Manchester United 2021/22 recap – Disappointing Season Leaves Red Devils Seeking A Revival

Photo Credit: AP

English Premier League giants Manchester United will go into the 2022/23 Premier League season with a new manager at the helm. Former Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag is the next man to step into the hot seat at Old Trafford.

The hierarchy will hope that he is the one that can get them moving in the right direction.

Premier League struggles

Manchester United could only manage a sixth-place finish in last season’s English top flight. It was well below the expected standards by the club. It wasn’t just the finishing position however, it was how far in points they were from the Top 4.

United finished a massive 13 points behind fourth-place finishers Tottenham. So they were a very long way from securing UEFA Champions League football for the forthcoming season.

It means that they are facing a big reboot during the off-season to try and avoid a similar story unfolding next season.

Bright start quickly fades

There had been a bright start to Manchester United’s 2021/22 Premier League campaign. Last summer the arrival of former player Cristiano Ronaldo along with exciting young prospect Jadon Sancho, renewed hope among fans that perhaps Manchester United could at least give Liverpool and Man City something to think about in the title race.

The Red Devils had kept faith with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, and United came racing out of the blocks with a W4 D1 record in their first five league fixtures.

But then things very quickly went downhill. The turning point was a home defeat against Aston Villa in late September.

In only United’s third home game, the Villains rolled into town and collected all three points in a 1-0 success. While United fans were disgruntled after a disjointed display, they had probably hoped that it was just a blip.

It wasn’t. It actually sparked a sequence of results that saw Manchester United crumble to W1 D1 L6 return in eight matches. During that sequence, they were humiliated at Old Trafford by Liverpool in a 5-0 loss and suffered a 2-0 reverse against Manchester City too.

At one point Manchester United had taken one point from a run of four home league fixtures.

Rangnick and the revival that didn’t stick

After a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Watford in November, things for Manchester United couldn’t go on the way they were. The board had to do something. That something was relieving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his head coach duties. United then turned to Ralf Rangnick, a man renowned for tactical astuteness, but only on a temporary contract.

Even Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp commented on how good Rangnick was. That it was “not good news” for other teams that Manchester United had pulled him in.

When Rangnick took over, there was an improvement in results by United who lost only one of their following fifteen league fixtures. Premier League results around them meant that even in February they were still in contention for a Champions League place.

The cracks start to show

But even in that revival, cracks were starting to show. Manchester United were struggling in front of goal. Performances were flat and lacklustre. Time and time again they had to rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to dig them out of holes.

The results were simply papering over the cracks of poor performances. Until they weren’t. The final part of Manchester United’s Premier League season crashed into a rapid decline. Their push for a top-four finish tamely fell away as they lost five of their final eight fixtures.

Players fail to step up

When things go wrong at a club, it’s usually the head coach that pays the price. But things felt different in this situation. Ire from the Manchester United fans seemed to be more directed towards the players than Rangnick.

Towards the end of the season, Rangnick cut an exasperated figure on the sidelines. He even criticised the club for the disjointed farce it was in, saying that Manchester United needed “open heart surgery” because things were that bad. United fans had walked out of matches early during the season because of the toothless displays from the team.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire apparently had a spat about the captaincy. Rangnick had a lot going on. But was it his tactics? His team selection? The argument against that is that an apparent lack of apathy by United players existed under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer too.

The Manchester United players genuinely looked as if they were lacking motivation and fight. Captain Harry Maguire had his defensive frailties highlighted time and time again. The England international came in for some heavy stick not only from rival supporters and United fans too.

Other defensive players like full-backs Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka struggled badly as well. Wan Bissaka got replaced in the starting line-up for their final seven matches of the campaign. The arrival in the previous summer of World Cup winner Rafael Varane was supposed to bolster their back line, but poor performances in an injury-hit season saw his transfer fall flat.

Jadon Sancho looked a shadow of the player that United had purchased in the summer from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund. Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba looked disinterested as if they would rather be anywhere else. Bruno Fernandez appeared to spend more time complaining to referees than playing.

