It’s been a very difficult year for United fans. Along with the disappointing campaign in the Premier League, supporters have had to face up to City winning a domestic treble while fierce rivals Liverpool clinched the Champions League.
The club have fallen well behind in terms of its competitiveness both in the league, as well as in European competitions. While the famous turnaround against PSG will live long in the memory, the disappointing performances against Barcelona in the quarter-finals show how much rebuilding work is required by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Red Devils hardly laid a glove on Barca in the first leg; while in the away leg, they were left to marvel at Lionel Messi’s genius following a decent start to the game. In truth, United never really looked likely to trouble the La Liga champions.
It’s a stark contrast to how Liverpool managed to turn round a 3-0 deficit with a surprise 4-0 home win against Barca in the semis. Jurgen Klopp’s side bullied and harassed their opponents when United meekly surrendered.
This mentality has to shift if United are to once again reach the heights, both domestically and on the continent. For sure, the quality of players must improve but the courage to stand toe-to-toe with the best in Europe needs to be instilled in the makeup of the squad as in the past.
Games such as the stunning Bryan Robson inspired 3-0 win against Barca in 1984 showed how a United team could battle against the odds and launch stunning comebacks. Imagine what the bookies would have offered Manchester United odds at in 1984 against Barca, they were probably even longer odds than for the 2 matches in the Champions League this season but the massive difference is that United believed in themselves in 1984.
The remarkable 3-3 draws in the group stages against the same opponent in the late 90s also show how United’s side must play – on the front foot and taking the game to the opposition.
Currently, it feels that both players and fans are resigned to being second best on these nights, and it is something that needs to change fast. Investment in the squad and a strong mentality to overcome even the toughest teams is the recipe for success going forward.
Whether we’ll return to the heights we saw under Sir Alex Ferguson, it is difficult to say, but with the resources that this club has, United should not be as far away as they seem to be at the moment.
When you accept you are inferior to the opponent, you also accept mediocrity. To regain the ground they have lost on City and Liverpool, United must build the foundations required and get back to believing that this team justifiably belongs with Europe’s elite. Anything less would betray this club’s great history.