Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Having been expected to challenge the top teams and fight for titles before the campaign commenced, the 2021/22 season was ultimately the nadir for Manchester United in the post-Ferguson years.
The ongoing theme of Man United’s miserable and dejecting season went along the lines of, ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong’. Nightmare after crisis after nightmare, United endured an atrocious season and everyone associated with the club will want to quickly erase it from living memory.
Not only have United ended trophy-less for a fifth successive year but they also finished the season with the club’s lowest points total, fewest wins, most goals conceded and worst goal differential in the 30-year Premier League era. 16 league wins at a lowly 42 per cent win rate is United's worst return in 31 years and for the first time since 1979, United ended the season with a non-positive goal difference.
In what has been their single most undesirable season for more than 40 years, it could yet go from bad to worse for United. Whilst the Red Devils have been slumping along the realms of mediocrity, most clubs around them have been collecting or at least challenging for trophies.
Manchester City came out on top in an enticing PL title battle with Liverpool, and progressed to the semifinals in both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. Chelsea reached the final of both domestic cups, losing to Liverpool on each occasion. West Ham and Leicester City also progressed considerably in Europe – crashing out in the semis of the Europa League and Europa Conference League, respectively.
Not to mention Liverpool who have already clinched a domestic double and are 90 minutes away from topping off a stupendous season as champions of Europe. Jürgen Klopp’s men have played a maximum 62 matches this term (with the 63rd on Saturday), and have lost only three times across four competitions.
United’s north-west rivals have won 31 out of their 37 games in 2022, losing just once to Inter Milan. Adding insult to injury, Liverpool tallied 44 points more than United did this season – comfortably the greatest gulf between the two in living memory.
Should Klopp's Reds conquer Real Madrid in Paris, the Merseysiders will take part in the next FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup, and Liverpool may go on to collect a total six honours within the space of 12 months. The FA Cup holders will also contest the Community Shield against Man City, and Klopp shan't pass up the opportunity to get the better of Pep Guardiola in the league’s traditional curtain-raiser.
United finished a dismal 45 points below champions Man City, the biggest buffer of all-time between Man Utd and the league winners. United also ended 13 points shy of 4th-placed Tottenham and 11 behind Arsenal. In context, United finished closer to the bottom end of the table (36 points) than the top (45).
With the senior team desperately poor at present, it was left to the famed Academy to give the club something to cheer about and the U/18s won the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 2011. Despite a season of endless turmoil Man City and Liverpool were, somehow, the only teams to beat United home and away, albeit those four contests totalled an aggregate 15-1 score.
United took one point out of six from each of Aston Villa (14th), Everton (16th), Leicester (8th), Watford (19th) and Wolves (10th), and they picked up two points against Chelsea and Southampton. There were just five teams whom United beat home and away – including bottom-of-the-log Norwich, newly-promoted Brentford (13th) and Leeds Utd who survived relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Erik ten Hag has been chosen to oversee United rise from the ashes and in time he will be expected to challenge the likes of Klopp and Guardiola. The incoming manager was in attendance for United's final-day fixture at Selhurst Park to get a live scope of exactly what he is to inherit in the coming weeks.
ten Hag and his entourage were in London during the week to meet with United officials ahead of the Dutchman’s imminent job in the north-west. Following a third Eredivisie success ten Hag began work as United manager on Monday, opting not to join up with Ajax post-season celebrations in Curacao.
United supporters had been anxiously and impatiently waiting for the senior team’s final outing of the term, but in no positive way. United’s season effectively ended months ago and the final match of this dreadful season did not come soon enough.
ten Hag learned quickly just how deep United's problems lie and he did not seem all too impressed when the cameras focused in on the soon-to-be boss. Ralf Rangnick's side went 1-0 down to Crystal Palace as ex-United man Wilfried Zaha grabbed the decisive goal with the Red Devils unable to conjure a reply.
United started the season on the brightest possible note, as they thrashed Yorkshire rivals Leeds by five goals to one at Old Trafford. Bruno Fernandes bagged an opening-day hat-trick and Paul Pogba assisted four of United’s five goals.
United were one of three teams to not lose in their first three games. Cristiano Ronaldo made his long-awaited return to Manchester and the Portuguese notched two goals against Newcastle Utd on his second debut for the club.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side visited West Ham eight months ago and that particular trek to the capital already feels like an eternity ago. United’s trip to the London Stadium made for an eventful affair, what with Jesse Lingard’s late goal (and notably no subsequent celebration) against his former teammates. Mark Noble then entered the pitch in added time just to have his spot-kick kept out by David de Gea’s outstretched right arm.
After winning four of their opening five league matches, the wheels started to come off for Solskjaer with a home defeat to Aston Villa and a hugely disappointing stalemate with Everton. United travelled to Leicester City and the Foxes ran out 4-2 winners to bring an end to United's 29-game unbeaten run away from home.
