At the end of the 2018/19 season, Manchester United have reached their lowest ebb since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, agreed?
The Red Devils have been on a general decline since the iconic Scot left, but there have been ups and downs. Or maybe, there’s just been varying depths of despair.
Trophies have been won and huge money spent on world-renowned figures. Yet, it’s been coupled with a betrayal of their traditional, swashbuckling DNA, a worrying lack of consistency and a crippling loss of identity.
Here we take both a statistical and analytical look at United over the last six seasons and rate them from best to worst:
1 – 2016/17
League finish – 6th
Points – 69
Goals – 54
Conceded – 29
Top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 28
The beginning of the Jose Mourinho era. Many United fans craved the feisty, antagonistic Portuguese. Despite being seen as doing a deal with the devil, it was deemed the only plausible move for a creaking club.
Statement signings were made with big money spent on big names Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic arriving on a free.
As with all Mourinho sides the defence was suitably stoic as Eric Bailly impressed in his debut campaign – United shipped just 29 league goals, only Tottenham let in fewer.
But it was in attack they struggled as United’s 54 goals was a mammoth 23 fewer than the top six’s next lowest scorers (Arsenal, 77).
United finished outside the top four for the second successive year but that disappointment was parlayed by Mourinho leading the club to a treble.
United beat Ajax 2-0 to win the Europa League – the first time in the club’s history they’d lifted the trophy or previous equivalent, and becoming just the fifth team to win all three main European main club trophies in the process – as well as League Cup and Community Shield.
2 – 2017/18
League finish – 2nd
Points – 81
Goals – 68
Conceded – 28
Top scorer Romelu Lukaku – 27
Mourinho had delivered the title during his second season at every other club. It was not to be the case in Manchester though as their neighbours from the blue half of town strutted their stuff and sauntered to the title.
United finished second with 81 points – both highs in the wake of Ferguson’s departure. However, the 19-point chasm to Manchester City was also a record gap separating champions and runners-up in the Premier League era.
All-time record scorer Wayne Rooney was gone after 13 seasons. Also disappearing was silverware as despite a hat-trick of trophies in his first season, United finished empty-handed.
Woeful League Cup and Champions League exits to Bristol City and Sevilla respectively, piled the pressure on Mourinho, who was rapidly running out of support in the stands due to his negative style of play.
3 – 2015/16
League finish – 5th
Points – 66
Goals – 49
Conceded – 35
Top scorer Anthony Martial – 17
Louis van Gaal signed off with an FA Cup triumph – the Red Devils’ 12th (second only behind Arsenal) and first in 12 years – as Crystal Palace were beaten 2-1 in extra-time.
But it didn’t save the veteran Dutchman who was believed to have been sacked hours after the final whistle at Wembley.
United dropped out of the top four once again – coming fifth after a 3-2 defeat at West Ham in the penultimate game of the season contributed to them finishing tied on 66 points with rising force City.
They posted a joint league best defensive record, shipping just 35 goals alongside third-placed Spurs. But they notched just 49 goals at the other end – five fewer than the next lowest under Mourinho the following term and United’s lowest league tally in 26 years.
A meek Champions League group stage exit was compounded by defeat to arch rivals Liverpool in the Europa League’s last 16.
They beat every team above them in the league at some point – with the exception of champions Leicester City (yes, Leicester) – and did the league double over Liverpool but too often dropped points against teams in the bottom half.
4 – 2014/15
League finish – 4th
Points – 70
Goals – 62
Conceded – 37
Top scorer Wayne Rooney – 14
United learned their lesson, hadn’t they? To replace ‘Dithering Dave’ the Old Trafford hierarchy went for the tried and tested method. Legendary Dutch coach Van Gaal was unveiled and after the debacle of overpaying for Marouane Fellaini, winds of change swept in as Van Gaal struck the right chord, splashing out on Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria, Victor Valdes and negotiating a loan deal for Radamel Falcao.
The problem? Van Gaal is a legend but also a dinosaur. His “philosophy” was seemingly to just pass sideways and keep possession. United’s football was turgid.
Di Maria scored only four goals in 32 appearances following his £59.7m arrival and was gone the following summer after being shaken up following a burglary at his home. Falcao looked a shadow of his former self and bagged just four goals in 29 games.
United climbed back into the top four and got a seat back at the Champions League table but failed to contest any trophy – the only time no silverware was lifted or at least a final reached in the first five years post Sir Alex.
Rooney top-scored with 14 – the fewest goals scored by United’s leading man in a season since Joe Jordan’s 13 in 1979/80.
5 – 2013/14
League finish – 7th
Points – 64
Goals – 64
Conceded – 43
Top scorer Wayne Rooney – 19
A monumentally tragic term followed a swashbuckling – if cathartic – final season in charge for Sir Alex. Robin van Persie’s goals carried United to a 20th title the previous year.
Fergie anointed David Moyes his successor and it all looked good after a shimmering 4-1 thrashing of Swansea on the opening day. But it all went drastically downhill from there.
Embarrassing lows were reached as West Brom won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1978 and Newcastle for the first time in 41 years.
United were eliminated from the FA Cup at the first hurdle with a loss to Swansea and limped out of the League Cup on penalties at Sunderland.
Moyes fared fairly well in Europe, a stirring fightback against Olympiacos in the round of 16 saw them erase a 2-0 first leg loss to progress 3-2.
But ultimately Moyes failed to see out the season as he was sacked with a few games to go. United finished 7th, their lowest position in the Premier League era and worst finish since 1989/90, coincidentally the last time they also failed to secure European action the following season.
6 – 2018/19
League finish – 6th
Points – 66
Goals – 65
Conceded – 54
Top scorer Paul Pogba – 16
And so we reach United’s nadir – at least in terms of mood at the end of a season. It began in farcical circumstances when miserable Mourinho – irked by a boardroom refusal to back him in the transfer market – criticised the young players he himself took on the pre-season tour.
He seemed to write the season off before it began in America and it only got worse. They were eliminated from the League Cup by his former charge Frank Lampard – wetting his managerial beak at Championship Derby.
Mourinho was jettisoned in December after a galling 3-1 defeat at Anfield. Iconic former player Ole Gunnar Solskajer came in and instantly lifted the mood, injecting much-needed verve and energy into the players – overseeing a mesmeric 14 wins in his first 17 games, and just one defeat. The highlight was a classic United comeback from the death Champions League triumph over Paris Saint-Germain – but it was all a facade.
United won just two of their remaining 12 as they finished outside the top four for the fourth time in six seasons, were tossed out of the Champions League by Barcelona and exited the FA Cup at Wolves.
It is United’s first consecutive trophyless season in 30 years and there is a stark realisation that the club is probably in deeper trouble now more than at any other period post Fergie.
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