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Manchester United has started the New Year on a poor note. A season of highs and lows continued with a 1-3 defeat to Manchester City in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final. United had ended 2019 well with 2 consecutive wins including a rare come-from-behind win over Newcastle United.
One of the many problems that United has is that the team can’t seem to churn out either wins or good performances in a row. The team very quickly lets this get to their heads and gets over-confident. I had predicted that United would lose to Arsenal in their first fixture of 2020 and I was proven right. They turned in a below-par performance compared to the previous 2 matches and matches against the other “Big 6” teams. Some might joke that Arsenal are not in the “Big 6” anymore which is why United lost like they normally do against the smaller teams.
Next in the FA Cup against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, United defended really well for a change but had 0 shots on target to show for which is a horrible statistic for a team that has a history of being an attacking team. Finally, on Tuesday, Manchester City avenged their defeat in the first Manchester derby of the season to school United at Old Trafford and win very comfortably 3-1.
The match was even until Bernardo Silva made the difference with a display of his quality with a top-notch goal. From that goal onwards, another problem with this United was exposed; the team lacks strong characters and leaders. Whenever United concede, they struggle to get back into the game. The best result one can expect would be a draw for United. Gone are the days of strong reactions to conceding first or come-from-behind wins.
For United to do well in big games, they need their best 11 or, at the very least, anything close to their best 11 from the start which brings me to another problem with this team; the lack of quality and squad depth. City has 2 line-ups of equal strength and they can afford to rotate the team and still do well. United cannot do that and it was exposed on Tuesday.
United have players that work hard and no one can argue against that. However, together with hard work, you need quality if they are serious about returning to the heights they were once at. That quality is sorely lacking and seems to be getting worse with every passing season as the club drifts further away from the top positions.
Phil Jones has to go after another disastrous performance against City. Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe are returning and either one would have done better in his position. Marcos Rojo is another that I feel would have done better. Victor Lindelof’s performances mirror that of the team, inconsistent. Andreas Pereira works hard but lacks quality. He cannot play in central midfield and Solksjaer should have started with Nemanja Matic instead.
Yesterday, Pep Guardiola showed his tactical acumen as he played without a recognised striker and flooded United’s midfield, making them chase the ball for hours while giving no reference points for United’s defenders to pick up. United had no answer to that in the first half and it threatened to be as embarrassing as the 1-6 trashing back in 2011.
When Jose Mourinho got sacked, I had wanted a former player to be the new manager as I felt we needed a manager that understood the club, it’s history and the expectations around it. Solksjaer came in and did brilliantly until he was hired permanently. Since then, United’s form has dropped off until what it is today. There has been no progress. The team is still inconsistent, they are still lacking strong personalities, leaders and quality.
I have been fine and patient with him as our manager but I feel he is reaching the stage where he is getting out of his depth now. Some might argue that he was never the right choice as a permanent manager or that he was already beginning to show that he is out of depth when results went bad last season. I preferred to give him time to build his team and show some signs of progress in that process. That is just not happening and it is painful to watch United play.
To be fair and frank, any manager in the world will struggle at United today because the club is inept at recruiting players. I am fine with slowly building the squad the way Liverpool has done only if the club shows some seriousness at recruiting the right players at every transfer window. In the summer, United should have at least signed one central midfielder but we signed none.
The January market is open and it is an opportunity for United to strengthen but I have no faith that the club would, throwing up lines like there is no-one right enough that is available for the right price. There should have been some foresight already from the summer to scout and target certain players for the January transfer market but there is no such foresight or expertise available at United.
United’s final problem (which is the biggest reason for their decline in my opinion) is the Glazer family and CEO, Ed Woodward. As long as the club is profitable off the pitch, they will remain. The moment sponsors see Manchester United as a less enticing proposition to sponsor and the club’s financial value drops, they are likely to sell out and leave. This will happen with declining results but a true fan will never wish for the club to decline further on the pitch. The saving grace could actually come from someone with endless bags of cash who will buy the club out from the Glazers. Till then, with Solksjaer or without, the club will continue to be in transition and decline.
By Rasvinder Singh