2019 was a largely turbulent year for Manchester United and The Hard Tackle takes a look at five highlights that defined the year that was for the Red Devils.
It was another disappointing year for Manchester United, as they failed to win any silverware in 2019 while they also did not manage to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, finishing well behind bitter rivals Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League.
Despite it being an unfruitful year, there were quite a few heady highs for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men in 2019 along with painful lows. And here at The Hard Tackle we run down the five year-defining moments for Manchester United in 2019.
Resurgence under Ole
2018 ended with Manchester United appointing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the interim manager after sacking Jose Mourinho and the results were drastically improved under the Norwegian. But, his true test would come in January 2019 when a series of difficult fixtures awaited Solskjaer and his troops including trips to Tottenham and Arsenal.
Having defeated Newcastle United and Reading in the first week of the New Year, Manchester United went into the Tottenham fixture full of confidence and managed to beat Mauricio Pochettino’s men 1-0.
Another routine win over Brighton followed and Solskjaer was then up against perhaps his most daunting challenge to date – a trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal in a FA Cup tie.
It was here when the Norwegian showed his tactical acumen to get the better of his counterpart Unai Emery, playing Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku as staggered forwards, with Jesse Lingard wreaking havoc from the false-nine role. Sanchez and Lingard put United two goals ahead around the half hour mark, before a late goal from Anthony Martial sealed a 3-1 win for the Red Devils.
Manchester United had now recorded eight wins in a row since Ole’s appointment in December, with the performance against Arsenal at the Emirates providing evidence that he could be the man for the job on a long-term basis.
That night in Paris…
The good run under Solskjaer continued into February, until Paris Saint-Germain came visiting to Old Trafford for the Champions League Round of 16 clash. Goals from former Red Devil Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe condemned United to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg, with Paul Pogba being sent off, ruling him out of the return leg in Paris.
So, when Manchester United arrived in Paris almost a month later, the odds were completely stacked against them. A two-goal deficit heading into the game without their most influential player in the ranks, the task at hand was insurmountable. But, Solskjaer’s brigade were not ones to be bogged down by the occasion and the pressure that came along with it.
What followed was easily one of the most memorable European nights in the long and illustrious history of Manchester United. Romelu Lukaku hurried and harried the home team from the front, pulling back two goals within half an hour, although a Juan Bernat goal in between meant PSG still had their noses ahead.
Les Parisiens were starting to breathe a sigh of relief as the game entered stoppage time, but there was late drama to follow. A speculative effort from Diogo Dalot earned Manchester United a penalty, courtesy VAR, and up stepped Marcus Rashford to take what was arguably the most important kick of his career.
And the Manchester United academy graduate delivered in style, hitting the back of the net with great power, precision, showing composure beyond his years, helping his team progress to the next round on the away goal rule. And the images, as he and the team ran towards the travelling Red Devils’ supporters, will be long-etched in the memories of the fans.
Then followed the capitulation
Unsurprisingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed the Manchester United manager on a full-time basis soon after the PSG triumph. What followed was nothing like that historic night in Paris, but a story of capitulation after capitulation as the wheels came off of Manchester United’s season.
Soon after the win against PSG, the Red Devils succumbed to a 2-0 defeat against Arsenal, after which they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Wolves, before being beaten once again by the Midlands club in the league. Then followed a 4-0 aggregate defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals, but the worst was to come yet.
Towards the end of April, Manchester United travelled to Goodison Park to take on Everton, who had been beaten 2-0 by relegation candidates Fulham in their previous fixture.
The Toffees, though, completely dominated the game from start to finish as Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson gave them a two-goal first half lead, before Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott added two more after the break to compound United’s misery.
The 4-0 defeat was Manchester United’s biggest margin of loss in over two years, while it was also their fifth away defeat in a row in all competitions. Suddenly, the atmosphere around the club was filled with doom and gloom once again, with the Red Devils failing to win their last three games of the season.
That horrific performance at Goodison, though, has to be one of the biggest lows of Solskjaer’s tenure at the club.
Pogba seeks a new challenge…
“There is a lot of thinking [going on]. I have been three years in Manchester and have been doing great – some good moments and some bad moments, like everybody, like everywhere else. After this season and everything that happened, with my season being my best season … it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else.”
These words from Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba in mid-June sent the fans and the media into frenzy, settting the rumour mill abuzz with speculations. Here was a player who was seen as the leader of the pack for Solskjaer’s side, who, after all his problems with Jose Mourinho, was seen as the man to take Manchester United forward.
But, turns out Pogba did not see things the same way. The Frenchman had spoken previously of his desire to play for Real Madrid and with Zinedine Zidane back at the helm in the Spanish capital, it looked like Pogba was intent on transfer to the Bernabeu. He, along with his agent, Mino Raiola, tried hard to force through a transfer in the summer, but Manchester United held firm.
Having stayed put at the club, Pogba has spent most of the ongoing campaign on the sidelines injured and to this day, continues to be linked with a move away from Manchester United, with Real Madrid still seemingly interested.
Having come to light in 2019, the Pogba transfer saga continues to drag on and could see an end in the coming summer, with the midfielder getting his wish.
The Derby Demolition
Arguably one of the most memorable moments of what has been a disappointing 2019-20 season for Manchester United came when they went to the Etihad in the final month of 2019 and beat local rivals Manchester City in a convincing manner, putting up fast-paced, counter-attacking football on display .
While the 2-1 scoreline suggests that the game was quite close, it was anything but as Manchester United took the game to the reigning champions from the get-go and were two up within half an hour, courtesy goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
The Red Devils could have been four or five goals up by half-time for that matter, with Rashford striking the woodwork, while Martial and Daniel James both drew good saves from Ederson. Manchester City did manage to pull one back through Nicolas Otamendi, but Manchester United defended professionally in the second period to take home all three points from the Etihad.
It might not have changed the fortunes of the club in the ongoing season, what with City beating United 3-1 win the League Cup semi-final at Old Trafford. But, the fans will have definitely cherished the performance on their noisy neighbours’ own backyard.