Yes, It Was Brighton & Man Utd Are 5th - But There's Reasons for Fans to Be Positive Again

01 July 2020 05:30

It's worth prefacing this with a couple of facts, y'know, just to base what follows in reality.

Manchester United are fifth in the Premier League after 32 games, and not currently in the top four.

And yes, on Tuesday night, it was Brighton and Hove Albion who they brushed aside by three goals to nil. This, a team sitting 15th in the division, just about clear of the relegation places.

Mason Greenwood is making it particularly difficult for his manager to leave him out

The current circumstances around how football is being played suit them, too. United can take some advantage from being able to use five substitutes in fixtures because they have a large squad, and the fact that they're playing matches in empty stadiums might just help with concentration. There's no frustrated Old Trafford crowd or hostile away days to think about as it stands.

But something feels different.

The Brighton win was United's 15th match unbeaten in all competitions, and the second time in the space of a week that they've produced an efficient and commanding 3-0 victory in the Premier League. Sheffield United were the other team to fall victim at Old Trafford last Wednesday.

Post-Ferguson United generally haven't won matches in that manner. What followed his retirement was the onset of a full-blown crisis in identity, and they've cycled through managers and players desperate in the search of a short-term fix. Sometimes it's worked in patches, but they've never sustained any success because of a rot that had set in.

Jose Mourinho's United crashed and burned - he was sacked in December 2018

What Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done over the past 18 months, whatever you think of him, 'Norwegian PE teacher' jibes and all, is find the causes of those problems and looked to fix what he's able to control. It's meant shipping out the players who were there for the wrong reasons, enduring painful moments and coming out the other side.

What excites United fans at present is that there's reasons to be positive. They're on an upward trajectory, and it's a pleasant change from the one that's been pointing downwards for seven years.

United look together again. A certain World Cup winning midfielder is back fit and actually looks happy. That problem of 'unlocking Paul Pogba' is being addressed unexpectedly with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes, once probably viewed as Pogba's replacement, and he carries himself with a maturity that most of this squad of players don't possess.

Fernandes has been perfectly happy to shoulder the burden of responsibility and he's flourishing with it.

What Bruno has brought outside of goals and assists is a drive for higher standards, just to be better. You can see that confidence is rubbing off on others and the team is playing better as a result, but it's also crystal clear that he's just better than other midfield options Solskjaer was picking before he signed. It's obvious when he's not there, too.

Solskjer also deserves credit for his arrival. United perhaps waited too long to sign the former Sporting CP captain, but the manager called for the right profile of player to join when he started doing business a year ago.

And if you ever needed proof that packing a squad with the right characters was imperative to success, you only need to look now at the team 30 miles down the road who've just won their first league title in three decades. It took them a while to get it right, and now look at them.

Spent forces are rejuvenated and fresh ones are emerging. Who'd have ever thought Nemanja Matic would recover from being completely finished to spraying 30 metre volleyed passes into the path of one of the most talented teenagers in world football? This just wasn't happening six months ago, and it wouldn't be now had United not taken visible steps to recovery.

The overpriced Harry Maguire is now club captain, and Anthony Martial bagged a hat-trick last week by getting into the positions his manager has been demanding since stepping in to the hot seat. He's looking like a centre forward, even if pundits want him to smile more. There's plenty of other bright spots, too. That's why the fans are excited again.

And while they're still nowhere near the standards the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City have set in the last couple of years, that excitement comes from the fact that supporters can actually see progress. It's right there in front of them. United have beaten City and Chelsea home and away in the league this season, and now are starting to break down the teams that they were actually having issues with - those outfits that sit in and defend.

There is obviously a lot of work to do, but things are looking promising. United fans haven't been able to say that too often, so will take this optimism and try and keep hold of it. When you consider the potential for improvement into next season both on and off the pitch, too, it doesn't half help.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & Bruno Fernandes following United's FA Cup last eight win over Norwich

A continuation of recent form should see United quality for next season's Champions League, whether that be through the top four (or five), and they've also got the chance to compete for the Europa League - which they're a rightful favourite for. There's an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea to boot.

And off the pitch, there's the opportunity for United to press ahead with their already established transfer market plans, made potentially more potent because of how coronavirus has impacted their rivals in a financial sense. They will not have a better opportunity to make up ground if they do decide to press ahead with their business.

Top target Jadon Sancho is there for the taking, and throwing Aston Villa's Jack Grealish into the mix adds yet more potency to a team that's starting to show their potential. Confidence and positivity can go a long way.

So yes, it was only Brighton, and Manchester United are still fifth.

But that's not the point here. Manchester United fans have reason to believe in their club again, and that's a pretty powerful feeling.

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Source: 90min