It didn't look likely in the early parts of the season, but Manchester United managed to secure Champions League football for the 2020/21 campaign on the final day.
Prior to the turn of the year, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's job was said to have been at risk, with the Norwegian running on limited time. Yet, the picture looks very different now, following the Red Devils' remarkable charge towards the top four in the second half of the season.
Here's an evaluation of United's 2019/20 season (so far), with an overall grade for the report card...
Premier League - 3rd
After spending the majority of the season in the top 4, Leicester were unable to hold on, with Manchester United and Chelsea claiming the Champions League places on the final day! pic.twitter.com/NDwhcjIQne— 90min (@90min_Football) July 26, 2020
United made a dream start to the season as they ruthlessly overcame Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day, but Solskjaer's men would go on to score just six more goals in their following eight league games. As a result, after nine matches, United found themselves sat in 14th place, having picked up just ten points within this time. They only won twice.
By the halfway point in the season, the Red Devils were four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, and a further seven points behind second-placed Leicester City. Of course, there was still plenty of football to be played, but the gap to those in the Champions League spots continued to grow. Indeed, after 24 games, Leicester were 14 points clear of United.
But their form majorly improved following the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese came straight into the team after his big money move to help United draw with Wolves. The Red Devils would go on to finish the season undefeated from that point, picking up 32 points during this time.
It's remarkable to think that that United squandered opportunities in the final matches to book their place in the Champions League, leaving them needing to go to Leicester on the final day and get a result. But this is exactly what they did as they found a way to win despite not being at their free-flowing best. The 2-0 win saw them push the Foxes out of the top four, with Solskjaer's men taking third.
Yes, this is Man Utd we are talking about, and no, the club should not simply be settling for a Champions League place and classifying it as a successful season. However, there are a large number of reasons for fans to be positive.
Domestic Cup Performance
Carabao Cup - Semi-Final
Man Utd's 2019/20 Carabao Cup run to the semi-final didn't start very smoothly at all.
The Red Devils were pushed all the way by League One side Rochdale, before eventually progressing to the fourth round on penalties. If their third round performance was extremely disappointing, however, their next was precisely the opposite.
Marcus Rashford scored twice to help his side overcome Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. United didn't see much of the ball, but they were ruthless in front of goal.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, however, his side's Carabao Cup run was brought to an end in the semi-finals as they lost over two legs to rivals Man City. The first leg saw Pep Guardiola's men produce a masterclass at Old Trafford to win 3-1, and despite United's 1-0 victory in the second leg, it wasn't enough to prevent their city rivals from progressing to the final.
A final and a chance at picking up some silverware would have been ideal, but they left themselves with too much to do against City.
FA Cup - Semi-Final
Man Utd have been very impressive in more recent times, but if there has been one criticism during this time, it has been the fatigue shown by players towards the end of the campaign due to the minutes they were playing. This came about as a result of the (lack of) depth within the squad.
United came into their FA Cup semi-final clash against Chelsea having won all three meetings with the Blues in 2019/20. But this fixture came at a time when there were clear issues of fatigue and it showed as Frank Lampard's men comfortably won 3-1.
It was a performance that left fans disappointed and perhaps even somewhat frustrated considering its importance, but it highlighted United's need to invest this summer in order to improve the depth of their squad so that fatigue to star players is no longer an issue.
Continental Cup Performance
Europa League - Competition still ongoing
The Premier League season may be over, but United still have the chance to pick up some silverware this season in the Europa League.
Solskjaer will be keen for his side to win the competition, but considering the timing of it, he will also be looking to ensure his players are able to prepare properly for 2020/21 - which is fast approaching.
Having won the first leg of their round of 16 tie with LASK 5-0, Solskjaer will be able to rotate his starting lineup and give players the adequate rest they need.
United have performed very well in the Europa League, with youngsters even being given the chance to shine. Silverware should always be targeted, especially in Europe - but these aren't normal circumstances. It is critical Solskjaer is able to find the right balance over the next month to ensure his players are fully prepared and ready to go when the next campaign gets underway.
You could make a case for a number of players as a result of their fine displays in 2019/20, such as Rashford or Anthony Martial who both managed 22 goals in all competitions and a number of assists to go with that.
But it has to be Bruno Fernandes, doesn't it?
Sure, he may have only joined in January, but it's hardly a coincidence that United's form picked up drastically after his arrival. His enthusiasm and hunger off the field has driven the team on, while his quality on the ball has been clear for all to see.
Eight goals and seven assists 14 Premier League games since joining is a simply outrageous return for a midfielder trying to settle in a new country while playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Vision, creativity, risk-taking, leadership and world class quality, Fernandes has been a revelation for United.
From one attacking midfielder to another...except, the numbers aren't quite the same.
Andreas Pereira has actually made 39 appearances in all competitions in 2019/20, but he has managed just the two goals and four assists. Sure, the numbers don't always tell the complete story, but he simply hasn't influenced matches when given the chance.
Pereira has clear qualities, such as his technique, but his inability to consistently perform in one match let alone an entire season has seen him dropped completely from the United squad in recent times. The Brazilian last featured against Brighton in June and while he was a substitute for his team's next three league games, he wasn't included in the squad for the final three matches.
Whether he will be at Old Trafford next season remains to be seen, but a big summer lies ahead for him, nonetheless.
Solskjaer isn't perfect as a manger, not by any stretch of the imagination. Fans have criticised some of his tactical decisions as well as his comments in interviews among other issues, but he is now beginning to receive the praise he rightly deserves.
Mason Greenwood, Martial and Rashford have scored 61 goals between them in all competitions this season, while they have also improved at the back. Then there's also United's recruitment in the transfer market, with all additions last summer and in January having strong first seasons at the club.
Solskjaer is still learning, but he has proven this season that he can be the man to get United back to where they belong.
Was it a perfect season? Not at all. The Red Devils haven't managed to pick up any trophies (yet) either this campaign, but as Solskjaer said himself, the current group are looking like a Man Utd team and they are heading in the right direction.
Now, the club must back Solskjaer in the transfer market.
Overall Grade: B
Source : 90min