In one particular way, Manchester United’s season is the perfect Rorschach test for the modern fan experience.
Depending on who you are or where you’re looking from, it is possible to evince unabashed enthusiasm, indifference or apoplexy toward what has been, objectively, a satisfactory season.
The Red Devils are on course for a second-place finish in the league, bested only by a Manchester City side that have had consistency down to an art form in the second half of the campaign.
In Europe, they can look forward to a Europa League final against Villarreal in Gdansk on Wednesday; win that, and it will be the club’s first major honour since they won the same competition in 2017 in Stockholm.
Those were the days of Jose Mourinho, of course; since the departure of the Portuguese manager in 2018, United have sought to purge themselves of his pernicious influence.
The hiring of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a conscious step with a view to reconnecting to the club’s values, and while progress has been a little more glacial than many would have liked, the Norwegian has undoubtedly improved year-on-year. This year’s runner-up spot follows sixth and third-place finishes in his first and second seasons respectively.
These impressions may be true to some degree (Alex Ferguson Solskjaer certainly is not), but what is undeniable is that, under the 48-year-old, Manchester United have the capacity to be properly devastating, even if only in bursts. Some of their Europa League performances have been scintillating to watch, and their record against the top sides in the Premier League have been exemplary over the last year.
What is needed, however, is investment in raising the team’s floor. Players like Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani have raised the ceiling no end with their quality in moments, but it is in the more quotidian responsibilities that the truest potential of a team is unlocked.
This is clearly suboptimal, and highlights the absence of capacity at the base of the United midfield, where Fred and Scott McTominay plug away gamely, supplying energy and muscularity but little else.
The Brazilian in particular has been guilty of high-profile errors recently, most notably in United’s FA Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of eventual winners Leicester City.
If United are to push on and properly challenge for the title, they must have the composure, guile and technical security that a top-of-the-line defensive midfielder can provide.
Thankfully for them, they needn’t look too far afield. Mali international Yves Bissouma has shone brightly as the midfield lynchpin of Graham Potter’s impressive altar to xG-denialism (otherwise known as Brighton and Hove Albion), and is now set for a starring role at a higher level.