Taking the long view, United have had a season of modest progress.
They have gone from sixth in the Premier League in his first half-season in charge, to third last term and second this time around.
In 2019-20 they ended up 33 points behind champions Liverpool and 15 behind runners-up Manchester City; this season they were 12 points off City at the top of the table and five ahead of Liverpool in third.
They also reached the first major final of Solskajer’s tenure as manager.
Unfortunately for him, they lost. Not only that, they were beaten by a Villarreal side with the odds stacked heavily against them and, despite their opponents’ limitations, they failed to make much of an impression on the game.
Inevitably, that means that Geronimo Rulli pushing David de Gea’s penalty round the post will be the defining image of the season. When fans think back on this campaign, they are less likely to recall the slow, steady improvement than they are the final, climactic failure.
Then there’s the fact that, at a club like United, second will never be enough.
Solskjaer has said as much himself, telling a press conference only last month: “We should never settle for second place at Manchester United and we will never settle for second place.”
Throw in the turmoil off the pitch and it’s hard to frame this season as a complete success.
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There were bright moments, not least the 2-0 win against City at the Etihad, the 6-2 win against old rivals Leeds and the fleeting spell in January where United were top of the table.
There were also dark days, Europa League final aside: the 6-1 thrashing by Tottenham at Old Trafford, their early exit from the Champions League and the 2-1 loss to rock-bottom Sheffield United which killed their momentum in the title race.
Now that the season’s over, it’s time to assess.
Note: Only players who made more than five appearances in all competitions will be rated and slated – ruling out the likes of Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Elanga.
Other than that, here are our Manchester United player ratings for the 2020-21 season.
David de Gea
He had the misfortune of being the man to miss the decisive penalty against Villarreal which, even if he is a goalkeeper, has to go down as a blemish on his season.
He also failed to stop any of their 11 spot kicks, which has brought renewed scrutiny on his unimpressive penalty-saving record.
Even before that, it hadn’t been the best campaign for De Gea. He lost his Premier League starting spot to Dean Henderson after going on paternity leave in March and, despite briefly regaining it, he is now being linked with a move away from Old Trafford.
It would be a low-key end to a 10-year spell at the club in which he has won the Premier League, Europa League and both domestic cups. He may not have been at the top of his game this season, but that shouldn’t detract from a decade in which he has so often saved United singlehandedly.
Despite a couple of mistakes, Henderson impressed in the domestic cups and Europa League earlier in the season to the extent that there were calls for him to replace De Gea sooner than he did.
He ends the campaign with 12 clean sheets in 26 appearances in all competitions, the same number as De Gea tallied in 36.
When he got his chance in the Premier League from March onwards he did fairly well, but he was let down by his performance in the 4-2 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford.
That saw De Gea start the Europa League final which, given how it ended, must have been galling for Henderson. There’s a platform for him to build on next season but plenty more to do and, with Tom Heaton set to arrive on a free transfer, there will be intense competition next season whether or not De Gea moves on.
He didn’t feature in the 6-1 defeat to Spurs, which has to go in his favour, but Lindelof still flatters to deceive at times.
He did manage to establish himself as first choice in the centre of defence alongside Harry Maguire, though he was helped by Eric Bailly’s injury woes.
There’s a reason that United are being linked with a centre-back going into the summer, however, with Maguire head and shoulders above him.
Maguire’s absence towards the end of the season showed just how important he is to United’s defence, while Lindelof’s showing in the Europa League final – where he lost Gerard Moreno for Villarreal’s opener – was a harsh reminder of his shortcomings.
It’s been another injury-hit season for Bailly, who has been ridiculously unlucky with his fitness.
Having picked up a muscle tear which kept him out for over a month in the autumn, a series of knocks disrupted his momentum before he tested positive for coronavirus after going on international duty with the Ivory Coast in March.
Having started alongside Maguire in the 6-1 defeat to Spurs, he had few chances to redeem himself until a decent run of games across the winter months. At one stage he was in promising form, but his injuries made it hard to maintain the necessary rhythm.
He ends the season with only 21 appearances to his name and, while he signed a new contract in April, he will need better luck next season if he’s going to finally fulfil his potential.
Fiercely criticised after the defeat to Spurs and again when United went out of the Champions League at the group stage thanks to a 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig, Maguire went on to be one of Solskjaer’s most reliable performers over the course of the season.
