Manchester United are showing clear signs of progress under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, said executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward after the club's latest financial results were announced.
United revealed their second-quarter fiscal 2021 results on Thursday, with debt up 16 per cent to £455.5m following 12 months of the coronavirus pandemic.
United are second in the Premier League and in a strong position to qualify for next season's Champions League, but trail leaders Manchester City, who they play on Sunday - live on Sky Sports - by 14 points.
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They have also progressed into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and reached the last 16 in the Europa League after they exited the Champions League in the group stage.
Woodward says it has been an "extraordinarily challenging 12 months for football and society as a whole" but is optimistic about the club's prospects going forward because of the "rapid rollout of vaccines in the UK".
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"While the disruption to our operations remains significant, we are pleased by the tremendous resilience the club has demonstrated through the pandemic, underpinned by the dedication of our people and the strength of our commercial business," said Woodward.
"We have been reminded of the importance of football as a source of community, entertainment and pride to fans around the world, even as we have sorely missed them at Old Trafford.
"The progress made by Ole and the players this season is clear and our thriving Academy and Women's team are also adding to the optimism we feel about the future on and off the pitch."
United's revenue was down 7.2 per cent year-on-year to £281.8m with profit dropping by 6.9 per cent to £33.8m.
A return to the Champions League, albeit only for the group stage, saw broadcasting revenue up to £156.3m, an increase of 60.1 per cent.
Key points of Man Utd's financial results
- Staggered return of fans in the UK expected from May as lockdown measures ease; UK vaccination program expected to offer first dose to all eligible adults by 31 July
- Men’s squad strengthened by the addition of Amad Diallo and the women’s team by Norwegian international Maria Thorisdottir
- Mason Greenwood signed a new contract to 2025, with option to extend for an additional year
- Increased digital engagement, both sequentially and year over year, drove record-breaking Club e-commerce sales of all three 2020/21 men’s kits
- Club’s November launch on TikTok achieved the fastest growing following of any football club on the platform
Commercial revenue was down 19.1 per cent to £122.3m and with matches played behind closed doors since last March, matchday revenue dropped from £55.2m to £3.2m.
United's penultimate match of the season, at home to Fulham on May 15, could host fans and Woodward is excited about the return of supporters to Old Trafford.
Gary Neville says Manchester United are "sleepwalking" into a top-four fight after their stuttering form continued with a goalless draw against Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side produced a poor performance at Selhurst Park, only mustering one shot on target and missing the chance to open up a three-point gap on third-placed Leicester.
United were top of the league in January but they have only won two of their last eight Premier League games, falling 14 points behind Manchester City, who they face at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Neville was disappointed by their "boring" performance against Crystal Palace and feels they are putting themselves at risk of falling out of the top four.
"We know the fans aren't in the stadium, we know there's been a lot of football, but they did look really lethargic tonight and well off it," said the Sky Sports pundit. "The body language just looked really drained.
"I thought that progress had been made in the last few weeks and that they would cement that second place by picking up three points at places like Crystal Palace and against Sheffield United and West Brom, but they are now making it really hard for themselves.
"If you were Liverpool or Chelsea watching that tonight you'd be thinking, 'we're in with a right chance because they look leggy'.
"Manchester United have got to find something from somewhere.
"There was no urgency at the end of the game. You expected United to be throwing everything at it. You expected maybe some of the young lads to come on and do something to try and win the game, take a chance, take a risk, but there was almost a fear that maybe Crystal Palace would go and counter attack.
"It wasn't a good night for United. You can't have too many performances like that."