With the 2020/21 season now concluded for Manchester United, it’s time to rate the performances of the players over the campaign.
In order to qualify for a rating a player must have played more than eight times.
David De Gea 6
Despite the noise, the Spaniard’s season wasn’t as cataclysmic as some would have you believe. Some errors were made, sure, but it wasn’t a disastrous season, and indeed, there were a few performances to remind us all of his class. But this was a year where his decline seemed noticeable – the balance between errors and reliability moving closer towards the former.
There was still a strong enough argument – and there still is, regardless of the final yesterday – that De Gea is the better goalkeeper at the club. But it does feel as though this is the summer he finally moves back to Spain.
Dean Henderson 8
Without doubt, Henderson answered the critics who were concerned that playing for the United of Manchester is a very different prospect to playing for the United of Sheffield. His confidence and assurance added to the better defensive performances over the last few months. He is not without errors – probably more frequent ones than De Gea – and this is a concern but he has proved himself a worthy contender for the number one shirt. Whether or not he’s ready for that move permanently is open to debate and it is a risk if Solskjaer goes all-in on it. Still, it has been a very impressive start to Henderson’s career.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka 7
The right-back’s season carried a significant dip in form. A few more errors in his game, and a few opponents getting the better of him; it was a learning curve for the former Crystal Palace man, who was also receiving criticism for not being as strong offensively as he is defensively. But he seemed to recover from that to end the season in good form in both areas of the pitch.
Brandon Williams 5
A tough year for the youngster. At one moment in time he looked as though he might become the starting left-back; now he is the substitute right-back and has very much appeared to be the player who just comes in when Wan-Bissaka needs a rest.
Victor Lindelof 6
The preferred partner for Harry Maguire, there is no doubt that over the course of the season his level of consistency improved. The moments where it seemed as though that side of defence would severely undermine United’s prospects for the season were, it seems, unfounded; yet it also seems obvious that this weakness prohibits the team from moving forward.
Harry Maguire 8
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – and that was the case with Harry Maguire, who has faced criticism with many being cautious about praising a player who cost so much money and hadn’t appeared to make a significant difference. Until he was gone, and the errors were too numerous to count. He certainly improves what’s around him; and, funnily enough, his absence probably gives the greatest source of optimism that a strong partner could really push United forward.
Eric Bailly 5
Some would say on paper he is the most talented defender United have. But football isn’t played on paper, nor is it played in the physio room, where Bailly spends most of his time. And his erratic moments where he loses concentration have proved costly – he has signed a new deal, so theoretically should be staying, but has reportedly made noises about wanting to leave, and this would probably be a good move.
Axel Tuanzebe 6
Magnificent in Paris; maligned in Istanbul. Championed by the fans but apparently not by the manager. Tuanzebe seemingly had the odds in his favour for a run alongside Maguire but that hasn’t materialised and so his development seems to have taken a dip as his confidence did.
Luke Shaw 8
Teetering between an 8 and 9 but 9 would be an emotional score based on Shaw’s return from rock bottom; this is one player who seems to have benefitted hugely from Maguire’s presence, and we are now finally seeing the form that we know he is capable of. It’s also an example of Solskjaer’s strong man-management.
Alex Telles 5
His initial arrival seemed promising; his crossing ability was a class above what we’ve seen from full-backs at the club for years. That his presence ultimately spurred Shaw to save his own career is one of those things in football; but when we have seen Telles in recent months, he has looked defensively suspect.
A difficult one to rate. A key player in important games and some important performances in key wins, but he seems infuriatingly limited despite appearing to possess all the skills needed to flourish in his position. He should be much better on the ball than he is; and his lack of positional discipline surely puts him at risk of losing his first-team place. United need to upgrade in this area.
The one middle player with intelligence and class on the ball; but his age and lack of pace are significant obstacles considering what United need to kick on. Quite why his contract was renewed is a matter of confusion.
The midfielder has established himself as the starting name whatever the game; there remain concerns over his limitations on the ball, but there must be hope that with a really good partner, his own game can kick on a level. He has blossomed with the extra responsibility and confidence of knowing the place in the team is his, and although he may not be a leader in the sense of a Keane or a Robson, he certainly stands up when it matters.
Paul Pogba 7
A portion missed through injury, speculation about his future, speculation about a new contract, a number of games where he seemed careless and poor, and a number where you were teased into thinking the entire team should be built around him. Was this every Paul Pogba season? Possibly. Is it worth investing in more, or is he more valuable as an asset? It’s the question United seem to ask every summer but one where they might be forced to answer this time around instead of just letting it drift.
