Manchester United can be pleased with their third-placed finish in the Premier League considering how their season started but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must build on his flying finish to the disrupted campaign if he is to have any chance of chasing down runaway champions Liverpool.
Six wins and three draws in nine league games since the restart is impressive but the 33-point gap to their fierce rivals at the top of the table doesn’t lie and the hard work must start now for Solskjaer.
For every Bruno Fernandes moment of magic, there has been a mistake at the back while every Mason Greenwood strike has had a David de Gea howler to cancel it out.
It’s a short summer and there’s only 10 weeks until the transfer window closes on October 5 so here, Sportsmail list the key things Manchester United must do to become Premier League title contenders.
The French midfielder’s transfer saga that has spanned across the last two seasons can only be described as a merry-go-round. His flirting with Real Madrid seems to have gone on the backburner and the financial struggles of the coronavirus pandemic mean not many clubs will be able to afford him this summer.
Pogba’s deal runs out next summer, meaning he could leave on a free if he does not extend his current terms – although United have an option to extend it by another year. In order to get any of the £89.3million they spent on him, United need to either sell him soon with the knowledge that clubs don’t have as much cash to spend or tie him down to a new deal.
While many United fans would have rather seen the back of him just a few months ago, he seems happier than ever before under Solskjaer. The arrival of Fernandes has seen the 27-year-old perk up and become an influential figure in the squad again – something that had been missing of late.
Fernandes has been bringing the best out of his midfield counterpart and the other attackers around him as the whole club seems to have had a lift since his arrival late in the January transfer window.
Not only would giving Pogba a new deal secure his future at Old Trafford for longer, but it is also a sign of intent to their rival clubs in the Premier League’s upper echelon and to other potential transfer targets.
Because for all the criticism surrounding his attitude and his ever-changing hairstyles, Pogba remains a world-class talent that plenty would love to play alongside.
One of the ongoing despondent factors to United’s season has been goalkeeper De Gea’s performances.
While the Spaniard has proved in seasons before that he is one of the best between the sticks, he has allowed far too many unforgivable errors into his game. He has let balls slip through his fingers, completely messed up his positioning and been all-around unreliable.
During this time, one of their loanee talents Henderson has been making all the right sounds as part of an incredibly successful Sheffield United team.
Surely a future England No 1, he has been commanding his defence, proved he is a brilliant shot-stopper and has made a great bid to be part of the Red Devils first team.
Chris Wilder of Sheffield United has made it clear that he wishes to keep Henderson on loan for another season but with De Gea’s poor performances, Solskjaer has a tricky decision ahead.
Henderson looks as if he could deal with the pressure of being United’s first-choice goalkeeper and is much less error-prone than De Gea. Now is the time to give him his chance.
Borussia Dortmund star Sancho is the hottest property in Europe this summer and while coming to a deal could be rather tricky, players of his calibre are capable of winning titles.
Sancho burst onto the scene at Dortmund after joining from Manchester City’s youth ranks. He has been the star man for the Bundesliga giants as he made his rise in the game alongside other young talents such as Erling Braut Haaland and Julian Brandt.
From 44 matches across all competitions this season, Sancho has 20 goals and 20 assists. A magnificent feat that has, rightfully so, got all of Europe’s elite sniffing around the England international.
United have been the favourites to sign Sancho for quite some time, but the main hurdle appears to be the price tag with Dortmund asking for over £100m. The latest reports suggest that they had an £89m bid rejected.
Many would argue that United’s attack is one of their strongest areas and does not need another £100m funding, however, XIs don’t win leagues. Squads do.
Adding Sancho to their ranks to play along with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Greenwood would be a mouth-watering prospect for the Old Trafford faithful.
United need to add a proven, quality centre-back to their defence after another season of some pretty regular mishaps at the back.
While their transfer model over the past few seasons has been to buy players and allow them to improve – with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as examples – they must change their approach and buy world-class talent ready to go.
There has been plenty of pressure on Maguire since his record-breaking £80m move from Leicester last summer, as he has not yet proved to be worth the price tag. He needs a partner – thinkk how well Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic performed together.
United have been linked with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly for some time and he would be the perfect addition to add some calm and composure to the back line as well as take some of the pressure off Maguire.
Former United defender Gary Neville said: ‘They need more players in their squad. The last time they finished in the top four was under Jose Mourinho and they spent £170m in that summer and didn’t invest it wisely.
‘They need to invest it again but do it properly this time to get nearer to Liverpool and Manchester City.
‘They need to improve the first XI.’
One of the privileges of being a huge Premier League club is their top quality facilities for the academy.
Manchester United have been able to make good of their young stars coming through the ranks with success stories such as Rashford, Brandon Williams, Scott McTominay and most recently, Greenwood.
Solskjaer is poised to have the perfect blend of young talent that he can rely upon in Premier League matches along with big-money signings in order to really push on for next season.
If he is going to spend big money, he needs to ensure he is not blocking any entry to the first team for any youngsters coming through and continue to nurture the young talents in the squad.
Greenwood has quickly become a valuable member of the Red Devils attack, with 10 goals and one assist this season.
Other players such as McTominay and Williams are integral to the team, given United’s hectic schedule with plenty of cup runs and league matches.
United have far too much deadwood in their squad earning far too much money.
The likes of Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Diogo Dalot are hardly featuring for the first team but will be earning more money than most other Premier League players.
As well as the current squad, United have returning loanees such as Alexis Sanchez and Chris Smalling to deal with – who have had rather contrasting seasons out in Italy, with the latter having a fantastic spell with Roma.
Not only does getting rid of fringe players open up money on the wage bill for new signings, it also allows them to assess any young players that could be catching the eye within their system.
However, they must be careful about who becomes the replacement for LIngard, or for Jones, for example, as they can’t afford any more poor signings in order to catch the top two in England.
So, for Solskjaer and Co, the hard work really does start now.