Manchester United ended the season as the lowest-scoring team in the top eight, and the team with the worst defensive record in the top eight.

Transfer issues

This summer Manchester United have already seen Manchester City and Liverpool strengthen considerably. Those two are the Premier League elite in terms of title contenders, and Manchester United look as if they are in danger of being left behind. There’s a real threat of the gap between those two and United getting wider.

There are transfer issues that Manchester United face. The lack of UEFA Champions League action next season will not help them lure in top talent. Anyone they do have their eye on, they risk losing out on to other clubs.

Reportedly among their summer targets were Kalvin Phillips who has just signed with rivals Manchester City, Declan Rice who Chelsea are knocking on the door for, and Jude Bellingham. The latest sports news has Bellingham linked with a move to Liverpool next summer.

The transfer market is not a happy place for Manchester United at the moment, a far cry from the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, who usually got what he wanted and needed.

The other side of this is that there are players in the Manchester United squad, who may follow Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard out of the door. Suggestions are that Eric Bailly and Phil Jones also want out.

Places in the squad have to be filled by someone. The Red Devils may have to adopt a strategy of plugging gaps as opposed to specifically upgrading.

What signings are available for Manchester United?

The one big potential signing that they have been linked with is Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong. The midfielder appears to be the main summer target for new manager Erik Ten Hag, who knows De Jong from his time working together at Ajax.

He’s the type of player that Manchester United need, a world-class fixture in the middle of the park. But there’s no certainty that Barcelona are going to play ball in the transfer market. De Jong hasn’t been pushing to leave the Camp Nou, either. If Manchester United fail to get their man there it will further highlight their plight of getting a rebuild going.

Brazilian Forward Antony is another player that Ten Hag would reportedly like, which would mean him raiding his old club Ajax. But Ajax have already made some big sales this summer and may not be too keen. United also need to look for help in defence, with Feyenoord’s Tyrell Malacia being linked to United.

Latest Premier League Winner Odds 2022/23

Man City 4/7
Liverpool 2/1
Tottenham 14/1
Chelsea 16/1
Manchester United 25/1

Positives to be found?

While Manchester United are far from their glory days of Premier League titles, fans will head into the new season with some optimism. They also do. United have a new manager, one that has built his reputation on producing, fluent, exciting attacking teams. Ten Hag did a fantastic job with Ajax.

The Dutchman seems confident of what he can do at Old Trafford. He has stated that he doesn’t see the move as a risk, despite coming from annual Eredivisie title contenders Ajax who will be in the UEFA Champions League next season.

If Ten Hag can instil the same methods, mentality and style that he did so successfully at Ajax, brighter times should be on the horizon for Manchester United. It could inject a bold, energetic attacking ethos that has been missing at Old Trafford for a long time now.

It could also be argued that as bad as last season was, a sixth-place finish was a credible enough in terms of being something to build on.

Not having the pressures of UEFA Champions League football next season, should give Ten Hag more time to keep players fresher for longer. United will be in the Europa League, which would likely be a good platform for Ten Hag to get more squad players up to speed, at least in the group stage.

Winning the Europa League would reward with a place in the following season’s UEFA Champions League. So there is potentially a goal to target on the European front next spring.

There does also appear to be a good crop of young players in the wings at Old Trafford, the likes of Alejandro Garnacho, Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo, James Garner and Facundo Pellistri coming to mind.

Cristiano Ronaldo looks likely to hang around for another season too. Despite his advancing years, based on his goals output from the previous campaign, he still has a lot to contribute.

United’s history in the EPL

Manchester United are the most successful team in the history of the Premier League. They have won it thirteen times and to put that into context, their rivals Manchester City just won their sixth. Liverpool have won it only once.

It’s evident that Manchester United are not in the place that they want to be right now. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t get back on the horse. It’s a fresh start and the immediate goal for Ten Hag has to be a top-four finish. Is he the man to glue the pieces back together?

Latest Premier League Top Four Odds

Chelsea 4/6
Tottenham 7/19
Man Utd 5/4
Arsenal 2/1
Newcastle 8/1