There are two things that Manchester United has been consistent in this season: Inconsistent form and their policy in playing youth. With the departure of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United started the option with a thin frontline. Martial’s injury was a blessing in disguise as it thrust greenwood into the first team, and he has benefitted immensely by gaining more playing time. However, it also highlighted how limited United’s options are upfront. At times, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard have played upfront. Even though Rashford has filled that void, he has been most effective when he’s deployed as wide forward.
It’s not just the lack of options up front but also the consistency of the players. Don’t get me wrong, Martial and Rashford are exceptional talents but they fail in consistently delivering. It’s as if both players suffer from “Theo Walcott” syndrome, where they put in quality performances and pick up momentum by notching in goals and then suddenly fire blanks. The recent goalless draw with Wolves in the FA Cup 3rd Round is yet another episode of United’s inability to piece together several good performances.
The main issue is that Manchester United lack quality in creating chances – we don’t have enough playmakers. Juan Mata is past his prime and is a bit-part player at best. With the ridiculous wages he’s on, he has never really justified his contract extension. Jesse Lingard has never really recaptured his incredible form in the 2017-2018 season and has been simply dreadful this season. Pereira has shown glimpses of brilliance but has been so inconsistent that he should not be the first player on the team sheet. Paul Pogba is the only quality first-team player who creates chances but has been out injured the whole season. Rumors of his exit have been prevalent all season but even if he stays, the club needs more depth in that department.
The only player that has been consistently creating chances is Daniel James, who unsurprisingly has registered the most assists for United in the league this season, with 6. While Daniel James has been effective as a support-winger, he would be more effective as an inside forward with his electric pace. His 3 goals earlier in the season demonstrated how he could convert chances if he’s in the box. The problem is he rarely gets into these positions primarily because he appears to be the only player making chances in Pogba’s absence.
Besides a Central Attacking Midfielder, Manchester United needs to reinforce in central midfield with a holding midfielder. McTominay’s injury is a major setback for United simply because he has been Manchester United’s only saving grace in that holding midfield position. There is a major disparity when McTominay is in the team and when McTominay isn’t in the team. Fred is ineffective without McTominay by his side and Matic, like Mata, is no longer the dependable player he once was. James Garner is promising but is still raw. He is definitely one for the future but United need to reinforce their holding midfielder position.
Reinforcements are necessary but only the right kind. Manchester United cannot fall into the same trap they did under Van Gaal where his signings were solid on paper but on hindsight, were mostly panic buys that did not fit the squad or system that van Gaal played. Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger spring up to mind as quality players who floundered at United. The club has done well in the Summer transfer window and must ensure it maintains a recruitment policy that supports the strategy and tactics of the manager.
In the quite possible event that Manchester United fail to make any signings this January transfer window, Ole has to ask himself what Manchester United can realistically achieve. If a top 6 finish is unlikely, Ole should concentrate on youth development and instead focus his efforts in the Europa League – a certainly achievable feat. Mason Greenwood has progressed well and so has Brandon Williams, perhaps more opportunities should be given to academy prospects. After all, the club deviated away from its youth policy under Mourinho and its decline in fortunes has prompted promising local talent to switch to the Blue side of Manchester.
Regardless of the direction Manchester United takes, change is necessary. One should not be disillusioned by the long unbeaten streak last season. Manchester United has failed to replicate similar form for whatever reason – unless drastic improvements are made, Ole will face the sack (as much as I hate to admit it).