LONDON (AFP) – Manchester United have missed out on the top four in four of the six seasons since Alex Ferguson stepped down and fans are coming to terms with their current status as Premier League also-rans.
Here, AFP Sport looks at whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can make United contenders again for the first time since their last Premier League title in 2012-13 or whether they are facing another season of turmoil and pain.
What to expect
It is difficult to know what to expect from Solskjaer’s United, who enjoyed a purple patch after the Norwegian replaced Jose Mourinho but slumped alarmingly towards the end of last season.
At one stage they looked likely to finish in the top four but there was the suspicion they were getting the rub of the green and so it proved.
Their campaign ended with a whimper as they drew 1-1 at relegated Huddersfield and then were beaten 2-0 at home on the final day by Cardiff, who were also heading out of the Premier League.
A gap of 32 points to champions Manchester City was embarrassing and many questioned whether the club had been too hasty in appointing the relatively inexperienced Solskjaer to the full-time manager’s post.
United will not have Champions League football to paper over the cracks during the coming season, with Thursday nights in the Europa League ringed in the calendar instead.
The club have had a positive pre-season but there are still lingering issues that need to be addressed – Paul Pogba’s future is still in doubt and Solskjaer has to wrestle with the conundrum of an under-performing Alexis Sanchez.
United had problems at both ends of the pitch last season – scoring 30 goals fewer than City in the Premier League and conceding 54 goals, the most they had conceded in a league season since 1978-79.
The 20-time champions desperately need a positive start to rebuild confidence that they can challenge at the sharp end of the Premier League.
Anything less and the knives could be out for Solskjaer.
After a leaky defence played a key role in United’s struggles last season, Solskjaer made it clear he wanted Leicester’s Harry Maguire to plug the holes.
The England centre-back is reportedly on the verge of becoming the world’s most expensive defender, with United said to have agreed an GBP80 million fee to land Maguire.
But have they signed enough faces to boost a squad that looked short of class compared with Manchester City and Liverpool last season?
Highly rated right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka has joined from Crystal Palace, with Solskjaer describing the 21-year-old as “one of the best upcoming defenders in the Premier League”.
Winger Daniel James was bought from Championship club Swansea to add thrust on the flanks.