Tag Archives: manchester united

Turning a Corner?

After a difficult start to the season, are Manchester United showing signs of life?

To say the season started poorly for Manchester United would be an understatement.

The Red Devils started the season with a stunning 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace and followed that up with a fairly fortunate 3-2 win against Brighton and a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham. There seemed to be a crisis in Manchester, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær was firmly planted on the hot seat.

There were some good results, but they came with caveats. United got some wins, but you could always respond to the result with a “yeah, but…”. Yeah, United did beat Newcastle, but it took them a while to take the lead and pull away from a fairly mediocre Newcastle side. Yeah, they went to Paris and beat PSG, but that was such an awful performance from PSG, and there are so many issues with that team and within that club right now (enough to write a completely different article by itself), and it was a largely pedestrian performance from Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. But here stood the biggest test of the season: RB Leipzig, last season’s Champions League semifinalist and considered to be one of the most balanced and complete teams in Europe, led by the young star of football management in Julian Nagelsmann, who traveled to Old Trafford as favorites. Despite the loss of Timo Werner, the Red Bulls retained much of their talented core, including young budding stars Dayot Upamecano, Dani Olmo, and Christopher Nkunku.

And United beat the brakes off of them. A complete performance. A strong first half paired with an incredibly dominant second half, and this was not an accident. United were the better team from minute one, putting out arguably their best performance of the season and one of the best of Solskjær’s reign. And in this game, we finally got a demonstration of something people had been calling out for Ole to add to his managerial repertoire for a while. He made a tactical adjustment, making the first move and forcing the opponent to respond. He made actual genuine tactical adjustments.

The “no tactics, just vibes” manager, in both of United’s Champions League matches to be fair, made significant changes to the starting XI, formation, and overall tactical game plan, and in both matches, the changes worked perfectly. The three at the back used against PSG allowed the team to absorb the threat of Neymar and Mbappe while maintaining the width needed to break on the counter. Again, that win can also be pinned on a very poor PSG performance, but it was still a notable tactical decision that paid off. Against Leipzig, Ole saw a team that wants to attack on the counter with pace, utilizing a back three and attacking fullbacks to break forward quickly. United needed to be able to control the tempo of the match, and Ole decided to play with a midfield diamond in order to overload the center of the pitch and control the tempo and possession more often against a team that only really fielded two midfielders. Matić played as a holding midfielder sitting in front of the defense, while Pogba and Fred played as more box-to-box number eights and Donny van de Beek played behind the strikers. It worked wonders, as Leipzig were just not able to get anything going their way early on. Following Greenwood’s opener, Leipzig changed to a 4-2-3-1, but it was ultimately not enough to get back into the game. Nagelsmann himself admitted that he did not anticipate United playing with four in midfield, as that is not a formation they had used previously. Being unprepared for this team, Nagelsmann and Leipzig were already a step behind their opponents, and United punished them for it.

United had never really played with a midfield diamond before, that is correct. But if you remember our piece from earlier regarding United’s purchase of van de Beek, I highlighted the options and variety that United could now utilize. Many questioned why United signed van de Beek, saying he did not fill a need in this team. Well, now we saw the answer. Having a player not only of van de Beek’s individual quality, but also of his level of intelligence and tactical flexibility, allows United to deploy a midfield diamond, a much different look compared to their 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2 previously utilized under Solskjær. This allows United to have a more balanced and solid midfield while not surrendering their attacking options, and van de Beek has the ability to realistically play in any of the positions in this midfield, though he would likely thrive more as a 10 or box-to-box eight, and provide a level of attacking creativity and work rate needed to make everything work. While it was not a scintillating performance from the Dutchman, who came off in the 68th minute, his presence in the midfield was important in making the formation work. United’s midfield this season has struggled to find the right balance that allowed their star players to make an impact, and they seem to have found that sense of balance here. With less of a defensive responsibility, Pogba was able to get forward and have an influence on the attack, assisting Mason Greenwood’s opening goal. Bruno Fernandes was able to come on in the second half and make an impact in attack without worrying about what was going on behind him. It worked, and it was important in throwing Leipzig off of their game plan. However, it would be unfair to say it was only the formation that had an impact and allowed United’s midfield to be this effective.

