Revisiting 10 reasons for Manchester United to be positive
Two games into the season, Manchester United were in a decent position.
It could have been better, but four points against Chelsea and Wolves was a satisfactory start to the season, a platform from which to build.
Since then it has been pretty terrible. United have won just one of six games.
After the Wolves game we put together a list of 10 reasons to be positive. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and accept that the faith was misguided.
So let’s look back at those reasons and see, two months on, how many of them if any, still hold up…
Anthony Martial is back: “There’s a strong chance he passes the 20 goal mark for the first time.”
Martial has played just one game since the Wolves fixture. He underwhelmed against Palace and then picked up a muscle injury which it has taken far too long to recover from. He has been badly missed. It is no use him being ‘back’ if his body can’t hold up.
The defence is strong: “United may have weaknesses in midfield, but a strong platform at the back means this won’t be exposed as much.“
Compared to last season United’s defence has been improved. But the midfield is so weak that it has been breached more often than we would like.
It has been stretched with injuries to both full-backs, but overall a record of just eight goals conceded in eight games is not terrible, in fact it is the joint fourth best in the Premier League.
United held onto Paul Pogba: “If we achieve anything this season, Pogba will play a major part.”
Like Martial, Pogba has barely been fit lately, looking less than 100 per cent when he has played.
When he has not, it has been noticeable. United are adrift without him and lack quality. We can certainly still be thankful the club held onto Pogba in the summer. He could be the catalyst for the team to get back on track.
Picked up lost points: “Last season United drew with Chelsea at Old Trafford and lost to Wolves. So getting four points from those two fixtures this season is better than just one last.”
It was a solid start, but United have gone backwards since. The loss to Newcastle was a worse result than last season, as was the home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Defeat to West Ham, and draws with Southampton and Arsenal replicated the same results of a season ago.
Pace in attack: “Dan James gives United a dangerous option going forward which puts opponents on the backfoot. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are no slouches either, and the mobile, versatile forward line is a danger for defences. Its already an upgrade on last season.”
The trio have not been able to play together since the Palace defeat due to Martial’s injury.
James has been impressive, but teams are doubling up on him and not giving him space or opportunity to cut inside and shoot. Teams are also dropping deep and not giving United a chance to counter. This has limited James’ impact.
Clear philosophy: “It’s clear what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to do. He wants a British core to the squad, and a young one. Young players will get chances, and Solskjaer’s pressing, counter attacking game is made for the modern era.”
We might want to dial this one back. Solskjaer’s tactics appear to be lost right now. The team is too predictable and he is too loyal to a 4-2-3-1 formation, resistant to change it or experiment at all.
Teams are challenging United to break them down, and they can’t do it. Solskjaer may know what he wants to do in terms of squad building, but on the pitch it is less clear.
Plenty in reserve: “Several United players haven’t even got started yet. Fred and Diogo Dalot have not featured, while Mason Greenwood has barely had a kick as a substitute. Young players like Tahith Chong, James Garner and Angel Gomes are just the tip of the iceberg from the academy.“
At this stage of the season this was fair comment. United don’t have much left in reserve right now. Injuries have stretched the squad, and only really James Garner is an option which has not been tried. There are not many other options left.
Greenwood and Tuanzebe have seized their chances. Dalot, Gomes and Chong are yet to make the most of theirs, but more opportunities will come their way. They just need a bit more belief, and in this side it is not easy right now.
Signs of ruthlessness: “While it was hard to sell unwanted players this summer, Solskjaer has been ruthless in his team selections. Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Matteo Darmian have not made any squads, leaving little doubt over their futures.”
Smalling and Darmian were since loaned or sold, while Jones and Rojo have been given chances in the cups.
Injuries have meant Solskjaer has had to give players chances even if they are not first choice. The problem is not so much the players across the whole summer who have been discarded, it is that they have not been replaced. Ruthlessness only gets you so far.
Not just two games: “United’s start to the campaign has not come out of nowhere. It follows on from a successful pre-season. United won every game and looked good doing so.”
It does look as though the good pre-season United enjoyed was the worst thing which could have happened. It papered over the cracks.
If United had sustained a few losses, Solskjaer and the board may not have been so complacent in the transfer window about the team’s attacking options. We believed there were positive signs too, but ultimately it counted for nothing, once injuries weakened the first choice XI.
Requirements are obvious: “Through just two games, its clear United need to sign an attacking midfielder. As the season goes on, this will expose itself as obviously as the need to sign a right-back became last season.”
This one still stands, it’s glaringly clear. It is not the only position which needs strengthening. Add striker, right wing and central midfield to the list.
There is no way United can afford to have a January with no incoming players. This might be the only positive to emerge from the last few weeks.
It is good to look back and admit you made the wrong call sometimes. Ed Woodwards needs to do the same.
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