Getting Real with Manchester United: Overly relying on Bruno and Pogba and Defensive Shambles

When it comes to United, I prefer to think of myself as an idealist or an optimist. To most, it would appear that my loyalty blinds me and that I’m in denial of the pressing issues faced by the Red Devils. Perhaps so, maybe I am blinded, but I do think varying perspectives are needed to understand the United situation better. With that said, I do agree that we need to reanalyze the club’s position given our recent loss to Chelsea. It highlighted that we have several issues that need addressing, which were somewhat masked by the 12-match unbeaten run. The gloomy “we’re not good enough” narrative that many fans spew makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of what the club should do and can do moving forward. So, I have decided to address these issues and look at what we can do moving forward. You probably won’t agree with everything I say, and heck you might disagree with me completely. I urge you though, to share your voice by submitting an article which we will post on the Fans Forum section!

What are our issues?

We have many problems that people have voiced out. Let me list them out for you.

  • Our over-reliance on Bruno and Pogba as a source of creativity.
  • No reliable defensive partnership despite having an abundance of centre-backs
  • A lack of attacking depth outside the first team
  • Inconsistency in goal and the Henderson-De Gea Dilemma
  • No clear youth progression plan
  • A skewed transfer policy

This will be a two part post looking at the issues that the club faces and in the first part, I will look over the first two points.

Over-reliance on Bruno (and Pogba)

It has become brazenly evident that United lack any sort of creativity without Fernandes and Pogba in the team. The FA Cup semifinal encounter with Chelsea showed this. Lampard clearly instructed Kovacic and Jorginho to frustrate and man-mark Bruno Fernandes, which the duo did with immense success. The Portuguese’s presence throughout the tie was significantly nullified, and this proved to be problematic because it prevented Pogba from playing in his free-roaming position. Lampard exposed United’s greatest issue, a system where there is an over-reliance on Bruno to make plays. There is literally no back-up plan when it comes to creativity.

Most observers would blame the lack of depth in the squad, and yes, that is true. However, instead of blaming it entirely on the quality of the current players, we also need to acknowledge that United do not have a plan B. If it’s one thing that Sir Alex did notably well, it was his ability to constantly try and adapt to the changes in the game. When his game plan wasn’t working, he always had a plan B or C up his sleeves, and that is how we, quite honestly, won several games. Under Ole, United appear to lack flexibility in dealing with situations. If the opposition manage to thwart elements of Oles strategy, United are usually in shambles and are painful to watch.

Granted, you need quality players who can adapt just as well to make alternative plans during the fixture to work. However, that should not be an excuse for a failure to adapt. Ole can’t play his 4-2-3-1 system without Pogba. Fred is not the same player as Pogba and never will be. Fred, however, has shown that he is a good player and has done well during Pogba’s absence this season. Ole and his coaching team need to find a system that best suits the rest of his players so they can switch it up when things do not go according to plan. I daresay this: yes, we do not have enough quality outside the starting 11 to play Ole’s system.

United have clearly benefitted from Fernandes’s presence in the team. However, I fear that the squad has become too comfortable with relying on Bruno to the point they have adopted an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I mean he has been playing almost every minute since his arrival in January. The club has not looked at alternatives using other players or groups of players as pivots for the attack. The problem is, Chelsea have shown how easy it can be to throw a spanner in United’s supposedly successful strategy. Other teams will definitely take note, and while not every club will shut down Fernandes with the same degree of success, it makes United’s job (or rather, Bruno’s) that much harder.

Sorting out that Defense

I remember the days when United had a centre-back crisis. Remember when Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick played at the heart of defence one point in time? That’s how bad the situation was. Yet, we prevailed.

Now, even though we have a ton of centre-backs, most pale in comparison to our previous centre-backs. We brought in Harry Maguire for a whopping £85 million, but the real reason why he cost us so much was that he is English. While he has been solid at times, he has not really demonstrated why he’s the most expensive defender ever. Time to adapt is, of course, necessary, and we must be mindful that Manchester United fans can be unnecessarily ruthless towards players who fail to perform well (just look at our treatment of Pogba). Maguire has been in a poor spell of form lately, but he has also produced moments of defensive brilliance. Perhaps observing his performances next season would be a better indicator of whether he is up to the mark for United.

Then there’s the rest of the lot. Honestly, United seriously need to overhaul their entire defence and keep Axel Tuanzebe, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams and possibly Luke Shaw, as a backup utility defender, from the current crop. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo need to be shipped out ASAP. They are past their prime and it is best to free up some space in the wage budget. As much as I’d like to see Victor Lindelöf develop into a world-class player at United, I have been far from convinced by his performances. Sure, he’s had good spells, but he has made several blunders as well. A loan move would potentially do him good and perhaps that would be the best course of action or a transfer away with a buy-back clause inserted would also make a lot of sense.

Diogo Dalot desperately needs a move away from United for his own footballing development. Even though he has struggled with injuries this campaign, it is clear that Wan-Bissaka has cemented himself at right-back, and it will be hard to dislodge him from that position. Currently 21 years old, the Portuguese fullback is at an age where he needs regular first-team football to fulfill his potential. He is not going to get that while Wan-Bissaka is there. Who then acts as cover at right-back? Well, Ole looks to be giving Timothy Fosu-Mensah a chance next season to shine. The Dutch utility player can easily play anywhere along the backline and also play as a central and defensive midfielder. Everton are reportedly interested in a loan move for Dalot, and that would be a good move for the player – he would get more game time in the EPL and could potentially blossom, as Dean Henderson has while on loan at Sheffield United.

Arguably, our best defender this season has been Chris Smalling, who is not even at the club at the moment. The Englishman is on loan at AS Roma and has been absolutely phenomenal in the Serie A. Ideally if Smalling wishes to return to Old Trafford, he helps reinforce a lacklustre defensive department, and that would save the club some funds. As things stand, the Red Devils appear relentless in their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, and even if they do sell their “dead wood” players, they would still need to fork out a ton of cash for a world-class left-back and centre-back. I would love to see Smalling back in the United squad, but I think the club should respect his wishes if he were to want a permanent move to Rome. If he chooses to extend his time in Italy, it is then up to the recruitment team to find someone else – which brings me to my next article where I discuss issues with recruitment.

You might be wondering, “wait, have I forgotten Eric Bailly?” Let me end this article with an honest reflection of the player. I have always rated Bailly highly, and I think he offers something different with his athleticism. I have always believed that an Eric Bailly-Harry Maguire partnership can become formidable. It is just really unfortunate that Bailly always appears to get injured. I was absolutely gutted to see Bailly stretchered off during the recent semi-final tie with Chelsea. Thankfully, he has returned to training and it appears that his injury was not as serious as it was thought to be. It did highlight the main issue with Bailly: he has terrible luck with injuries and is highly injury prone.

To conclude, United have their work cut out for them once the current campaign ends. If they have not already worked on potential transfers, then they need to as soon as they can because they are already lagging behind. Even Chelsea have bolstered their ranks with amazing signings in the form of Havertz, Werner and Ziyech (although, their defensive problem is still unaddressed as well). The management need to use the post-season break to look for alternative tactics that the squad can apply well in games if their opponents throw a spanner in their original tactical approach. In part 2, I shall focus on the other issues that I highlighted and as always, if you disagree with the points I make, either leave a comment or submit an article of your own! We would greatly appreciate it 🙂

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1 thought on “Getting Real with Manchester United: Overly relying on Bruno and Pogba and Defensive Shambles

  1. Pingback: A Response to “Getting Real with United” | SoccerKakis

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