Manchester United finished third in a Premier League season that threatened to implode following their home defeat at Burnley in January.
But it turned out to be their last loss in the league and a 14-game unbeaten run in the Premier League helped them pip Chelsea and Leicester to third place in the final standings.
Amidst the happiness of finishing third, their second-best finish since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, there was a sobering effect as well. In terms of points, the Premier League giants were closer to relegated Bournemouth (32) than champions Liverpool (33).
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has admitted that there is a massive gap between them and the champions and it will take more time for his side to compete for the league title again.
However, Manchester United have the funds to bridge that gap through big-money signings and in a summer where Liverpool are not expected to spend big, the Red Devils have a good opportunity of getting closer to the champions by adding real quality to their squad.
Indications are that they will spend big this summer but the club will also have to get rid of a number of players to not only to reshape a bloated squad but also make space in their wage bill.
It is now up to Ed Woodward and his team of negotiators to get the club moving in the right direction in the market.
Jadon Sancho and who else?
Jadon Sancho is Manchester United’s top target this summer and he is expected to join the club for big money. But there are already signs that the negotiations are going to be protracted and time-consuming.
Manchester United have pushed back against claims in the German media that they have had a €98m bid rejected.
Dortmund want €120m from his departure and Manchester United have been in talks with the Bundesliga giants to bring that price down or structure a deal in such a way that it leaves both the clubs satisfied.
Sancho wants to return to England and Manchester United seem to be the only club in the race to sign him due to his high price.
Manchester United will like to do a deal for him this summer as his other suitors such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool do not have the funds to sign him this time around.
If they wait for another year, the winger could have more options to choose from. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must push the club to get the deal over the line as soon as possible.
The Red Devils are also in the market for a left-footed centre-back this summer. Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are good defenders but they are both similar kind of players.
Solskjaer wants more different options and wants a quick centre-back to pair with Maguire in order to continue to play a high line next season.
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake and Villarreal’s Pau Torres are believed to be on their short-list. They have also looked at Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly but he is the more expensive and unrealistic option.
Despite the goalscoring record of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood, the Manchester United manager wants one more striker in his squad.
They missed out on Erling Braut Haaland in January and brought in Odion Ighalo as a squad option. But the Nigerian’s loan expires in January and Solskjaer still wants one more striker.
He was part of a quartet of forwards in Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham at Old Trafford and is aware of the importance of having so many attacking options in a squad chasing trophies.
The club are believed to be working on bringing in a forward but no names have filtered through.
Who leaves Manchester United this summer?
It is not a question of who leaves but how many would leave. The Manchester United manager did well to clear out some deadwood from the squad last summer and he needs to do the same this year as well.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to sign a centre-back but it will largely depend on whether he can offload the ones already in his squad. Manchester United are willing to listen to offers for Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo this summer and Roma are keen to turn Chris Smalling’s loan into a permanent deal.
Either one of Timothy Fosu-Mensah or Diego Dalot will be put up for sale as the Manchester United manager only wants one back-up to Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right back.
Manchester United also have an interest in buying an attacking midfielder with Donny van de Beek believed to be a target.
But it would depend on whether the club manage to attract offers for either Jesse Lingard or Andreas Pereira or both. The duo have done little since the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January.
But the most important issue in front of Manchester United is Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean’s late-season form for Inter has made the Serie A giants consider signing him on a permanent deal and Manchester United are desperate to get his wages off their books.
But selling the winger is likely to be tough due to his large pay packet and Manchester United could have to accept a hit on the transfer fee to get rid of the former Arsenal man.
It is clear Solskjaer doesn’t want the player in his squad next season and the Chilean doesn’t want to return to Old Trafford. It is now up to the two clubs to work out an agreement.
In total, Manchester United would like to get rid of nine players from their current squad. But in a market hit by a pandemic, it is likely to be a difficult task.
Expect a number of players to leave the club on loan deals with a view to permanent options as most clubs are still not sure about the effect of the current crisis on their finances.