The Premier League season is finally over, but the new campaign is already less than seven weeks away, and having seen Manchester United and Chelsea secure top four finishes, Gary Neville has now urged both managers to be ruthless in their preparations.
At one point, the prospect of Champions League football returning to Old Trafford any time soon looked like nothing more than a fantasy, though a 14 game unbeaten streak to end the season saw the Red Devils remarkably finish third.
Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville admitted that Sunday’s victory over fifth-placed Leicester gives United ‘an element of peace’ and ‘stability’, likening Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season at United to those experienced by Jurgen Klopp when he took over at Liverpool.
🗣 "All the predictions were 6th or 7th. "
Ole on proving critics wrong after finishing 3rd pic.twitter.com/8qjMUWXHqz
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) July 27, 2020
“Qualifying for the Champions League means a lot to Manchester United because it gives them a period of stability,” Neville told Sky Sports. “If they hadn’t finished in the top four there would have been big questions marks about the direction the club is going in, the manager.
“Finishing third in the league takes the weight off for a little while and tells everyone they are going in the right direction. I think they are going in the right direction, irrespective of what happened at Leicester.
“The only problem is that you need results to go with that, and, if they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League, all the work they had done in the last six weeks would have been forgotten about. That’s the nature of football.
“The reality is Leicester could have scored two goals, but they didn’t, and the reality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that he can talk about progression and heading in the right direction because the results are matching that progression.
“We know they are better, the performances are better, the fluidity and youth of the team is there and the recruitment has been better in the last 12 months. Paul Pogba is a big player for the club and looks more settled. Coronavirus means the big transfers that were potentially being mooted are gone.
“What Sunday gave Manchester United was an element of peace, at Manchester United you need peace sometimes to be able to grow. When Sir Alex Ferguson was building his dynasty, he needed to step up a rung on the ladder each year. In the first couple of years he struggled to do that but then he won an FA Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and got nearer to the league by finish second, there was that step.
“The same applied with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, who were struggling to get into the Champions League at all. He qualified for the Champions League, did it again, then got to a final, then won the Champions League. There was progression and you could see the direction the team was heading in.
“That’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed, he needed that result. Waking up on Sunday morning as a United fan I wasn’t nervous about getting into the Champions League, it’s better for them financially, of course, if they are in it and easier to attract players, but United can’t afford to spend if they are not in it.
“I was most nervous for Ole, and Frank Lampard for that matter, because of their development as young coaches because you know they are going to be judged on days like Sunday. People would say they couldn’t hack it, they weren’t good enough for the big time, they’ve not proved themselves, the team needs a more experienced coach.
“All of those things will have come Ole and Frank’s way had thing not gone their way on Sunday, but now they can just relax into their jobs. Not too much though, because next season will come around quickly.”
While both United and Chelsea achieved their aim of securing top four finishes, they still finished a long way adrift of league winners Liverpool and runners up Man City, and Neville urged both managers to be ‘ruthless’ with their squad’s and their respective boards, with both sides seemingly in need of defensive reinforcements.
“When Manchester United are reflecting on this season they should say ‘yes’ – recruitment is better, performances in the last part of the season are better, youth in the team is good,” Neville added.
“But when they ask the question whether they are at the quality they need to be, the answer is ‘no’. As a Manchester United fan, ex-player, pundit or commentator, they are still a long way off winning a title and they have to keep going in the right direction and push.
“When Liverpool got nearly there, they spent £150m on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. Manchester City invested £150m in full-backs when Guardiola didn’t win in his first season and a goalkeeper.
“Solskjaer needs to spend money, but not recklessly. There needs to be a right winger, there needs to be a challenge at centre-forward, at left-back, definitely at goalkeeper and they need a centre-back, a top centre-back who can bring that level of domination to a defence like Virgil van Dijk does at Liverpool, like Vincent Kompany did when Manchester City were winning titles.
"At Chelsea we have to be careful getting too excited with top 4⃣ finishes but coming into the job I don't think many people put us in that bracket."
Frank Lampard speaks to Sky Sports after securing Champions League football in his first season as a Premier League manager. 🔵 pic.twitter.com/Nttee1owsF
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) July 26, 2020
“If you look at every team that’s won titles, they all have dominant centre-backs and great goalkeepers – Alisson, Van Dijk, Vincent Kompany, Ederson, John Terry, Petr Cech, Jaap Stam, Steve Bruce, Peter Schmeichel, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell, David Seaman – and Manchester United need great centre-back and goalkeeper.
“I don’t think Harry Maguire hasn’t had a good season; I just think he needs a partner. That’s not being unfair on Victor Lindelof, who may need a partner as well. He and Maguire are both good defenders, but I think United need a centre-back as well.
“You’ve got to be ruthless, the best managers in the world are ruthless. Frank and Ole have got to be ruthless with their boards.”