On the eve of Manchester United’s final Premier League game of the season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer offered an insight into the relentless nature of life at an elite-level football club.
Solskjaer has guided United forward this season, up one place and eight points in the Premier League and into a European final, albeit one that ended in bitter disappointment.
But in the most competitive league in the world the moment you take your eye off the ball can be the start of a rapid descent. United have enjoyed two years of progress under Solskjaer but that doesn’t guarantee a third in 2021/22.
“The fear of standing still or going backwards is always there, you would do that if you don’t improve,” Solskjaer said ahead of the trip to Wolves.
The Norwegian touched on the two most obvious ways that improvement can arrive. Through work on the training ground or in the transfer market and it is the latter that feels essential this summer.
It already feels like just finishing second again in next season’s Premier League is going to be a huge challenge. There’s certainly an argument to be had that winning the Premier League might actually be harder than winning the Champions League next season.
The leading sides in La Liga and Serie A are as weak as they’ve been for quite a while and aside from the four entrants from England, only Bayern Munich and maybe Paris Saint-Germain can get close to the level of the Premier League sides.
There was evidence of that on Saturday when Manchester City and Chelsea contested what was a high-quality Champions League final. City swept aside PSG in the last four, winning 4-1 on aggregate, while Chelsea beat Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid with ease on their way to Porto.
Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel look well placed to challenge at the top of the Premier League again next season. Three wins over Pep Guardiola’s City in six weeks have served notice of their intentions and another bumper transfer window can only edge them closer to the top of the league.
City, United and Chelsea will also expect a renewed effort from Liverpool next season, with Virgil van Dijk back fit and a new centre-back already acquired. Those four sides are probably among the best six or seven in Europe at the moment, which shows just how demanding the Premier League will be next term.
Sign up to get even more from our Man United coverage
We want your views, Reds. You can become even more involved with our Man United coverage by signing up. This will unlock a whole host of things – including joining the comments and taking part in our special Q&As, where you can speak directly to our reporters about what’s happening at Old Trafford this week and beyond.
That makes Solskjaer’s concerns about standing still all the more relevant. This is a vital transfer window for United and given the level of competition in the Premier League it’s one they simply cannot afford to get wrong.
There’s a dream scenario this window which United are almost certainly not going to achieve, involving major new additions at centre back, centre midfield and right-wing, but a new defender and a new winger should be achievable. Harry Kane would be a fantasy window rather than a dream.
If United could sign a couple of players of the calibre of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, their top targets at centre back and right-wing, then that will strengthen Solskjaer’s squad.
The manager will be flush with a new contract himself heading into next season, but he will know that doesn’t afford him the opportunity to stand still. This is an era of Premier League domination in Europe and it makes winning domestically that much harder. The quality in the Premier League is as high as it’s been for a long time.
If United manage to hang on to second place next season, or even climb to top spot, then that will be a success. But to do that they have to make a success of this summer transfer window.