Manchester United can win big games. We have seen that this season with victories over Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea.
But can this Manchester United team win big games when they matter most?
United have now lost two semi-finals this season. It was an achievement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to get there, but to lose against Chelsea in the FA Cup yesterday was disappointing.
Some of the blame specific to yesterday lies with Solskjaer. He did not pick his best starting XI, and United lacked intensity. Yet United still had 11 players on the pitch who should have performed better.
A question of mentality
This is now a huge week for Manchester United. We need four points from six in the two remaining Premier League games against West Ham and Leicester City.
United’s mentality is now under the spotlight heading into these matches.
We know the team have the talent to win our two remaining Premier League games. They just need to deliver.
We ‘had the talent’ to beat Chelsea yesterday. And didn’t. We ‘had the talent’ to beat Southampton at Old Trafford last week. And we didn’t.
So United head into these games with a lot to prove. Leicester’s defeat to Tottenham makes the task easier. The door is open for United. Now we need to finish the job.
This season United have failed to claim points when our rivals have slipped up in earlier games.
The match against Southampton was another case. Chelsea had lost 3-0 to Sheffield United, and we could have gone above them with a win. We then produced an error-strewn display and drew 2-2, finishing the night in fifth.
Add in the team’s no-show at Wembley against Chelsea now, and United’s mentality is in the spotlight heading into matches against West Ham.
David Moyes’ side will set up to frustrate us on Wednesday night, and could spring a surprise. The pressure is on us, and our players need to play a lot better than we have done in the last three games, against Southampton, Palace, and then at Wembley.
Leicester will treat the game like a cup final, and throw everything at one last shot to claim a Champions League spot, when everybody is writing them off.
Can United deal with the pressure, and deliver when it really counts? There is no question that we are in the driving seat after Leicester’s loss to Spurs.
Wins in these matches for United will answer these questions, and show that emerging queries over the squad’s mentality have been answered.
If we fail to claim a Champions League spot now, then concerns over the mentality of this United side will be more deep rooted than first considered.
Missing out on the top four will mean a ‘bottlers’ tag will be applied to this United side. And that could be tough to shake.
Mentality is the first question United must answer in midweek. The second is more tactical.
Southampton’s pressing game caused United real problems on Monday night.
Chelsea followed the same strategy against United at Wembley to put pressure on our midfield and defence, and it paid off.
We saw Paul Pogba make an error against Southampton, and Nemanja Matic was nearly caught out in the same way against Chelsea.
Arsenal beat United under Mikel Arteta back at the start of January with the same high pressing style which gave United little time on the ball.
It is not an easy style to play, but more and more teams will look to challenge United in this manner, especially after the results this past week.
United need to develop a response to this. This means playing more sensible passes from the back, possibly mixing it up by going long more often, and making swift decisions.
In this situation, it is hesitancy which kills teams, and at this late stage of the campaign, fatigue physically and mentally can play a part.
West Ham and Leicester players may look to emulate this style against United in the next week.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to ensure his players are ready, and have a way to counter act this way of playing.
A decision over David de Gea is clearly one United would prefer to kick down the road to another season.
Dean Henderson could benefit from another year out on loan, especially if Sheffield United are successful in qualifying for the Champions League.
However De Gea’s form is increasingly bringing that decision forward. Seeing him make his mistake at Wembley was uncomfortable to watch.
As we have seen this season, De Gea’s error is not a one off. Going back to the shot he conceded at his near post to Patrick van Aanholt against Crystal Palace last August, the Spaniard has been increasingly disappointing.
We fully expect De Gea to keep his place for the final league games against West Ham and Leicester.
What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Sergio Romero could play for the entirety of the Europa League, to give De Gea a mental any physical rest.
Then next season, the decision over Henderson is anything but clear.
What is crystal clear is that De Gea cannot afford any more mistakes in the final two Premier League games.
If he makes any major errors in these matches, then the decision will make itself. He has played 402 games for United now, but he is quickly becoming a fading force.
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