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Man Utd 2020/21: Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reach next level?

Manchester United stand on the cusp of a new campaign with a renewed and realistic sense of optimism that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can take them to the next level.

They may have ended 2019/20 trophy-less but an encouraging finish to the Premier League campaign has built stable foundations upon which United aim to close the gap on the champions of the previous two seasons, rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

With Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood in attack, the creativity and quality of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and new addition Donny van de Beek in midfield, and the defensive surety nurtured last season, United have the makings of a squad capable of propelling the club to new heights, now it's over to them to deliver.

Where do Man Utd stand?

Defeats in the Europa League and FA Cup semi-finals saw Manchester United fall short in their bid to end the elongated 2019/20 campaign with a first piece of silverware since 2017.

But a third-place finish in the Premier League was an exceptional feat for Solskjaer's squad, especially when you consider they spent a mere 22 days in the top four throughout the 2019/20 season.

United ended the 2019/20 season as the Premier League's in-form team, ending the campaign with a 14-game unbeaten run - their longest run without a defeat since April 2017 - and carrying that momentum forward could prove crucial in securing the strong start the club have failed to deliver in previous seasons.

Where are United strong?

There have been question marks over David de Gea after a spate of mistakes but the fact United still managed to concede the third-fewest number of goals and ranked fourth best for clean sheets suggests things are starting to click in defence.

United are a club that pride themselves in developing young talent, with successful periods in the club's history synonymous with the academy talent making their mark on the highest of stages.

Last season the latest crop of United talent saw the club stake the claim to a league-low average starting XI age of just 25 years and 96 days.

With the likes of Anthony Martial, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek, Marcus Rashford, Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood 24-years-old and younger, it suggests there is much more to come from United.

Where do Man Utd need to improve

United will want to improve in front of goal, having scored fewer goals than Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester last season, while ranking eighth for creating big chances.

Solskjaer likes his wide men to break through lines, but the stats also suggest there could be scope for his team to press opponents further up the pitch.

The graphic below suggests Fernandes has improved returns for goals and creation since his debut in February. The arrival of Donny van de Beek addresses this but these numbers would inevitably be boosted further if the club could land Jadon Sancho.

Merson's verdict

Sky Sports' Paul Merson:

"This is the season for Manchester United. It's going to be tight and a lot of teams will be vying for the title and the top four. They have only got to start this season like they finished the last and they will be in the mix.

"What Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to do is get out of the habit of going on a roll where they couldn't lose a game and a roll where they couldn't win a game. That cannot happen because if they have a bad month where they don't win a game, they will be out of the title race in an instant.

"I don't care if it's Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, or United, if you have a bad month, you'll be out of the title race, that is how ruthless this season will be."

Key man

Manchester United didn't lose a Premier League game after signing Bruno Fernandes for £47m from Sporting Lisbon in January.

The Portugal international hit the ground running at Old Trafford and really found his groove after the restart as he ended a stellar first campaign with United with 12 goals and eight assists.

United are steadily assembling a squad packed full of attacking talent but the purchase of Fernandes remains the shrewdest piece of business the club have conducted in recent years.

It should come as no surprise to see Fernandes at the forefront of United's bid to move to the next level and convert an abundance of potential into tangible prizes.

One to watch

In years to come the 2019/20 season will be remembered for a multitude of reasons, both on and off the field. But, from a Manchester United perspective, it will forever be remembered for the emergence of Mason Greenwood.

The 18-year-old ended a stunning breakthrough campaign with 19 goals and five assists that underlined his credentials as one of English football's most-lethal young marksman.

The world will be watching closely to see where Greenwood goes next. If his first season was anything to go by, we could witness figures never seen before by a teenager.

What is success for Man Utd in 2020/21?

Winning the Premier League is the ultimate objective for Manchester United ahead of every season, and this year is no different.

It's a target United have failed to meet since 2013, but for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, it's a realistic one once again.

Seeing Liverpool end their 30-year wait to be crowned champions should have lit a fire under everyone at Manchester United.

Like Liverpool and their journey under Jurgen Klopp, cup competitions could prove crucial in United's development into genuine title contenders.

Winning the title may be beyond such a young squad this season, but finetuning a winning mentality this term is essential if that objective is to be achieved in the years to come.

Source: Sky Sports 
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