start with Manchester United.
2018/2019 Season Summary
Do you remember a time when you have to queue for a long time to ride the roller-coaster at a theme park?
But do you also remember the times when you queued up for a ride that turned out to be an utter disappointment? Well, Manchester United’s performances last season uncannily resembled this scenario – so much anticipation and build-up for the promised adrenaline that never came.
You know what they say: roller-coasters are filled with ups and downs, just like life.
At the start of their tumultuous season, the football on the pitch was often drab and even diabolical. The players all appeared disgruntled, and the tabloids and news companies were running amok with rumours about dressing room bust-ups between José Mourinho and the players.
An exodus of players and coaching staff appeared imminent. Manchester United were literally at a standoff.
The fans started looking for scapegoats for the entire debacle, and the obvious choice was the chief decision maker, Ed Woodward. The situation at the club was farcical, and the outlook then appeared veritably bleak.
At least this was before Old Trafford’s beloved smiley ‘baby assassin’, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced grumpy Jose Mourinho.
United’s fortunes appeared to have shifted when they sacked Mourinho and replaced him with Solskjaer. At the time of the hire, there was much scepticism regarding his managerial track record. His infectiously bubbly personality, however, coupled with his status as a Manchester United legend meant that there were levels of positivity created as well – a stark contrast to Mourinho’s grouchy and increasingly angst personality.
Solskjaer’s hire would prove to be a watershed moment in United’s season as he went on a record-shattering 12 game unbeaten run in the Premier League to start as United’s temporary manager – winning 10 of the games in the process.
Not even the most optimistic of Red Devils’ fans could claim to have dreamed of a better start to Solskjaer’s managerial career. But it happened.
So, after the magical night at Paris when the video assistant referee (VAR) controversially ruled a penalty in United’s favour, Marcus Rashford waited forever to smash it home, but he eventually succeeded in taking United through to the quarter-finals. The unlikeliest of a comeback was complete, and it sent the players, supporters, and club into delirium.
Then it became official: Ole’s at the wheel. He was given a three-year contract.
But the purple patch of form ended rather abruptly, and the team came crashing down. Flaws in the squad – the lackadaisical effort from players and a leaky backline – that were glossed over during Ole’s remarkable start were once again exposed and magnified.
United would wound up crashing out of all domestic cup competitions, getting crushed by Barcelona in the Champions League Quarter Finals, and stumbling to a mediocre 6th place last season. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, this was the fourth time in six seasons that the club failed to finish in the top four, and causing the club to miss out on the much coveted Champions League spot as well.
The fall from grace is staggering. The gap between United and its fierce rivals and league champions has been wedged to a seemingly unassailable distance. Manchester City finished the season 32 points ahead of United.
Sure, Manchester United fans can point their fingers at Mourinho for the lacklustre season and for depleting the morale of the players, but when a ‘top team’ in the Premier League fails to claim victories against Cardiff, Brighton, Huddersfield, Southampton, and Crystal Palace, perhaps it is time to reflect upon themselves and find out how to right their wrongs.
Languishing at these depths of mediocrity is surely not the ‘Manchester United way’.
Manchester United’s Key Players: David De Gea, Paul Pogba
Having carried the club time and time again, it is shocking that United’s number one, David De Gea, has not suffered any back injuries all these years.
He has reactions and reflexes that could make you believe he was made for The Matrix and real United supporters know that his consistently stupendous performances and logic-defying saves have kept United in contention for competitions all these years.
De Gea’s remarkable abilities are the reason why his future has always been shrouded with uncertainty – he is a world-class player representing a team that is a shadow of its past. Real Madrid have been said to be long-time admirers (who could forget the tragic printer story?) but De Gea’s poor run of form towards the end of last season – coinciding with disagreements over his wages for his contract extension – might have scared off potential suitors. Meanwhile, it should be noted that Thibaut Courtois was acquired by Real Madrid last summer – this means that De Gea has little options to consider for leaving Manchester United.
At the time of writing, mercurial midfielder, Paul Pogba, has expressed his interest in attempting a new challenge at a different club. While it might be disconcerting for most supporters in the world to have a star player of Pogba’s abilities express his desire to leave his club, this might not be such a bad thing for Manchester United.
Granted, Pogba was their leading goal scorer and assist getter, and yes, in his heyday he is a human highlight reel – he has a knack for smashing in long-range rockets, and pinging 60-yard passes with laser-eyed precision that even Paul Scholes would approve. To top it off, he has a hulking physique, an embodiment of a bona fide physical specimen. But the problem has never been his footballing ability. It is his attitude.
Pogba’s work rate does not match up to his sheer footballing talents and he can often be found out of position. The entire transfer window has been flooded with rumours of him wanting out of United, followed by videos of him getting verbally abused by sections of United fans during the final Premier League game of the season. Despite that, Juventus and Real Madrid said to be highly interested in Pogba.
Filling a player in Pogba’s stead who shows greater hunger and desire to contribute to the team might be advisable for United moving forward next season.
Positions of need for United
A right-back like Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a Midfielder to replace the ageing Matic, a world-class or highly talented centre-back (with the likes of de Ligt?), and a right-winger. Ideally, Manchester United need a leader of men. A real captain. Someone ready to galvanise the players during rough patches or through the course of the season. Ander Herrera seemed like he was growing into that role, until he left the club.
Going head to head with Inter Milan
Throughout both teams’ stories and illustrious history, they have only faced each other off officially in a total of four matches. These matches were played in the Champions League back in 1999 and 2009. United claimed the bragging rights twice and hit a stalemate with Inter for the other two games.
The two teams share an interesting history, most notably from United’s rumoured pursuit of Inter’s Croatian winger, Ivan Perisic, for the past few transfer windows. While United were keen to make the acquisition, Inter seemed to have other ideas and marked up the selling price for their star player.
United ultimately did not accede to Inter’s demand, and fast forward to today, there are whispers that Inter are fascinated by the prospect of adding United’s big Belgian attacker, Romelu Lukaku.
Whether this transfer transpires or not, we can expect United to make the transfer difficult for Inter, given their negotiation history.
Photos courtesy of International Champions Cup Singapore and Sandro Schuh.