Manchester United have surprised critics with an impressive unbeaten run in the league. During this time, United have exited the Champions League and Carabao Cup. The Reds, however, have collected 36 out of a potential 42 points.
Manchester United thrived against strong opposition last year, sitting back and countering with speed. However, they struggled to break down lower opposition until they signed talisman Bruno Fernandes. This season United have sliced open lower opposition with relative ease, but have suffered against Big 6 opposition.
Their recent stalemate against arch-rivals Liverpool left much to be desired from United, especially if they are to contend for the title. In several previous games against bigger opponents, United seem to lose the battle in the center of the park. United have often failed to hold possession and build play despite having Pogba and Bruno.
I believe that United’s struggle stems from a lack of movement and a lack of technique. McTominay and Fred are often the players who win the ball with a good tackle or pressure, then move the ball forward for an attack. However, United’s holding midfielders have struggled to hold onto the ball and play a good pass. Their ability in defense is spectacular, however, their attacking prowess is falling short.
Shaw and Wan-Bissaka were in the same boat yesterday. Both are extremely effective in defense, often spotting runs and putting in strong challenges to deny forwards. However, their attacking quality and creativity have been quite disappointing. Wan-Bissaka had a very rough outing against Fulham on defense as well as attack.
Our wingbacks need to be quicker on the ball and really need to deliver higher quality crosses into the box. Often Shaw and Martial are dawdling over the ball. Thus, giving the opposition time to track back and arrange themselves. On the other end, Wan-Bissaka and Greenwood don’t advance enough and often resort to predictable slow sideways passes.
In United’s outing against Liverpool, McTominay had 25% success for passes into the final third, while Fred amassed 67%. Even Bruno Fernandes could only muster 42% success in his final-third passing. It was evident in the first half that United’s center backs would have their hands full. However, it was up to the midfielders to hold the ball and push Liverpool back.
Unfortunately, every attempted forward pass was met by a Liverpool midfielder and the move would fizzle out. There has also been a concern with poor decision making from United’s midfield and wingbacks. Often when there is an opening, we try a cheeky pass or a hopeful shot when there are better alternatives. Even Bruno is often guilty of giving the ball away poorly but makes up for a lot of it with his work rate and creativity.
Furthermore, the movement and chemistry among the midfielders and the forwards just seem off. Evidently, Rashford was offside five times in the game. Even though one of those calls was questionable, the timing of the pass and attacking runs seem out of sync. This was evident where the forwards seemed far too isolated from the midfielders and the wingbacks. Greenwood also tends to play out wide a bit too much for someone who is actually an effective striker.
In the Fulham game, Greenwood only got one touch in the opposition box which is shambolic. Despite securing a win at Craven Cottage, the midfield was guilty of losing possession in the center of the park. Effectively, United were handed a lifeline in the Fulham game thanks to the error from Areola. Before that, they were struggling to string good passes and moves.
The trick is to be unpredictable, especially in today’s day and age when it is easy to get footage of teams and their playing style. The reason why Fulham defended so well against United was that they knew every page of Ole’s book. If our game plan is to knock the ball around and play passively, then anyone can defend against us.
Such a mindset often causes us to start games poorly and even presents our opponents with early chances to score. Although there isn’t a lot of time between games, some work needs to be done. Time spent on the training ground to develop chemistry and coordination among the midfielders and forwards will help us score more goals.
Goals have been hard to come by and our poor goal difference is an indication of that. This lack of attacking ability coupled with isolated forwards is not helping our cause. If we wish to win the title, we have to win the battle of midfield, especially against Big 6 opposition.