Manchester United were on course for their worst season since 1989/90 not all that long ago, daring to run close a transitional side under Alex Ferguson (not then a Sir) who finished as low as 13th in the old First Division – supposedly only FA Cup victory that year saved Fergie’s job.
In the end, United managed to finish third for what is their second highest finish in the seven seasons since Ferguson decided to finally call it a day in 2013.
Bruno Fernandes sparked a remarkable upturn following his arrival in January that lasted just long enough, with a quality starting XI ill supported by a threadbare squad playing on fumes by the end.
But despite 10 league places separating their respective finishes, there are still certain parallels to be drawn between the United of 1990 and the class of 2020.
30 years ago, United had the makings of a side who would go on to compete for and eventually win a league title within a few seasons. Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Brian McClair and Mark Hughes were the core of the 1992/93 Premier League champions.
The club steadily added key players like Denis Irwin, who joined from Oldham that summer, Peter Schmeichel, Andrei Kanchelskis and, in November 1992, Eric Cantona. Simultaneously, Ferguson was reaping the rewards of an overhaul of the youth academy as new talents like Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes progressed to the senior ranks.
It is possible to see similar potential in the team of today.
It hasn’t always been obvious - even as recently as six months ago - but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been able to reset the culture and assemble a strong starting XI capable of beating anyone on its day – that much has been proven at various points over the season.
From Fernandes’ debut on 1 February, United finished the season on a run of 14 consecutive games without defeat. That period included a new record as the Red Devils became the first side in Premier League history to win four successive games by three or more goals, in stark contrast to eight losses in their first 24.
When Paul Pogba returned from his lengthy injury absence after the restart and it became apparent the Frenchman is happy to remain at Old Trafford rather than pursue the ‘new challenge’ he briefly publicly acknowledged an interest in last summer, the ball was fully in motion.
30 years ago, United had the early makings of a title winning side following two decades of relative misery by the club’s high standards and they do again after another, albeit much shorter, but vastly more intense period in the top flight wilderness.
Alongside Pogba and Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Nemanja Matic have the quality to be the core of a new title winning team. Others like Fred, Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw have also shone a positive light on themselves.
Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams represent the young home-grown players coming through and the club's academy, that had fallen into a state of semi neglect during the 2010s, promises to produce more to follow.
Just like in 1990, the project is a work in progress. There is a belief that Solskjaer still wants another five players – having initially identified a need for nine when he first took over and so far getting four of them – before his squad is ready to properly compete over a whole season.
If the club can get those numbers in, thought to be a right winger, striker, midfielder, centre-back and full-back, it will go a long way to boosting the depth that has been lacking this season and give the manager a solid base from which he can confidently rotate to keep players fresh.
Negative comparisons to 1990 didn’t come to fruition in the end, but the alternative positive comparisons are there and ready to build on.
Source : 90min