It’s been an interesting season for Manchester United so far this year, with many ups and downs plotted throughout.
They started the Premier League season, but currently sit in second place behind Liverpool only on goal difference having played a game less. They started their Champions League campaign with three wins from four games, needing a point to qualify for the next round. However they’ll now face Real Sociedad in the Europa League round of 32 having lost their final two games.
Their domestic cup form has been good though, with the Reds defeating Luton, Brighton and Everton without conceding a goal to set up a semi-final clash against local rivals Manchester City.
The two clubs met in the semi-finals of last season’s tournament, with both teams winning away from home as Pep Guardiola’s side ultimately progressed 3-2 on aggregate. They went on to win the competition for a third time in a row, showing how much Guardiola covets silverware no matter what form it comes in.
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That is something that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to instil in his team, after falling short on several occasions last season. In addition to the semi-final loss to Man City, the Reds were also beaten by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and by Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final last season.
Those results showed good quality in the squad, but ultimately showed they were still short of the level that they aspire to be at.
In the summer Solskjaer invested money in bringing in players who have won trophies before. Donny Van de Beek has won the Eredivisie and Dutch Cup, Alex Telles has won the Turkish Super Lig and Turkish Cup, as well as the Portuguese Primer League twice and Portuguese cup, while Edinson Cavani has won the Coppa Italia with Napoli, the Ligue 1 title six times with PSG and 11 other domestic cups with the French side.
All of these go hand in hand with other winners in the squad. David De Gea won the Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson, Nemanja Matic has won the Premier League twice with Chelsea, Fred has won the Ukrainian league with Shakhtar, Victor Lindelof won leagues and cups with Benfica, Juan Mata won the Champions League with Chelsea and Paul Pogba has won several leagues and cups with Juventus as well as winning the World Cup with France.
Even more of the squad won trophies under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, while the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial even won the FA Cup under Louis van Gaal. There are winners in the squad.
But together, as a team, they haven’t got there yet. Winning a trophy is the first step in building a winning mentality amongst a squad, regardless of how many trophies the players have won elsewhere.
You need to build an atmosphere where winning is everything. Bruno Fernandes has spoken about it in recent weeks, while the likes of Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have also said that trophies are the end goal.
There is more than local pride at stake when these two sides meet in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup. For Guardiola, it’s another chance to add silverware to already glittering career CV. But for Solskjaer it’s about overcoming that mental hurdle.
It’s not only to show the players that they are good enough to compete with the best teams in Europe at the business end of competitions, but also to show that there is progress being made.
Defeats happen and they won’t make it to every cup final every year, but when they get into these scenarios they need to take advantage of them. There’s no better time than now.