The Red Devils are enjoying a flawless preseason: 4 games played, 4 games won; 9 goals scored, only 1 conceded. It could not have gone any better.
Manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer can be proud of the efforts the players have put in. The players clearly can’t wait to get the season started. But the fans are apprehensive and unhappy. Why?
Have the problems that so bedeviled the team last term been resolved or are these fine friendly wins merely glossing over huge holes that are still unplugged?
The 2018-19 season was one of the stinkiest seasons Manchester United fans have had to endure in a while and, truth be told, they have suffered a few since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
In summary: Jose Mourinho started the season as manager, the former ‘baby face assassin’ took over to see out a mediocre finish and United ended in sixth place.
That was the 4th time the biggest club in England would finish outside the top four in the last five years.
Something is certainly wrong somewhere and if it is not fixed, a repeat is guaranteed in the new season just around the corner.
So what is wrong?
There’s a giant-sized hole in Defence
David De Gea may have had a season to forget but he was not helped by a defence that was shambolic, all-over-the-place and rudderless at their best.
Manchester United are down 2-0 to Cardiff.
David De Gea has now conceded more goals this season than any other in his career. pic.twitter.com/ezjhw0Zs0l
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 12, 2019
Big teams, small sides got past United’s back five with relative ease. Barcelona got four goals past the Red Devils (on aggregate) and so did Everton.
— Jony Solo (@JonySolo3) April 17, 2019
Home and away, the Old Trafford giants leaked goals for fun, at one point conceding in 11 straight matches – their longest porous run in 20 years.
The only Premier League teams to have conceded more goals than Manchester United this season:
Cardiff – 16th
Huddersfield – 17th
Southampton – 18th
Burnley – 19th
Fulham – 20th
— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) December 5, 2018
At the end of the day, Man United had shipped more goals than every side in the EPL top ten bar West Ham, conceding more goals than in any other Premier League season.
There’s evidently a lack of coordination and organisation in the defence, which Ole must have been working on.
Equally as important, is the lack of class in United’s backline. No leader, no cicero, no one to bring the ball with elegance out of defence, especially whenever Victor Lindelof was absent.
Obviously, Solskjaer believes Leicester City’s Harry Maguire can help block that hole and has already demanded that the 26-year-old be signed even at a world-record fee.
That’s after 50 million had been shelled to acquire Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace. Surely, that should plug that gap, right?
Another yawning gap in midfield
United’s midfield is a mess. Pogba may have redeemed himself a bit by finishing as the club’s top goalscorer in the league as well as in all competitions, but the World Cup winner struggled to find any stretch of consistency.
But then there were several listless, lifeless, uninspiring performers all around him. Ander Herrera could have done better. Jesse Lingard often went into hiding mode. Matic looked totally out of his depth. And Fred confirmed his tag as an expensive flop.
This summer transfer window offered the Red Devils the best chance to move some of these players on and rebuild. But the club is rather handling them new contracts.
A manager’s tactics may lift a team of mediocre players in a game but over the course of 38 gruelling matches, there’s no chance. Except, of course, the manager is Sir Alex Ferguson. A manager whose shoelaces Solskjaer cannot even tie.
Real Madrid are rebuilding. So are Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, and Juventus – teams that have tasted success in recent times.
Yet United appear satisfied with the same set of players who have overseen the club’s first consecutive trophyless seasons in 30 years. The hole can only get bigger.
That monstrous chasm on the Technical Bench
Many have wondered what exactly is on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial CV that made him merit a job as big as the Man United one.
It made sentimental sense as a temporary, stop-gap solution for a fan favourite and club hero to step in after Jose Mourinho’s dismissal till the end of the season.
But someone high up in the boardroom got carried away after that unexpected victory in Paris and handed the Molde manager an incredulous three-year contract.
BREAKING: Manchester United have announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been appointed as their permanent manager on a three-year contract 🔴🖊 pic.twitter.com/PBSBKKr0hp
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) March 28, 2019
After a brief period at the start, the roof came crashing down.
Results show the Norwegian is not doing better than Jose did. He has not shown any real tactical nous to justify much of his naive tinkering: Bailly at right-back; Lindelof at right-back; Young at centre-back; Dalot at left wing-back; Rashford at right wing-back. It has been a bit too clever, a yard too clumsy.
It has been noted earlier that many characters in the squad are not good enough but Solskjaer must find a way to squeeze every juice out of each of his players if he’s to still have a job by December.
He’s neither Pep nor Klopp, but the former Champions League winner needs to birth a new, clear identity for the Red Devils.
— Tom McDermott (@MrTomMcDermott) July 29, 2019
The personnel at his disposal means he can deploy 4 in defence, 2 in midfield, 3 in attack and a centre forward. All of the four attackers must be fast and have the ability to swap positions.
Against the weaker teams, United will need to press high, force mistakes and see out victories. When faced with the big sides, Ole might need to send his men to defend deep, dig in and strike blows on the counter. Win or draw, all is well.
And maybe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United will have a chance to make the top four. Just maybe.