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Ole has got United back in big time

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Paul Pogba has been playing well again thanks to addition of Bruno Fernandes

Paul Pogba has been playing well again thanks to addition of Bruno Fernandes

REUTERS

Paul Pogba has been playing well again thanks to addition of Bruno Fernandes

When Manchester United were at their peak, it would have been seen as a failure of a season if they just about qualified for the Champions League and the only trophy they won was the Uefa Cup.

In fact, I don't think United had a season like that for most of the time I was playing against them.

Now they have a chance to win the Europa League - if they can get past Sevilla tomorrow night - and if they do that, the season will have been a success for them.

Things go in cycles: who thought Liverpool would win all those leagues in the 1970s and '80s and then have to wait 30 years without one?

United have been through a spell of not winning things, of changing the manager regularly and wasting money on players. So to come out of that period and be close to challenging for titles again - and I feel they can challenge next season if they improve the squad - is significant.

Unacceptable

Fifteen years ago, a season like this one would have been unacceptable to United supporters, but given what they have been through in the last five years, what's happening now looks like a major improvement.

Earlier this season I was quite critical of United. I felt the manager wasn't really improving the players, that he wasn't making them better as individuals or as a team. But there are signs now that they have come together as a unit. Those players have also progressed individually and that makes them look like a better team.

Since Bruno Fernandes came in, they have looked different. A lot of things have come together since he arrived.

Credit

And credit must go to the manager for the shape they are in now. He was being criticised at various stages of the season, some people were calling for a change at the top, but to the club's credit they stuck with him and now they are getting the rewards.

The main reason for this good form, and success, is that the manager found a formation that works for the team. One problem they had since the restart was that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started to think that United had a really good squad.

They don't. They have 11 or 12 players who are playing well and when he changes it around, they suffer.

Solskjaer did that for the FA Cup semi-final. He changed the team and they went back to their old ways, very slow, unconvincing and not at all exciting. They were found out by Chelsea, who comfortably beat them on the day.

Composed

But once United played the way then can, with Fernandes, Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, they looked brilliant and seem very strong going forward, while Pogba and Matic look composed in the middle. It looks like they will have a strong finish to the season and they can, of course, win the Europa League.

What United suffered with before, and what was often their downfall, was the chopping and changing of the team.

One week Martial was centre forward, but the next week it was Rashford, then back to Martial.

And they were switching wings. They were using Daniel James on the right and while he is a quick player and very enthusiastic, he is not capable of making the difference that wins a game in the Premier League or in Europe. Not yet anyway.

Greenwood has made a difference and he has scored goals. But the signing of Fernandes has been the real turning point. I see him as the factor that linked all the different units in the team.

Before Fernandes came, I'd look at the United midfield, see the likes of Pogba, Matic and Fred and see them as a bit of nothing, really. They were all trying to do different jobs but not doing them well.

Fernandes has come in as the No. 10, Pogba does the box to box stuff and Matic sits in. It all works well.

Gel

It has taken time. The manager will say this was his plan all along and it's just taken time to gel, but here they are, one game away from a European final.

But United need to improve on how they played in midweek against Copenhagen if they are to beat Sevilla, and you can't ignore the fact that Sevilla have a great track record in the Europa League, they know how to win it.

So United will have to play at a higher tempo. They'll have to play the way they played in the last few Premier League games. In those matches they eased off the brakes and went forward, took chances and exposed the other teams defensively.

They have so much in them going forward, with those attacking players on form, that they can score four or five in a game. They didn't show that against Copenhagen and they'll need to raise their standards to win this one.

Sevilla had so much possession in the quarter final against Wolves (and Wolves are a decent side), and Sevilla will see United as a big scalp for them. They'll feel this is 'their' tournament and their trophy so tomorrow will be a hard for United who will have long spells without the ball. That's when they have to work hard.

United have to make the most of their opportunities - which they didn't do against Copenhagen - and be a lot smarter defensively as Sevilla can punish any mistakes.

United are not a million miles away from challenging for the Premier League next season.

Competed

The United sides I competed against in the late 1990s and the 2000s was built on a young team. They had a core which they added to with a player here and there. They knew what they needed at certain times and then brought that player in.

United haven't had a core in their team for a long, long time. But that front four they have now, that can be the core they can build around.