He may have his limitations – his occasional unwieldiness, most notably – but he rediscovered his confidence as the campaign went on and ended up with 52 appearances to his name.
The ankle injury he picked up against Aston Villa arguably derailed United’s season, with the team conceding nine goals from their last five games without him.
If United manage to recruit a similarly influential centre-back to play alongside him, they could have a formidable defence next term.
In his seventh season with United, Shaw finally delivered on the immense promise he showed as a teenager at Southampton.
He was consistently excellent over the course of the campaign, proving his mettle in defence while contributing one goal and six assists in all competitions.
His teammates recognised his all-round contribution by voting him Players’ Player of the Year ahead of Bruno Fernandes, which says it all really.
Included in Gareth Southgate’s provisional 33-man squad for Euro 2020, he could be one of England’s most important players at the tournament.
Though nobody would envy him having to compete with Shaw, it just didn’t happen for Telles in his first season in England.
While he managed to make 24 appearances in all competitions, he was very much a second-string player and rarely threatened to make the left-back position his own.
He did chip in with a couple of assists in the Premier League which, given that he only featured nine times in the competition, is a passable return.
He will have his work cut out for him dislodging Shaw next term. Assuming he’s still at the club , that is.
He may not be quite as dynamic as Shaw going forwards, but Wan-Bissaka had another strong season at right-back.
He ended the campaign near the top of the charts for tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, while he also got two goals and a smattering of assists.
Still only 23, he has a bright future ahead of him if he continues to develop the attacking side of his game.
He won’t be going to the Euros, though, with Southgate spoilt for choice at right-back and choosing Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Reece James ahead of him.
It’s been a disappointing season for Williams, who showed so much promise last year but has got fewer opportunities this term.
He finishes this campaign with 14 appearances to his name, only five of which have been starts.
While Southampton and Newcastle were said to be interested in taking him on loan in January, Solskjaer ultimately decided to keep him with the squad.
He could do with a temporary switch next season to get his development back on track.
Despite a standout showing in his first game of the season against Paris Saint-Germain, Tuanzebe also got fewer opportunities than he would have liked.
He struggled as United lost 2-1 to Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League group stage not long afterwards and, with Maguire, Lindelof and Bailly ahead of him, he only made four Premier League starts.
He didn’t do too much wrong and some felt that he should have started the Europa League final, but instead he was a late substitute for Bailly. He scored his penalty and, while it may have been a brief cameo, it was hard to fault him.
Ah, the enigma that is Paul Pogba.
Peripheral during the first few months of the campaign, he cut a frustrated figure and, come December, his agent Mino Raiola made it clear that he was unhappy at the club. It’s not often that a player comes back from such an incendiary intervention and, as such, it looked like he was on the verge of an exit.
Surprisingly, in the aftermath, Pogba’s form started to pick up. In January, he scored one of the goals of the season against Fulham at Craven Cottage, while in March he scored the winner against AC Milan at San Siro in the Europa League round of 16.
While he’s often played out wide on the left, Pogba has ended the season with 42 appearances under his belt and a handful of impressive performances. He may not have reached the heights that United expected when they re-signed him from Juventus five years ago and his future is still uncertain, but his season was much better than the omens suggested it would be.
If this was his last season at Old Trafford, then Mata will leave with his head held high.
His numbers may have trailed off as he’s entered his thirties, but his creative vision and technical skill remain in abundance.
Mata’s mother Marta Garcia died earlier this year and he has admitted that this has been “the most difficult season in my life”.
While he only made 18 appearances in all competitions and was used primarily as a substitute towards the end of the campaign, he did his bit. He is out of contract this summer and, assuming nothing changes, he will depart as a well respected member of the team.
He may have formed a solid partnership alongside Scott McTominay in the deep midfield, but Fred remains a highly understated footballer.
Having scored only once this season, only Nemanja Matic has been less productive among United’s regular starters in the middle of the park.
By comparison, McTominay has seven goals despite also playing at the base of midfield.
While there’s no faulting his energy and work rate, it still feels like he needs to be more conspicuous. He’s never going to be United’s creative hub, but he could still be more enterprising than he is.
It’s hard to criticise Bruno Fernandes after the performances he’s produced this season.
With 28 goals in all competitions, he broke Frank Lampard’s midfield goalscoring record earlier this month and deservedly won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award – as voted for by the fans – for the second year running.
