It’s approaching the end of 2020 and I haven’t been to see United since March – 8 months devoid of trips to Old Trafford, around the country or across Europe. The 2020/21 Champions League group stage has started without away fans and neither that nor the domestic competitions seem likely to be allowing supporters in any time soon.
First off, it feels a little redundant to preview a season which is clouded in uncertainty, and where it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to attend matches until 2021, but this is just the state of the world attempting to live with Covid-19.
Writing this in August, the start of the 2019/20 season feels an age away, with the pre-season trips to Cardiff & Oslo now over a year ago. The first competitive fixture against Chelsea in the league was August 11th – 370 days ago from the final games of the 2019/20 season against Sevilla.
Nostalgia is very prevalent in popular culture, from remakes of classic films and music group revivals to celebration of a brand’s history. Football is no different, with fans constantly looking back at the “glory years” or a period that they remember fondly.
A fairly convincing group stage saw United finish top, avoiding the difficulty of facing one of the seeded teams, Europa League group winners or stronger Champions League drop outs. Of 14 possible opponents there was a real mix of locations, with Germany the only country represented more than once with 3 teams. There were familiar foes in the form of Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk and Cluj, as well as new potential trips to APOEL of Cyprus, Ludogorets of Bulgaria and Getafe of Spain.
The Europa League, for all it’s drawbacks, does guarantee trips to the more obscure parts of Europe, and the 2019/20 group stage draw didn’t disappoint. Sandwiched between a trip to Alkmaar, north of Amsterdam, and a 3,000 mile trek to Astana in Kazakstan, was a meaningful return to Belgrade.
England’s largest club stadium, Old Trafford, is home to the most successful team in the country, Manchester United. The 75,000 capacity ground, which is up there with Europe’s largest football stadiums, has been witness to countless triumphs over the decades. Millions of supporters travel to Old Trafford each season and there are plenty of reasons to visit.
The 2018/19 season was pretty forgettable for United and left us facing another season in the Europa League. Thankfully, with Watford losing the FA Cup Final to City, we avoided entering the competition at the second qualifying round at the end of July(!) Instead it’s straight into the group stages with a much kinder mid-September start, and three less ties to navigate.
Almost straight after our return from Oslo we were back on the road again, to Wales where this year’s pre-season concludes in Cardiff with a game against AC Milan. There’s been a couple of League games at the Cardiff City stadium over the past 6 years, but we haven’t visited the much more impressive Millennium Stadium (now thePrincipality Stadium) since the 2005 FA Cup Final, an undeserved defeat to Arsenal.
After a 2 and a half month break following the most underwhelming end to a season in years, United are back. Maybe not quite yet in the sense that we want; Ole has had a tough summer of rebuilding and the challenge this coming season will be to close the gap on Liverpool and City. A massive ask given we finished the season over 30 points behind them. It’s another year of the Europa League too, a competition we’d rather not be in but that we’d hope United can go all the way in.