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Light at the End of the Tunnel or a False Dawn?

This season was always going to be a strange one. A transitional one. But, this being Manchester United, there is always both an expectation and a lack of patience from the media and the fans. Current issues, including the remaining games of the season, if and when the takeover happens, and what transfer activity the club manages to pull off, will shape the club’s future. Those factors will also dictate whether United fans use the free bets offers in platforms such as oddschecker for a title win next season. Exactly what progress has been made this season is a huge cause for debate. Is it two steps forward and one back, or two forward and three back?

It was an odd start to the season, but that was always going to be the case. It wasn’t just the fact that there was a new man in the dugout; it was the fact that this man had a remit to undertake a root and branch transformation of the team and the squad. Not just the personnel, but its ethos and its mentality.

After the capitulation at Brentford, however, there were many already writing off the ten Hag era. That was followed by a four-game winning streak, with admittedly routine wins over Southampton and Leicester bookended by ones against Liverpool and Arsenal. An Arsenal team, don’t forget, who were enjoying their best-ever start to a Premier League season.

Suddenly everything was okay in the Old Trafford camp in the eyes of the reactionaries with their knee-jerk opinions. Then came the game at the Etihad. United shipped six goals and everything was back to square one.

Once again the team rallied. Going into the World Cup break, they had put together a fairly solid run of games in the league taking them up to fifth in the EPL, as well as progressing in the EFL cup and the Europa League.

Just as importantly, there were signs of what a ten Hag team would look like. The players were not just buying into that vision, but were almost, to a man, better than the same players of 12 months earlier.

A manager’s quality is not just about the tactics employed on the pitch. He will be judged by, and will only find success with, his ability to improve the raw materials at his disposal, i.e., the players. There is little doubt that almost every member of the team has gone forwards under his stewardship. Marcus Rashford, Diogo Dalot, Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are five in particular who have improved hugely under the Dutchman. 

The post World Cup period could not have gone much better, with four league wins, including the game against City. Those games saw a yield of nine goals, with just one conceded. That period also saw further progress in cup competitions.

Again, expectations rose. The team had clicked. United were back.

Late February was even better, with flashes of great United teams from the past as the current team started winning trophies, albeit of a lower calibre than back then. The two-leg victory over Barcelona followed, as did a win over a resurgent Newcastle in the EFL Cup, and a routine brushing aside of West Ham in the FA Cup.

Then, of course, just as there was even talk of a late push for the title, came the game against Liverpool. The 7-0 scoreline may have flattered Klopp’s men, but even so, it was a sanity check, and evidence that United were far from the finished article. The surrendering of the lead in Seville and the subsequent exit from the Europa League confirmed that. But is that really any surprise? They were victims of achieving too much too soon, with a team still in transition.

To answer the question we opened with: yes, there has definitely been progress. Erik ten Hag certainly looks like the man every United fan hoped he would be. There just needs to be a small sprinkling of level-headedness and feet-on-the-ground thinking. This club allowed itself to get left behind. Arsenal have shown that the gap from the chasing pack to those at the top is not as insurmountable as some pundits would have people believe.

With one trophy already in the bag, a Champions League place all but secured, and an FA Cup Final trip coming up, it is hard to argue that the club is on anything other than an upward trajectory.

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