Manchester United It's not all doom and gloom
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Manchester United: It’s Not All Doom & Gloom

It’s easy to focus on the negatives of Manchester United’s 2023–2024 league season. It was their lowest-ever Premier League finish and some might argue they were fortunate to finish as high as they did, given the statistics against them.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some positives to take away from the season. It’s easy to forget them because of the reaction to the season online and in some parts of the media. So before TalkSport convinces you that Erik ten Hag is the worst person to happen since Joffrey in Game of Thrones or that the Titanic is in a more salvageable state than Manchester United, let’s take a look at the silver linings from a cloudy season.

Alejandro Garnacho

Coming into the 2023–2024 season, Alejandro Garnacho was beginning to build himself a reputation as a super sub. Three goals and two assists in the season before had all come as a substitute. Defences with tired legs seemed to struggle against the 18-year-old with his rapid speed and directness.

However, at the start of the 23/24 season, absences from Antony Martial & Rasmus Højlund (who hadn’t yet arrived) meant that Rashford, whom Garnacho would normally deputise for, was pushed up front. This opened the left-wing position for him to come in and start the first two league games against Nottingham Forest & Tottenham Hotspur.

In those two games, Garnacho was…underwhelming. It felt like he didn’t have nearly the same kind of impact we saw last season when he came off the bench. The more striking thing was his decision-making; it reeked of inexperience. Which is completely understandable and forgiveable at 19 years old but it seemed like he wasn’t ready to make the step up to a regular starter yet.

In the next eight league games, Garnacho returned to his regular position: on the bench. It wouldn’t be until November 4th that he would find himself in the starting XI again in the league. A solid performance against Fulham was followed up with another against Luton. Then, on November 26th, he did something that will be seared in the minds of Manchester United fans for generations. Five thousand years from now, archaeologists will find cave paintings depicting Alejandro Garnacho’s remarkable agility and athleticism for an incredible overhead kick vs. Everton. A goal almost destined for ‘goal of the season

Those handful of performances cemented Garnacho’s place in the starting XI. In fact, from the game against Fulham until the end of the season, he started every single game, making 36 consecutive starts in all competitions.

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This season has seen Garnacho go from ‘super-sub’ who wasn’t ready for the step up to one of the mainstays of the starting XI. His best performances included a brace against Aston Villa, a brace against West Ham, and a brace against Chelsea. In the FA Cup, he provided an incredible assist against Liverpool with a stunning, gut-bursting run with 120 minutes on the clock, which was probably the high point of Manchester United’s season. (so far).

Garnacho’s rise has come as no shock to those who coached him through the youth ranks. Apparently, he had even scored an overhead kick remarkably similar to the one against Everton before when playing for the youth team, so even that came as no surprise. It’s clear that the ceiling is atmospheric for the young Argentinian. At 19, he’s produced 11 goals and assists in the Premier League this season; when his idol Cristiano Ronaldo was 19, he finished on 9 G/A.

The sky is the limit for Garnacho, and this season has proved just why Manchester United fans should be excited about what’s to come from him.

Rasmus Højlund

Expectations for Højlund’s first season in the Premier League were not particularly high. Despite his large transfer fee, it was always considered that this was a signing for the future and not the here and now.

Even during baron spells in front of goal during this season, it was clear that it was lack of service & not lack of ability that was the problem. During the season, Højlund averaged just 1.58 shots per game and has had games this season, where he’s been in single digits for his number of touches.

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His ability is further backed up by his stats, which show his conversion rate of shots to goals is amongst the highest in the league. Furthermore, when comparing his xG to his goals, it’s also among the highest.

Manchester United striker Hojlund stats

The Dane scored 10 goals from just 7.6 (non-penalty) xG. If he had that same conversion rate of xG to goals but had the same amount of xG as Haaland, then he’d currently be sitting on 30 non-penalty league goals.

Of course, there is a saying about Grandma’s and bicycles that springs to mind with that comparison but it puts into context how lethal Højlund has been in front of goal and how well he’s done despite the lack of service.

If Manchester United can go into the transfer window and find players that will create more chances for Højlund, then at only 21 years old, the club could have an incredible striker on their hands.

The Kids Are Alright

How do you say something about Kobbie Mainoo that doesn’t feel like it’s already been said 8.4 billion times?

It’s scary to think where Manchester United would be this season without the emergence of Mainoo. Not just because of his temperament and composure, but also because he has “clutch” qualities about him. So many times this season, since breaking through, at the important moments, he’s been the one to pop up.

His winning goal against Wolves is probably what best personifies his astonishing ability. Remarkable close control and composure to dance through the Wolves players and a venomous finish to take all 3 points in the dying seconds. Magical.

At their core, Manchester United have three young players that fans should be very excited about in the form of Garnacho, Mainoo & Hojlund. These could be the building blocks of a new era. If they can surround this trio with the right players to help them excel and develop, then they could still be here leading the line for United in a decade’s time.

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But it’s not just at the senior level that we’ve seen Manchester United’s younger players and academy products excel. The under-18s came away from their season having won a domestic treble and only losing twice this season. Many of them have already trained with the first team and a handful have made the bench or even made their debuts for the senior team.

Several names from that U18s team have been tipped to make the jump to the senior team soon. There is a lot to be excited about for Manchester United fans coming from the academy, that’s for sure.

A New Dawn for Manchester United

Sir Jim Ratcliffe & INEOS are in the driving seat. The Glazer’s have been relegated to the back seat to bicker amongst themselves over who gets the last red Wine Gum.

For a long long time now, Manchester United have had people at the top level in charge whose highest aspirations for the club are to finish fourth. Anything else was just a bonus. Anything that Manchester United has accomplished during their tenure as owners is not because of their management of the club but in spite of it.

Finally, Manchester United fans have leadership at the top of the club, whose expectations match their own.

Football is very reactionary, we want everything quick and now. This is something positive from this season that doesn’t fit that bill. It will take time, it will take years, but the direction is the right one.

There is a strong base of fantastic young players. A strong contingent of young players coming through the ranks and an ownership with the drive to take Manchester United back to the very top

It’s not all doom and gloom. 

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