For Manchester United, the 2016/2017 season ended on a high with the 2-0 triumph over Ajax in Stockholm. However, it was not always like that for United this season, who saw a disappointing Premier League campaign.
Expectations At the Beginning of the Season
The season had started with United being one of the favourites to lift the Premier League title at the end of the season. After the first three games it seemed that the two Manchester clubs were the front-runners.
The two teams met at Old Trafford on the 10th of September 2016 after the international break. A poor display resulted from the Red Devils that ended in a 2-1 victory for Man City which could have been a lot more. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal came against the run of play and thanks to a mistake from Claudio Bravo, who had a terrible rest of the season.
From the game against City and on wards, United did not seem to be the team to win the Premier League, especially with the 3-1 loss to Watford a week later.
Premier League Season as a Whole
As the season progressed, things went from bad to worse for United. Draw after draw resulted, especially at Old Trafford, which was once a fortress under Ferguson and incited fear into the visiting opponents. A total of 15 draws, 10 of them at home, slipped United down the table and caused them to spend most of the season in sixth place.
The season met an all time low at two points in the season. The 0-0 draw against Liverpool at Anfield was one of the most disappointing games that I have witnessed as a Manchester United fan. With Mourinho bringing out his ‘park the bus’ tactics against a team who in the previous year had beaten them twice under the leadership of Louis Van Gaal, even scoring three in one of the games. At the beginning of the season there were indications that the Ferguson days were back at Old Trafford but the draw against Liverpool showed that this was not the case.
The second all time low point was the 4-0 defeat at the hands of Chelsea in October 2016. The defeat signaled the end to United’s for the title and started the Chelsea’s run towards the title. The game showed no fight from United players after the early goal from Pedro and it seemed like the players were not going to extreme lengths to win the game.
Despite United’s long unbeaten run of 25 games in the Premier League that was only ended by Arsenal late on in the season when Mourinho had turned his focus towards the Europa League, United still finished in sixth place in a Europa League spot, that without the Europa League win granting United a Champions League berth, would have been disastrous.
One of United’s best displays of the season was the 2-0 triumph over the Premier League champions. For almost the whole game United were on top and prevented Chelsea from playing. Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard were among the best players in the game, giving it their all to win the game. This game does make me hopeful for the next season as we showed how dominant we can be.
Europa League and EFL Cup Win
Two more trophies since Ferguson’s reign, but it is not enough. With the FA Cup last year, United have only won three legitimate trophies in four years. Two trophies is not bad but considering that the two trophies we won are considered second tier competitions means that is a problem. Most fans celebrated the two cups in ways that we would have only celebrated had we won the Premier League or Champions League under Ferguson.
The Europa League was United’s saving grace this season as without it, there would be no Champions League football for the second straight season which under Ferguson would never have been imagined. In a tournament where United were the better team it was no surprise that they ended up lifting the trophy in Stockholm but there were too many close calls during the campaign. United were not good enough and should not have been in the final had it not been for John Guidetti missing an open goal in the final moments of the semi-final second leg.
When it comes to the EFL Cup, based on the teams that United had to face they should have most definitely won the Cup. The only team which United, on paper, should not necessarily beat on every occasion, was Manchester City. This game came a week and a half after United’s defeat at the hands their City rivals.
When it came to the final, United were the favourites. In the build-up, Mourinho complained about the fact that United had played so many games in the last couple weeks as opposed to Southampton not playing for a number of days. This kind of complaint carried on throughout most of the rest of the season. From the outset United seemed lethargic and struggled to maintain possession of the ball.
Only once Ibrahimovic scored a tremendous free-kick did United gain some control of the game. The end scoreline was 3-2 to United but it could have been a completely different game had Mauro Gabbiadini’s finish wrongly being called offside. United survived a scare and lifted their second major trophy since Ferguson. As with the Europa League, the cup triumph is not nearly enough.
All in all, United’s 2016/2017 season was still a failure despite winning the Europa League and EFL Cup. These two forms of the Champions League and Fa Cup respectively. Had the performances in the cup competitions been more convincing then the season could possibly be classed as a success. The Premier League campaign was abysmal not only with the sixth placed finish but also the fact that there were so many draws and not enough convincing wins throughout the campaign.