This season began with a tangible feeling of hope at Manchester United, with silverware appearing in touching distance.
Yet now the thought of winning a trophy has almost been abandoned as a possibility for some supporters. It could be viewed as an unrealistic dream this term. United have endured a tumultuous campaign and their performances have been bitterly disappointing, especially considering their strong position in the summer. The squad looked world-class and ready to deliver trophies.
That strength on paper hasn’t translated to the pitch. United have gone backwards this season, appearing devoid of any tactical nous or sustainable creativity and they have been concerningly incohesive. Those symptoms are slowly beginning to ease under Ralf Rangnick, but this campaign already seems redundant. It’s now all about securing Champions League football.
United should not be reduced to such a position. The Europa League music is jolting for supporters to hear echoing around Old Trafford on dreaded Thursday nights. While United will feel securing Champions League football should just be a formality, the truth this term has been sobering. They are levels below where they want to be and they are going to have to fight for it.
The club are already familiar with the financial consequences of failing to qualify for Champions League football and Rangnick will undoubtedly know that’s the target of his interim tenure, despite also taking on the role as a firefighter at United since his arrival.
Rangnick will want more than that. Whether that’s realistic remains to be seen, but the German coach has waited his whole life for such an opportunity to arise in the Premier League and it seems his ambitions will stretch further than securing Champions League football. Rangnick’s first press conference was enthralling and he discussed the possibility of winning silverware at the club.
It was just what United fans wanted to hear. “In the ideal world, we will be in the top flight regularly not only in the top four but playing for titles,” said Rangnick when asked where United could be in two years.
“This is also something that’s in the DNA of the club, it’s about winning titles, winning the league, winning cups.
“It’s being as successful as you can in the Champions League. This is also an issue for the new year that we’re still in the Champions League and depending on the draw hopefully we can go further in that competition.”
This season has been a disaster, but it would be a more than welcome consolation if Rangnick could lead United to win a trophy – the FA Cup seems the most realistic opportunity. Rangnick said all the right things in his first press conference and he is well aware that the fabric of the club has been built on success and silverware. His comments from him also suggested he wants to be part of that history.
While Rangnick might maintain that taking each game as they come is his priority, it wouldn’t be surprising if he privately entertained the thought of throwing everything at winning the FA Cup this season. The same can be said on Rangnick’s reluctance to commit when asked about taking the job permanently. It’s hard to think he wouldn’t want it and delivering a trophy would certainly help him lay his claim on it.
United play Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Friday night and, while the Championship club have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes since Chris Wilder’s appointment, that fixture should be relatively straightforward at Old Trafford.
The Reds lack of consistency can be forgiven in the FA Cup and they’ll be hoping for a kind draw should they progress.
The season began with hope and it could possibly end with a degree of it restored again.