Mid-Season Report: Manchester United

Manchester United Men:

It has been a pretty dire first half of the 2023-24 season for Manchester United. Their injury hit squad has struggled in the Premier League and crashed out of two cup competitions with barely a whimper. Off-field controversies surrounding Mason Greenwood, Antony and Jadon Sancho were a distraction, as was the drawn-out takeover saga that dragged on until Christmas Eve.

A poor start saw them lose three of their first five league games before a narrow win at Burnley dragged them into the top half of the table. An easier run of fixtures helped them claw their way up to the dizzy heights of sixth place in late November but they have struggled to find any kind of consistency. Their longest unbeaten run is just three games and they took just seven points from their last seven matches of 2023 as they dropped back down to eighth.

Manchester United’s Champions League campaign was an unmitigated disaster. They managed only one win in Group A, and even that required a last minute penalty save from Andre Onana to secure a 1-0 victory over FC Copenhagen at Old Trafford. Despite scoring three times in each of their away games, only one point was gained on the road, in a topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at Galatasaray. They lost each of the other four fixtures by a single goal but were frequently left to rue basic individual errors and, at times, some incomprehensible refereeing decisions. Ultimately, they finished rock bottom of the group.

As holders of the League Cup, some supporters may have hoped that they would make a decent fist of defending that trophy. However, after seeing off Crystal Palace in the Third Round, they were humiliated 3-0 at home by Newcastle United in the last sixteen. The FA Cup remains their only hope of silverware this season and they face Wigan Athletic away in the Third Round of that in January.

Few Manchester United players have enhanced their reputations during this period, but one ray of hope was the eighteen year old Kobbie Mainoo, who performed with a maturity beyond his years when he was introduced to the midfield. It was also nice to see Scott McTominay get back amongst the goals – he’s the top scorer – and for Harry Maguire to experience something of a renaissance.

The rest of the squad were largely disappointing, with new signings such as Onana and Rasmus Højlund yet to justify their price tags. The lack of creativity and goals was a major issue and Antony, in particular, continues to frustrate on the right wing. A return of zero goals or assists is simply not good enough for a forward at any level.

Manchester United Women:

It’s a tall order for the Manchester United Women’s team to repeat last season’s WSL title challenge and second place finish, especially given the resurgence of rivals Manchester City and Arsenal. The summer departures of key players Ona Batlle and Alessia Russo were a disappointment, but there were some decent signings such as Melvine Malard on loan from Lyon.

United began the season well with a win at Villa and a draw against Arsenal but came unstuck over two legs against PSG in a Women’s Champions League qualifier and therefore failed to make the group stage of that competition.

Since then, their form has been decent and they are currently joint fourth in the Women’s Super League table alongside Liverpool on 18 points. Their only two defeats so far in the league have been at home to Manchester City and Liverpool. They have yet to face leaders Chelsea – that test is coming in January – but they’re going to have to start winning some of the games against their direct rivals if they are to climb any further up the table.

United have been faultless so far in the FA Women’s League Cup, thrashing Everton 7-0, winning 1-0 away at Liverpool and beating Leicester City 3-1 to top Group B with just Manchester City still to play. A draw there would be enough to secure their place in the next round.

Manchester United U-21:

The Manchester United U21 team plays in the Premier League 2, which is a competition for the 26 clubs with Category One academies. There’s a new format to it for the 2023-34 season, as explained in this article. It’s slightly convoluted, but essentially it’s a single league of 26 teams and the top 16 qualify for the end-of-season knock-out play-off competition to decide the champion. The top twelve qualify for next season’s Premier League International Cup.

The peculiarity is that you don’t face all the other teams in the league. You play just twenty matches against a selection of teams from pre-defined seeding pots. United’s games thus far have been nothing if not exciting, with plenty of goals at both ends of the park. In fact, there have been no clean sheets, either for or against them, in any of their fixtures!

The Red Devils got off to a poor start, losing twice, before an astonishing 10-1 win against Stoke and a 5-5 draw with Sunderland. The goals have kept flowing since then and United have gone unbeaten since a 4-2 defeat at home to Arsenal in September. That run has left them in tenth place in the table and in decent shape to qualify for the knockout stages next spring.

The U21 team were also representing Manchester United in the EFL Trophy. That’s a cup competition for teams in League One and League Two of the English football pyramid, plus sixteen Category One academy teams. United were drawn into Northern Section Group E.

As per the regulations, academy teams play all their ties away from home. United started with a creditable 1-1 draw at Stockport County and won a penalty shoot-out for a bonus point. However they were then hammered 8-1 at Bolton and edged out 4-3 by Salford City to finish bottom of the group.

Manchester United U-19:

The Manchester United U19 squad competed in the UEFA Youth League in a group that mirrored the senior team’s Champions League group alongside Bayern Munich, FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray. They performed equally badly as their senior counterparts, finishing bottom of the group with just four points from their six games.

Bayern beat them 2-0 both home and away and they lost 1-0 at home to Copenhagen and away at Galatasaray. They did manage to find the net in their other two matches, a 3-0 home win over the Turks and a 2-2 draw in Copenhagen but they were nowhere near good enough to progress in the competition, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

Manchester United U-18:

The Manchester United U18 team competes in the Premier League U18 North division alongside twelve other clubs. I’m happy to report that they have been absolutely tearing it up so far this season. They sit nine points clear at the top of the table at the turn of the year, with a game in hand over second placed Liverpool.

They raced out of the blocks in August with a 4-0 away win at Middlesbrough followed by a 4-1 win at Stoke and haven’t looked back since. In fact, they have won all ten of their PL U18 fixtures to date, averaging 3.4 goals per game and accruing a goal difference of +28.

United also safely negotiated their first test in this season’s FA Youth Cup with a 1-0 win against Derby County in the Third Round in December and they’ll face Swindon Town in Round Four. The only blip on their otherwise perfect record so far this season has come in the U18 Premier League Cup where they lost 1-0 to Wolves in October. However, they comfortably beat Southampton and Reading to top Group F.