Given almost the entire 2020/21 season was played without fans in the grounds we’ll be forgiven for not being able to recall it well in years to come. The final home fixtures of the Premier League season were the first to be open to supporters, however missing out on one of just 10,000 tickets in the ballot meant the match against Villarreal was my first United game since March 2020. Despite being a European final it was somewhat subdued by continued Covid-restrictions and a 25% capacity crowd, the above shot being the moment prior to kick-off. Defeat on penalties completed an anti-climatic season and also robbed us of the exciting prospect of a Super Cup final in Belfast in August.
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.
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.
Now that the dust has settled on another European season it’s time for me to reflect on this year’s travels in the Champions League. Unlike the previous 2 seasons it was spent solely in the top tier of European football, and the for the first time in 4 years we made it to the knock out rounds. In United’s continued period of transition it represented progress, even if it was ultimately uninspiring, ending with the defeat at Old Trafford to Sevilla.
After last year’s efforts the 2016/17 European season felt like it had a lot more to offer, even if was to be spent solely in the Europa League. Despite remaining the only competition United had never won, the early prognosis was that it was the least important trophy up for grabs in Mourinho’s first season, with the league an obvious priority and other cup wins simply a bonus.
It was with a bit of a whimper that the 2015/16 European season ended against Liverpool, a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford not enough to turn around the defeat at Anfield. After being knocked down into the Europa League I’d come round to idea of a potential final in Basel, Switzerland, but it was not to be. Even more frustrating was that our conquerors were drawn to play Borussia Dortmund, a place I’ve longed to visit with United at their impressive Westfalenstadion.