Ole’s at the Wheel
Five months ago, Monday 17th December, United had just lost 3-1 away at Liverpool leaving them 19 points off the top of the league and 11 points from the top 4. With a goal difference of 0 and PSG to come in the Champions League there was little expectation that anything would be salvaged from the season. This was a view a shared by the board, as Mourinho’s sacking was announced a day later.
Their next move was a real surprise, something which really changed the whole mood around Old Trafford, the interim appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A run of 10 wins from 11 games followed, with 28 goals, a massive turn around ahead of our tie against PSG. The run that followed that was in stark contrast, and whilst the gap to the top 4 had been significantly closed, the run in left United needing to do too much. Whilst it was in touching distance we ultimately missed out by 6 points. Europa League beckons once again, ahead of a much needed squad overhaul in the summer.
The 2018/19 European Season In Review
It was a season of big games against Europe’s top teams, even if it ended at the hands of Barcelona. They looked likely to go on and win the competition before a huge comeback from Liverpool in the semis, who now face Spurs in another all English final. Here’s the key stats for my season:
Trips Missed: 1 (Bern [Young Boys])
Miles Travelled: 6,499
Furthest Trip: Valencia – 2,204 miles
Shortest Trip: Paris – 752 miles
Cheapest Match Ticket: Turin – £55
Most Expensive Match Ticket: Barcelona – £102 (subsidised by United to £75)
Cheapest Pint: Valencia – £3.15
Most Expensive Pint: Paris – £6.75
Average Travel Cost: £133
At just under 6,500 miles travelled for the 4 matches this season it was actually the shortest distance of the past few years, with relatively easy journeys to Italy, France and Spain. This season I missed the trip to Bern for a 3-0 win over Young Boys, but still managed to see us score 6 in a mixed season of 2 wins and 2 defeats. We made it one step further than the 2017/18 season progressing to the quarter final stage and taking two big scalps on the way.
It’s hard not to start with perhaps the highlight of the entire season, the dramatic late win away at PSG. United had rightly been written off after a 2-0 defeat at home in the first leg. We had it all to do in Paris and spent the the day taking in the culture of one of Europe’s greatest cities, debating whether the comeback was too big a task. The drama of the late VAR-assisted goal to send us through to the quarter finals will always rank the game as one of our most memorable in Europe.
We’d already had late drama in the group stages, with a 2-1 win at Juventus against all the odds. Once again that night the team played with the fight and determination needed to take it to Europe’s biggest teams. United’s history has shown that players, and supporters too, have got to give everything for the club. At times this season it’s felt like we’re so far away from the teams of old; we can enjoy these great results and European nights, but they should not be the exception.
This season also saw us travel to Spain twice, with defeats to Valencia and Barcelona. Both great trips to the sunny east coast, with good food and cheap beer, United just hardly turned up for either game. Added to that we faced another season of extortion from Spanish clubs. £102 (€119) and £77 (€85) the ticket prices from Barca and Valencia respectively, with both games subsidised by United (at the expense of travelling Spaniards) to try and put pressure on the clubs and UEFA to act. Hopefully we see something change in the coming season.
The trips themselves were all relatively straightforward, with good deals on flights and trains keeping the average cost at £133. Turin was the most complex, with trains and a coach either side of a flight from Liverpool to Milan. Paris would have been the easiest with a train and Eurostar direct through, but customs strikes in France meant an inconvenient delay on the way home. It was the cheapest season for travel I’ve recorded though, lessons learnt from not booking quickly enough in previous years.
The inquest has already begun at United, at least by the supporters anyway. The club themselves appear to be doing little. Whilst there was less questioning of Solskjaer’s permanent appointment after his strong initial run of results, big questions to remain over the the long term planning and overall football structure at the club. Our fifth manager in six years since Fergie retired shows one part of the problem, whilst there’s been no movement on the ‘Director of Football’ role announced at the start of the season.
We’ll always back the manager and team if they put the effort in and play for the shirt, but their standards have slipped to a real low this season. Big money contracts don’t seem to have helped the dressing room either. It’s easy to look at the quality of City and Liverpool competing for the title, 30 points ahead of United, but the club has to aspire to be at that level every season. It’s even more painful to see Liverpool and Spurs in the Champions League final, and even Arsenal and Chelsea in the Europa League final, whilst we languish in 6th place watching on from the sidelines.
We’ll be there again next season though, supporting the reds as they work to rebuild and compete at the the top again. All we can ask for is 100% effort and commitment towards this goal from everyone at the club. The Europa League brought some good trips and moments a few years ago, so let’s hope for a good journey again next season.