Van de Beek 4
It’s not his fault. It really isn’t. Why was he signed?
Another player of big investment only to be used sparingly. Has shown obvious talent when used, but also has looked as though he would be on the periphery of games; difficult to judge, and definitely worth more of a look, but one would have thought he would have been used more for the cost. Will he be used next season? His arrival was meant to placate fans – he and Pellestri were brought in as apparent alternatives to Sancho, after all.
A difficult start to the season with problems at international level where it didn’t seem as though he was helped or treated fairly; at United, he never had those problems, and eventually returned into form at just the right time at the end of the season. Hopefully next season will be another big one for Greenwood, who still needs to improve.
Marginally involved in the second half of the season. Due to his class as a footballer, despite his age United have often looked better when he has been playing. Due to his age, despite his class, it is likely the beloved Spaniard will be looking for a new club this summer.
Obviously United’s player of the season. More goals and assists than anyone. His importance to the team cannot be understated; like Maguire, his absence speaks volumes. Thankfully he has not often been absent. Unfortunately that has meant a tired end to the season.
But. Fernandes’ impact has been likened to that of Eric Cantona. It’s a big overstatement – Fernandes has increased the intensity but doesn’t bring the best out of the players around him even if he takes some of the pressure off with the burden. The issue is that those other players haven’t stepped up; they’ve almost accepted Fernandes’ place in the team and now look for him, even players like Pogba, who should have been liberated. It’s fair to say Fernandes has struggled in some games when he has been marked, so, he too needs to improve to make United genuine challengers.
The poster boy of the country; I’m almost certain people will see my rating and think it’s two marks too high. It’s easy to forget he has registered over 20 goals, and his blistering form in the group stage of the Champions League seems such a long time ago. He has done this carrying the injuries which have understandably hampered him and one could argue that when it is obvious he is playing through some pain, it is Solskjaer’s responsibility to take him out.
There was always a concern after his high-scoring campaign last year that he could just as easily disappear again; sadly that proved to be the case. Martial is one of those players who divide the support because he seems to have the ability that would bless any top team in the world. But, just as with Pogba, those opinions are put into a harsher perspective when a player comes into the team and assumes responsibility to improve the team. That was the case with Martial this season, with his lethargy and ease to mark two big marks to count against him. This is another player where Solskjaer will surely be considering the worth as an asset to sell or swap. It is surely the end of the Frenchman’s time at the club.
The much-mooted loan move was probably much-needed. There was a brief spell where James came into the team in the late winter and looked capable of being a good squad player, and there remains some raw skill to work with, but it still feels as though everyone would benefit if the winger had a year somewhere else to develop before coming back.
There has been a Fernandes-esque impact from Cavani; here is a player who is probably post-world class but still of the significant ability that his performances and attitude were a seismic step-up from what United fans were used to. In one sense you would say there has been nothing groundbreaking in Cavani’s contribution – he has been energetic and worked hard, two basic principles that should be present in every United player. It says much about how standards have dropped that these two qualities have been appreciated so much. Of course, his class as a finisher is still extraordinary. His movement in the box, his desire to score goals – it’s a treat to watch, and thankfully we’ll get another year to see it in a United shirt, because thinking about replacing what we’ve only had for a matter of months was surely a headache Solskjaer did not want to deal with.
And so we come to the manager. If he had a bigger managerial profile like a Mourinho or a Klopp then perhaps a 7 would be a 5 or a 6. Solskjaer’s relative inexperience, however, does not exclude him from the conversation about the standards of Manchester United, nor does it water them down. In one respect it’s even more important because Solskjaer has so much to prove.
United have progressed. They have a clear shape and a preferred selection. That consistency has translated into on-the-pitch consistency. There are many with short memories – those two factors were missing in the three managerial reigns before this one.
Solskjaer’s persistence in keeping a steady ship has resulted in some good things. The defensive shape was steady until Maguire was injured. Luke Shaw benefitted from being given another chance.
It’s also resulted in some criticism; some fair, too. So it’s consistency but is it a lack of a plan B? Solskjaer, who at the start of his reign excelled with deploying different shapes, now seems reluctant to deviate from this one, in spite of its predictability and in spite of the way some teams are working out how to expose certain elements of it.
Following a painful defeat to Everton in 2019 Solskjaer suggested some players would never play for the club again. He did make some big calls. He needs to make more. He clearly has built a strong relationship with some of his players but he will need to take sentiment out of it if he wants to succeed. If he continues to invest faith into players who are not good enough, then it’s as simple as this – he will be gone before they are.