Solskjaer and Lampard rewarded for keeping faith in youth
Manchester United and Chelsea confirmed their places in the 2020/21 Champions League with victories on the final day of the league season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard end their first full Premier League seasons at their respective clubs with Champions League qualification as they confirm top four finishes on the final afternoon. Both sides have had inconsistent seasons but wins against tough opposition on the last day vindicate the bosses’ faith in young players.
Manchester United and Chelsea have had the two youngest squads in the league (based on average age) as their managers look to build a new team to complete with Liverpool and Manchester City at the top. As an elongated 352-game season finally draws to a close, it seems that decision has paid off.
United’s first-choice front three of Anthony Martial (24-years-old), Marcus Rashford (22) and Mason Greenwood (18) have all beaten their best previous goal-scoring seasons and appear to be thriving under the guidance of Solskjaer. Martial and Rashford have both scored 22 in all competitions while Greenwood has got 17 in a brilliant break-through season.
The quality of that young forward line has be a crucial part of United’s success since the restart and Solskjaer told reporters after the game that they have been influenced by the great players in the club’s past:
“The players now are learning what the other players through history have been through. We've been doing well before as well, having setbacks and having to come back. But say, for example, Marcus [Rashford] or Mason [Greenwood], they've been in the academy for so many years, they've seen so many players having done this before them, so it's a great learning [curve] for them."
For Chelsea, 21-year-old Mason Mount has played more minutes than any other player this season and it was his pin-point free-kick that opened the scoring against Wolverhampton Wanderers today. He was one of three players aged 21 or under to start the crucial game, along with Reece James and Christian Pulisic, while 19-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi made an appearance off the bench.
Speaking after the game, Lampard made clear that bringing through young talent was a key part of his new-look Chelsea side:
“When we first came in we maybe weren’t considered there but what we’ve done this season is take the opportunity to bring in the younger players and improve the existing players.
"Myself and the staff want to improve every time, the challenge now is to see what more we can do next season."
Disappointing 2020 costs the Foxes dearly
Leicester City were the unlucky team to miss out on Champions League football after a poor run of form in the second half of the season. The Foxes began the New Year in second place, 14 points clear of Manchester United in fifth, and looking a certainty for a top four finish.
But in the second half of the season they have picked up just 23 points from 19 games to end the campaign four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. During that spell, the Foxes picked up as many wins (six) as relegated Watford.
Before the game against Manchester United, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers admitted that there would be “disappointment” if his side could not secure a Champions League place. Speaking after the match he called on his players to learn from this season and come back stronger next year:
“The players will learn from this experience this year having been up there. But it’s the ambition and mentality and consistency that allows you to arrive there after 38 games, and that’s something that hopefully we’ll improve on next season.”