Yet the 0-0 draw at West Ham on Thursday which confirmed their runners-up spot in the Premier League was just the latest example as to why there are serious concerns over the direction in which Jose Mourinho is taking this United side.
The drab affair at London Stadium featured a baffling striker-less starting line-up for the visitors, with Mourinho reacting to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford’s under-par performances against Brighton last week by banishing both in favour of Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard. Sometimes it feels as though Mourinho’s primary concern when selecting his XI is whatever point he wants to prove.
The Portuguese fired a broadside at critics of his treatment of Martial and Rashford after the 1-0 loss to Brighton for which Romelu Lukaku was injured. “’Why always Lukaku, why always Lukaku, why always Lukaku?’ You have the answer,” he blasted. But while he was right to review their performances at the Amex negatively, there seemed little justification for leaving them both out on an evening when each would surely have felt a greater desire than ever to make it up to their manager.
Mourinho’s belligerence has provided a negative undercurrent in what has, on the whole, been a positive season. Following finishes of seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth post-Sir Alex Ferguson, the second-place finish they have achieved this term is a vast improvement. But until they build on this and become true contenders for the title there will remain some distrust from the fans in the manner in which it has been acquired.
United supporters want to see stylish football first and foremost. They want Manchester United matches – win, lose or draw – to be occasions rather than torture sessions. Sure, their side have beaten every other team in the Premier League this season, but the losses against all three promoted clubs and results like Thursday’s at West Ham have in many ways summed up Jose’s United more than their achievements.
Furthermore, no side has played out more goalless draws - 19 - than United since Ferguson hung up his hairdryer. United matches are more ordeals than occasions nowadays.
The whimpering Champions League exit to Sevilla has hardly helped the relationship between boss and fans, casting a pall over their season. It wasn’t the loss in itself, but Mourinho’s refusal to attack the Spaniards and his decision to deride his club’s European record afterwards might never be forgiven.
Simply put, only winning will do next year. There needs to be no more results like the ones at Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton. No more selections devoid of attacking intent. No more performances which have United fans scratching their heads. Only unity in a single cause, and that being a concerted bid for a Premier League title.
They will finish at least 16 points behind Manchester City in 2017-18, and on Thursday’s evidence they remain just as far off City’s level as they have been all season. That needs to change going forward, and while an FA Cup triumph next week would keep the silverware quota ticking over it is in the bread and butter of the league campaign where United need to show more progress. Going without a striker in your line-up away to West Ham is not the approach of potential champions.
So United’s end-of-term review tells us that significant progress has been made, but there is a big ‘must do better’ in the comments box ahead of their next Premier League exam.