While he slowed down a little towards the end of the campaign and couldn’t change the outcome of the Europa League final, he’s done his absolute utmost this term.
If he maintains his standards next season, he will cement his status as United’s best signing since the Ferguson era.
Given that he’s 18 and only arrived in January, Diallo can be happy enough with his first half-season in England.
His eight appearances to date have been promising, even if several have been late cameos.
The highlight of his debut campaign came against Milan at Old Trafford, when he scored a beautiful glancing header after running onto Fernandes’ inch-perfect ball over the top.
Having made a good first impression, he has put himself in a strong position to kick on next term.
After a whirlwind start to life at United, James has found it slow going this season.
Despite a spate of goals across the winter months, he has made only 26 appearances in all competitions compared to 46 last term.
With Diallo’s arrival, there is even more competition out wide and, if United manage to sign Jadon Sancho , James may find himself increasingly marginalised.
When he comes back from the Euros with Wales this summer, he should be able to make a clearer assessment of the situation.
Now 32 years of age, there’s little doubt that Matic’s influence has diminished this season.
He has made only 12 starts in the Premier League, with a further eight substitute appearances. While he’s still a diligent custodian in the deep midfield, he is not as sharp as he once was.
An unused substitute in the Europa League final, he may have to get used to playing a supporting role next term.
He has been touted for a reunion with Jose Mourinho at Roma but, according to reports in Italy, that may be a non-starter on account of his salary.
Donny van de Beek
When he joined United from Ajax last summer to great fanfare, Van de Beek must have had high hopes for his debut season.
Those hopes have been frustrated, with the Dutch international failing to force his way into the starting line-up.
While it’s difficult to make an instant impression amid long spells on the bench, Van de Beek has often been quiet when he has made it onto the pitch.
All in all, it’s been an unfortunate start to life at Old Trafford. “I wouldn’t say that Donny is happy,” Solskjaer admitted in January. It’s little wonder, really.
There’s plenty he can add to his game, but McTominay deserves plaudits for his performances this term.
With seven goals, including a well taken brace against Leeds, he has had the most productive season of his career and shown that he’s attuned to his attacking instincts as well as diligent in his defensive duties.
Generally solid alongside Fred in the deep midfield, he has shown that he is the more versatile of the two.
He played his heart out in the Europa League final, with Solskjaer calling him “the best player on the pitch”.
Cavani made a relatively slow start at United, scoring five goals from his first 20 outings.
Already 33 years of age when he arrived at the club, his signing on deadline day was seen by many as a high-stakes gamble.
That gamble paid off in a big way towards the end of the season, with Cavani hitting his stride in the spring and scoring 10 goals in his last 11 appearances.
He did his best against Villarreal, scoring United’s only goal of the game before tucking away his penalty in the shoot-out. He certainly deserves his one-year contract extension, though he will be disappointed in his first trophyless season since leaving Napoli in 2013.
After the best season of his career last time out, Martial hasn’t had much joy this term.
Sent off in the 6-1 defeat to Spurs, he had four goals by the turn of the year. He ended the season with seven in total, the worst return of his time in England, though he did also get nine assists.
Displaced up front by Cavani, Martial did little to show that he deserved to get his place back or could dislodge Marcus Rashford out wide on a permanent basis.
It wouldn’t be a surprise were he to move on this summer, which might help United to secure one of their main transfer targets .
On the receiving end of grotesque racist abuse after the Europa League final, Rashford’s performance now feels immaterial.
“For those working to make me feel any worse than I already do, good luck trying,” he tweeted.
In a statement addressing the abuse he wrote: “I’d be the first to say I’ve struggled this season. It’s not about commitment, dedication or ability. The reality is, I’ve had physical obstacles that I’ve had to overcome and that I’m still managing.” He still scored 21 goals and registered 15 assists in all competitions across a punishing schedule, making 57 appearances in total.
It may not have been the best season of his career, by his own admission, but he still gave it absolutely everything. He remains an example to others, on and off the pitch.
Playing predominantly on the right of the front three, Greenwood had another groundbreaking season.
To make 52 appearances, scoring 12 goals, in all competitions while still a teenager is no mean feat.
While it will be interesting to see where he fits in if United sign Sancho, he should still play a starring role next term.
Having made Southgate’s provisional squad for the Euros, he will be hoping for a similarly momentous summer with England.