Manchester United supporters likely feel a bit perplexed.
Despite spells of hope, the Red Devils’ rollercoaster of a 2018-19 season flatlined, leaving supporters with plenty of questions entering a divisive summer.
The season prior didn’t end with trophies, but United still finished second in the Premier League. The club was relatively quiet during the summer transfer window with only the young Portuguese fullback Diogo Dalot and Brazilian midfielder Fred as notable signings, but a top-four finish was still the expectation.
Key players also entered the season in excellent form. Paul Pogba won the World Cup with France, Romelu Lukaku scored four goals for Belgium and Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard helped England to a surprise semi-final appearance.
Jose Mourinho was still at the helm to begin Premier League play. The proven but polarizing manager lead United to moderate success in his first two seasons, but more was expected of him in year three. Club supporters often complained about the negative style of play used by the Portuguese tactician, but there was still hope he could return the club to its former glory.
However, by December, the team seemed directionless, Mourinho was clashing with Pogba, and United was adrift in sixth place. A change was necessary and former MUFC forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as caretaker manager.
Having only managed Norwegian club Molde along with a brief stint at Cardiff City, Solskjaer didn’t have the resume you’d expect for a Manchester United coach. That being said, what he lacked in managerial pedigree he made up for in his connection with the club. Between 1996 and 2007, the former Red Devils’ player won six Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League title.
The change in leadership was felt immediately. Solskjaer went undefeated in his first nine games as manager, winning eight and drawing once. His first defeat came at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, but after losing 2-0 at Old Trafford an inspired United squad won 3-1 in Paris to advance to the quarterfinals. By March 28th, Solskjaer was made the full-time manager and given a three-year contract.
After two years of defensive tactics under Mourinho, Solskjaer’s United played with a newfound attacking ferocity and unlike his predecessor, he was quick to incorporate youth players into his squads. Spirits were lifted in Manchester. The club had a new permanent coach, a fourth-place spot in the Premier League table and an upcoming battle with Barcelona in the Champions League.
As quickly as it started, Solskjaer fever came to an abrupt halt. MUFC finished the season on a six-game winless streak and they were outclassed against Barca, losing 0-1 and 0-3 in each leg.
The team that once looked fresh and invigorated now looked out of ideas. The year ended with a demoralizing loss to already-relegated Cardiff City and a sixth-place finish in the Premier League, the same spot they were in when Mourinho was let go.
While it would be easy to focus on Manchester’s late-season collapse, the club still has much to look forward to this summer. Academy players Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and James Garner all made their first team debuts under Solskjaer and will be eager to impress during the off-season. Solskjaer himself will have time to mold his team without the pressures of the league and European games. With summer transfers sure to come in and players potentially leaving, the next few months will be an excellent time to see where the direction of this storied club is headed.