Liverpool twisted the knife in Solskjaer's back with a damaging demolition at Old Trafford, after the United manager remarkably named an unchanged XI from the slender 3-2 win over Atalanta in the Champions League. How Solskjaer’s job remained intact beyond a five-to-nothing humiliation at the hands of the club’s bitter rivals is baffling, and a huge indictment on the club’s decision makers who themselves have since undergone a reshuffle.
A 0-2 loss at home to Man City then saw Solskjaer's job hanging by a thread, however he was given time off to travel home to Norway with his family. Following the November internationals, Watford hit the final nail into his coffin and a 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road spelled the end of Solskjaer’s stint in charge.
Solskjaer lasted a dozen league games into his third season in the hot-seat, winning just five of those 12 outings. United won two of four Champions League group games before the Norwegian was booted, and they exited the League Cup on his watch.
Michael Carrick acted as caretaker for three games and the ex-United skipper fared considerably well given his inexperience in a senior coaching role. Carrick set up United a take a point from Chelsea and pick up crucial wins away at Villarreal and home to Arsenal. Carrick and first-team coach Kieran McKenna departed the club as Rangnick was appointed interim manager until the end of the season.
Rangnick attempted to transform United into a high-press system but it recently came out he abandoned those plans after just two games. Results were topsy-turvy under the German and a lack of top-level coaching began to take its toll on the players.
Rangnick did not receive backing to reinforce the squad in January, despite the club losing several players towards the end of the window. Amad Diallo, Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek all completed short-term loan deals while Mason Greenwood was suspended by the club pending a police investigation.
Things have hardly got better since the turn of the year. United exited the FA Cup after losing to Middlesbrough on penalties and the next month they were dumped out of Europe by Atlético Madrid. United won only three of their final 12 league matches, and they tasted defeat in all of their last six away from home.
The 2021/22 season consisted of few highlights and countless lowlights this term, most notably the humiliating performances and results against the club's biggest rivals. There were a flurry of detestable displays under Rangnick, who managed just 11 wins in his 29 games in charge with nine draws and nine defeats.
The fact that Liverpool shipped in nine goals while United could not muster one in 180 minutes is beyond embarrassing. Moreover constant dressing room leaks to the press continue to further tarnish the club’s name and reputation.
To no surprise Ronaldo was the team's top scorer with 24 goals in all competitions, more than double the next-best goal contributor in Fernandes. Greenwood was absent for half the season but still ended the season as United's third-highest goalscorer with five league goals.
Marcus Rashford’s confidence has been absolutely shot to bits and he has genuinely produced worse performances than he did a year ago whilst carrying injuries. Jadon Sancho took several months to get firing in a United jersey and only came to life towards the end of last year. The 22-year-old showed real promise in February and was voted United’s Player of the Month.
Both Sancho and Rashford missed their penalties for England in the Euro Final shootout and their seasons played along similar plot lines. The pair of wide-men finished the season with five goals apiece, having each made upwards of 30 appearances in all competitions.
Pogba and Lingard are both out of contract in six weeks’ time, a decade after after the French midfielder first left the club on a free transfer as a 19-year-old. Pogba has showcased fragments of his individual brilliance but all in all he has not engulfed what United fans had hoped upon him rejoining the club six years ago.
Lingard eventually earned his break into the first-team after four loan spells away from the club. He emerged as a regular under Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho and scored in the finals of both the FA Cup in 2016 and the League Cup the following year. Solskjaer denied Lingard a transfer last summer and now United are set to lose the England international on a free.
Juan Mata featured sparingly in the final weeks of his United career but the outbound Spaniard clocked a total 232 minutes all season in the league. Mata, 34, leaves the club after eight-and-a-half years during which time he played under seven managers, including Ryan Giggs in 2014 and Carrick last year.
Edinson Cavani soon also becomes a free agent and the 35-year-old was selected versus Palace for his first start since February 8 at Burnley. The Uruguayan striker has produced a poor goal return and displayed an abominable attitude in his second and final season in red. United played 49 games this term however Cavani played just 20 times, making eight starts and scoring only twice.
Nemanja Matić is subject to a transfer away from Manchester but with a year left on the Serbian midfielder's contract, United would be fortunate to bank a fee above £10-15 million from any prospective buyers. Matić turns 34 in August and could reunite with Mourinho in Italy.
On top of an exodus amongst the playing squad United also finds itself amidst a significant overhaul further up the chain, with a handful of the club’s decision makers leaving office in the first half of 2022. There is an ongoing shakeup in the works among staff in between the board and the manager, and director of football John Murtough is reportedly looking to hire a deputy.
Chief-executive Ed Woodward abdicated for Richard Arnold to become the club’s new CEO in February, and two months later chief scout Jim Lawlor and head of global scouting Marcel Bout both left the club. Earlier this month Matt Judge, director of football negotiations, resigned from his post.
Rangnick did not prove a successful appointment in a coaching capacity, however he still possesses a strong understanding of how a football club should successfully operate. He may be about to make his most significant contributions at United upon continuing in an advisory role which he will fulfill in tandem with his job as manager of the Austria national team.
ten Hag has a monumental task on his hands but with an effective structure behind the scenes, Rangnick and co. could help make ten Hag’s job a touch easier.