Regardless of what happens in the remainder of the Europa League in the coming days, Manchester United have had a decent 2019/20 season. Not a good or great season by the club’s previous high standards, but one that has seen movement in an undoubtedly positive direction.
Considering that United were at one stage on course for their worst season since 1989/90 (a campaign that almost cost Sir Alex Ferguson his job) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was statistically the club’s worst manager of the last 40 years, it is ending on a relative high.
There is still a way to go in terms of seriously challenging in the Premier League and Champions League – this summer will be crucial in addressing the lack of depth holding the squad back – but third place in the Premier League and three semi-finals is definite progress.
In terms of personnel, the Paul Pogba situation has been defused, Anthony Martial has had his lightbulb moment and the club are also seeing the benefits of a restructured youth setup.
Even if United don’t go on to win the Europa League and finish the season trophyless, which some could argue would make it a less impressive campaign than 2016/17, reaching the last four in three competitions at the same time as managing to rise up the Premier League table is not something that should be sniffed at in light of the last seven years.
United could only finish sixth in the Premier League in 2016/17 as they went for glory the Europa League. In 2017/18, a second place finish was achieved with a squad that didn’t have the same long-term upside as now or played in the ‘United way’. That season’s European exit was embarrassing.
United’s third-placed Premier League finish this season has brought Champions League football back to Old Trafford for only the fourth time since Ferguson retired, and only the third time via a domestic league finish. It is where they need to be, both for sporting and financial reasons.
The core of the squad is young enough to develop and improve over the next few years. Crucially, it has been built in the right way – something which hadn’t been true until the last two years – and there is an actual plan and strategy in place.
United fans have dealt with a lot of (new) disappointment since 2013. On reflection, the way this season has finished hasn’t been like that and that can only bring optimism.