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Can Manchester United fans hope again or is it another false dawn?

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The time taken from Harry Maguire’s header to Bruno Fernandes’ volley for Manchester United’s third goal against Brighton on Tuesday night was 12 seconds.

For a generation of Manchester United fans who grew up watching the team from the late 1990s and 2000s, this was vintage United. Swift and devastating counterattacks that snuffed the life out of opposition teams.

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There is a real feeling amongst the supporters that the club are now again in the right direction under a manager who is clothed in the tradition of Manchester United.

But how many times have the Manchester United fans hoped and saw everything come crashing down since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May 2013? Quite a few!

Manchester United have not lost a game since January and are now unbeaten in 15 – winning 11, drawing four, scoring 38 times and conceding just four goals.

They have looked tight at the back, a midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes look world-class, both on paper and on the pitch, and the attacking triumvirate of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and a teenage Mason Greenwood has pace, power and goals in them aplenty.

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There is a real belief amongst the players and the fans that they will break into the Premier League top four and play in next season’s Champions League.

After years, Manchester United fans can really look forward to the 2021-22 campaign with the hope of genuinely closing the gap with Liverpool and Manchester City. But we have been here before.

Louis van Gaal’s side were supposed to challenge for the title after an encouraging top-four finish in his first season, Jose Mourinho was supposed to build on a Europa League win in his first campaign and a second-place finish in the second season.

But both times – the club, the managers and the players floundered and were forced into another phase of rebuilding.

Recruitment lessons Manchester United can learn from their past mistakes:

While they have not spent at the levels of Manchester City, the Manchester United owners can’t be accused of not spending in the market since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Van Gaal was backed to spend big and none of those players (except Anthony Martial) are at the club anymore.

Mourinho was also backed but shoddy recruitment towards the end spelt his inevitable departure from the club.

Manchester United’s recruitment since Ferguson’s retirement has been haphazard at best and has created many of the problems the club have been facing.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have learned from his predecessors and it looks like the recruitment has been streamlined. His signings have more or less worked out this season and Bruno Fernandes has been real stardust.

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The effect the Portugal midfielder has had on the team since his arrival in January suggest that the club are not many players away from challenging for the top honours again if they can bring in the right personnel.

Manchester United were here before under Van Gaal and Mourinho – an encouraging season behind them – but poor planning and recruitment squandered their gains.

If Manchester United want to close the gap with Liverpool, they need to spend wisely and strengthen the squad properly.

Solskjaer seems to have identified his best eleven but Mason Greenwood is still young and Nemanja Matic, while looking top class, is on the wrong side of 30.

Their struggle against Norwich City in the FA Cup suggested that there is a big drop in level when the Norwegian wanted to rotate his squad.

Some of the squad players are not good enough and to challenge for the top honours, Manchester United need strength in depth.

With the pandemic affected football finances, it is still unclear how the market will shape up and we have already seen doing innovative deals to balance their books.

Manchester United will need to find a way to strengthen Solskjaer’s hands in the current market without looking like overspending on players.

What they can’t afford is another lackadaisical transfer window where the club fail to bring in the players the manager wants and restart the cycle of negativity that eventually leads to Solskjaer getting sacked.

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