In the Spring of 2021, it appeared that moves were being made that would change the landscape of European football for the foreseeable future. For two weeks it looked as though the rogue 12 of Europe’s elite clubs were going to cut away from the rest of Europe and form a parallel league; The European Super League.
The plan did not work of course. After threats, negotiations, and what many felt were the clubs coming to their senses, the idea was cancelled or at least shelved, but the earthquake’s aftershocks continued to be felt for weeks.
The biggest of them was the wave of protests against the club owners who tried to join the ESL. In that period, few owners felt the brunt of fans’ discontent as much as the Glazers at Manchester United. In addition to protests at the Old Trafford ground, they also had barricades outside the stadium and had a premier league game postponed because protesting fans broke into the stadium. Through all the commotion, one message was clear. “Glazers Out”.
The ESL episode was not the only reason fans had been in the streets of Manchester and Twitter demanding for the owners to sell the club or for the Executive Vice Chairman and de facto director of football Ed Woodward to resign. The fans had seen the upper hierarchy make only half-hearted efforts at consistent squad building over the years they have been in charge and had had enough, so the ESL debacle was simply the last straw.
Before you say under your breath that Manchester United have spent €1bn on transfers since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, consider this:
Since Fergie retired in 2014, United have spent significantly less in transfer windows just after finishes in the top three (average of €80.84m), than in seasons where they finished fourth or lower (average of €193.91m). The problem with this is that this means that they don’t intend to build a team that is the best but rather are okay with the team being just one of the best in the league. This is why when they are outside the top three, they might panic and splash money wherever they can to correct perceived problems but never consolidate on the build.
It’s like building a house without a roof and then when forces of nature that the roof would normally have protected against start to chip away at the building blocks breaking some, you run to replace the blocks but never actually get the roof in place. This is why the United board and fans never saw eye to eye.
With United putting down a rumoured €85m to sign Jadon Sancho while trying to complete deals for more players after a season where they finished second, the 21/22 season could spell a shift in mentality for The Red Devils. Not only is the signing a step in the right direction in terms of mentality, but also, in terms of what Manchester United need on the pitch as well.
During the 20/21 season, United deployed 42% of their attacks down the left side, making their attack the third-most one-sided attack in the premier league and it’s no surprise that the leaders for most offensive metrics for The Red Devils either play on the left or drift towards the left when they play.
United were led in progressive passes, passes into the penalty area, progressive carries, shot-creating actions, key passes, and expected assists(xA) by Bruno Fernandes. In all of these metrics, he’s followed in second place by either Luke Shaw (who was first for crosses into the penalty area and carries into the final third) or Marcus Rashford (who was first for dribbles that ended in shooting opportunities and carries into the penalty area).
In the 20/21 season, for Borussia Dortmund, Sancho’s output in passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes played (3.56), progressive carries/90 (10.4), shot-creating actions/90 (4.92) and key passes/90 (2.93), will have him above Bruno Fernandes (2.79 progressive passes, 6.8 progressive carries, 4.88 shot-creating actions, 2.73 key passes) when compared to United’s best.
In addition to this, he contributed to more attack build-ups without having the final shot or key pass in the sequence than any United player did during the 20/21 season. Showing that he’s still quite creative even when he doesn’t end sequences of play.
The introduction of Sancho who, despite being adept on the left or down the middle is expected to set up shop on United’s right-wing will help Ole’s army balance their attacking and especially creative options and make them less predictable and a different prospect to defend against.
A much needed tactical addition that came at that high a cost despite a second-place finish in the league already shows that Manchester United’s hierarchy is ready to do what needs to be done to make the team not just one of the best, but THE best team in England and possible further signings of Raphael Varane, and Eduardo Camavinga to bolster other problem areas for United which will take United’s spend for the season well over €100m means that for the first time in a while, the Glazers will not be to blame if eventually, United do not end up with something tangible to show at the end of the season.