But we have weaknesses at both centre back and centre mid, as well as a lack of real starting level quality at right back and right midfield. None of that was addressed in the summer. We did add much needed pace (Gray) to play on the left, and a solid squad player (Townsend) to fill in at right mid, but we’re still four players short of a truly competitive first eleven. And that’s before you get to the still bloated (and still mostly shite) squad options.
In the meantime, we’ve lost what little attacking midfield goal threat we had (James and Sigurdsson). There’s few goals in this team at the best of times; those two - if fully fit over a season - would be worth 15-20 goals between them.
United, on the other hand, added Ronaldo, Sancho and Varane this summer to an already exceptionally strong squad. As I say, my benchmark is not that level. But neither should it be Norwich, Watford, Burnley et al, either (altho when we’re missing key players like we were today, when we’re already four players off of a competitive starting eleven, I’m fine with us eking out the occasional result).
Again, for me, we’re in that mid pack with Villa, Spurs, Arsenal, Leicester, West Ham, maybe Leeds. Those are the games I’m comparing us in. But I’m happy to see us play smarter, more cohesive football than we have done in years - even if it’s not at Martinez’s (rare) scintillating finest, there have been more enjoyable watches than most of last season AND we’re actually getting results (vs playing truly dour football and still losing).
I said at the start of the season we’ll be a 9th-12th placed team based on the holes we didn’t fix in the starting eleven and the almost complete lack of backup in reserve. I still think that’s our likely ceiling/floor but we’re doing a better job of putting away the dross in the division than we have in years so I’m happy that Benitez is, at least, addressing that underperformance. I can’t see it getting much better without (much) better recruitment than we’ve seen over most of the last seven+ years but it’s a start and suggests we finally have a manager who’ll at least get the sum out of the parts at our disposal.