Today, a lacklustre Manchester United suffered a 4-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion to leave the club in 6th with a goal difference of just plus 1 with one game to play. The performance triggered discontent in the loyal fanbase, who were rightly embarrassed at the loss. But where did it go so wrong for Manchester United?
At the start of the season, there were the highest of hopes for United after their second-place finish in the Premier League last season as well as their major summer reinforcements, so what exactly happened to their season and how did it manage to derail so drastically?
The summer of 2021 saw some big-name transfers across the footballing world, most notable, Cristiano Ronaldo made his return to Manchester United giving the whole club a lift and leading people to believe this season would be one of the best since the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane also joining the Red Devils meant that on paper, they definitely had one of the strongest starting teams in the Premier League.
United’s season started off to a flyer with a 5-1 triumph over massive rivals Leeds United, with a Bruno Fernandes hattrick and an overall convincing performance. This run continued as they tallied 4 victories in their first 5 Premier League games, their only points dropped being versus Southampton in a 1 all draw. The Champions League however, didn’t start so great as they opened their bid for the trophy with a 2-1 defeat to Swiss side Young Boys.
The average form continued as they were then knocked out of the EFL cup by West Ham just 3 days after a 2-1 victory over the same team in the Premier League, with Ronaldo, Jesse Lingard and Said Benrahma being the goal scorers.
Their league reputation was then mauled by arguably their biggest rivals Liverpool, in which they were torn apart, losing 5-0 and conceding a Mo Salah hattrick. Not all was down for United, though, as they topped their Champions League group, making it through to the last 16 while also getting through the FA Cup 3rd round thanks to a 1-0 win over Aton Villa, the only goal scorer being Scott McTominay in the 8th minute of the game.
By this point, United found themselves sitting underwhelmingly in 6th in the table whilst being out of both the League Cup and more recently the FA Cup via a loss to Middlesborough at Old Trafford where youngster Anthony Elanga missed a decisive penalty in the shootout, sending the Yorkshire club through to the 5th round. Though they were ready to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16, they were seen as unlikely to make it much further in that competition as well.
Those predictions were correct, as United lost 2-1 on aggregate in the round of 16, leaving their only fight left of the season being to get top 4 to secure more Champions League football for next season.
The month of April was one to forget for the Manchester club, as they picked up just 5 league points in 6 games through a 3-2 win over now-relegated Norwich and a 1-1 draw versus both Leicester City and Chelsea. 3 defeats came at the hands of Everton, Arsenal and Liverpool as they struggled to even keep themselves in the top 6.
The going didn’t get any easier for United, as their most recent game versus Brighton ended in a 4-0 embarrassment. This game saw them have a total of 15 shots (5 on target) though there was no big chances created throughout the 90 minutes and ended in their expected goals being less than 1 (0.82).
Not all has been bad for the club, as star man Cristiano Ronaldo finds himself 3rd in the race for the golden boots award, behind only Son Heung-Min and Mohammed Salah, while young prospect Anthony Elanga has found himself starting regularly and proving his worth in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Their final game of the Premier League season sees United up against London club Crystal Palace, as they hope to keep hold of 6th place with West Ham 6 behind them with 3 games left to play.
It should be a fascinating end to the season where we will find out if Man United will be playing in Europe or not next season, and once again it remains a question of when exactly will they get their mojo back?