No, we must have an entire section to offer a special shoutout to a player that has gone under the radar quite a bit recently. Fred, the midfielder that Jose Mourinho initially did not want, has become one of United’s most influential players. He is not glamorous, he will not score spectacular goals or provide breath-taking assists, but he is important. He does the work that goes mostly unnoticed when United are playing well. He keeps things ticking over in midfield, winning tackles when needed and playing the safe and necessary passes needed to recycle possession or get the dynamic attacking players into good positions to counter. His presence provided a bit of balance and calmness to the midfield, providing someone able to do the work needed to give players like Pogba and Fernandes and Rashford the platform to succeed. This is not new either, he has been at this level for a while now. Back in December, when United’s resurgence first began, it was the midfield pairing of him and Scott McTominay that began to provide balance to a fragile midfield. Against Sevilla, in a match United fans will likely want to forget, he was easily the best United player on the pitch. Should United stay in this midfield diamond, or at least keep it in the tactical portfolio, having a player like Fred play in this role will help them maintain superiority in midfield, especially against teams like Leipzig, who sacrifice midfield possession for speed. His remarkable turnaround from when he arrived under Mourinho is a testament to his ability and determination as a footballer, and it is something that deserves more recognition than he has received. The victory over Leipzig only reinforced the skill and necessity of Fred in this team.

There is obviously more to talk about from the match, but it seems ancillary to those two points. Marcus Rashford’s historic hat trick was a remarkable achievement for a player and man that can seemingly do no wrong. Anthony Martial finding the back of the net, even if only from a penalty, could do wonders in restoring his confidence. Mason Greenwood scoring and playing well in this second striker role bodes well for his ongoing development. However, the real reasons that gave me hope for a United resurgence were stated previously. This match showed growth in tactical management from Ole and a depth in personnel and performance that United have lacked when compared to their top four counterparts.

But why is this a question, then? Why are we questioning whether United have truly shown signs of life? It was laid out in front of us against Leipzig, right? Well, that is true. But the unfortunate theme that has been a constant for United since Ole took over as caretaker manager is that we really do not know what the real United looks like. Under the Norwegian, United have had runs of brilliance and runs of mediocrity. For a few matches, they look like they are one or two pieces shy of being title contenders, but then, almost on a dime, they turn into a team that look like they are clinging onto their Top Six status for dear life. When Ole was caretaker manager, they went on that now famous 12 match unbeaten run in the league, but only won four matches from the beginning of March to the end of the season. The following season, they were inconsistent at best and awful at worst, but in the second half of the season, especially after the league returned from lockdown, they were arguably the best team on form in the league. Since then, they started this season awfully, but paired that poor start with two fantastic Champions League wins.

So which is the real United?

Well, no one really knows. But for United to put these doubts to bed, they need to kick on from these wins and show an actual run of consistency in form and performance that they have not been able to go on since Ole got the permanent job. Their next two league matches, at home against Arsenal and away to Everton, will be crucial for their season. They are about as close to being “must-win” matches as can be for matches in early November. As much as overall league placement is important, as both teams will likely rival United in the hunt for European places, these two matches are more about laying down a standard for what this United team should be, and what we all know they can be should they find the level of consistency they need.

It is all well and good getting that big, headline win. Spurs know all about that this season. But if you are not able to maintain that high level of performance consistently, your team will never truly be a contender for major honors. It is not about the statement win, it is about what happens after. Ole has done well to get to this point, but now he has to figure out what happens now. United have not awoken from unconsciousness, but there is a heartbeat.

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Some of Manchester United’s Unanswered Questions before the start of the season

While the Premier League has officially started, Manchester United will only begin their campaign this weekend against Crystal Palace. The Red Devils were given an extended break after progressing to the semi-finals of the Europa League, and thus, their supposed opening fixture against Burnely got postponed. While other teams kickstarted their season, the Red Devils instead played a friendly against Aston Villa, losing 1-0.

Sure, a 1-0 defeat was not a total disaster and there were some positives to be taken away. The idea of the match was to give the squad some much needed minutes, and Donny van de Beek showed a lot of promise. However, I think specific issues need to be discussed following the friendly fixture, starting with a pertinent issue I have been raising for a while now:

What’s going on in the First-team Transfer Department

Donny van de Beek is the only first-team player that has arrived at Manchester United. The 23-year-old arrived from Ajax in a £35 million move. However, despite rumours of Jadon Sancho’s imminent arrival, attempts to hijack Liverpool’s move for Thiago Alcântara, and alleged reports that Alex Telles flew down to Manchester to discuss terms, no other transfer has materialized.

I understand that it is crucial that Manchester United not rush into transfers and simply overspend to acquire their targets. Yet, at the same time, as I see other clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal sign players like Timo Werner, Nathan Aké, and Gabriel Magalhães, respectively, I can’t help but think that we are not doing enough.

It isn’t just the acquisition of players that Manchester United seem to have problems with. Offloading their deadwood is another issue that needs immediate attention. Manchester United do not need Marcus Rojo, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Phil Jones. There have been no efforts to sell any of these players or find potential new homes for them. Besides these players, do Manchester United need 4 first-team goalkeepers? It is time for either Sergio Romero or Lee Grant to be shipped out. As much as it pains me and probably most United fans, I’d rather sell Romero at this point. A player of his calibre should be starting matches, and a move to a mid-table Premier League team would do him a world of good.

Of course, Manchester United need enough players so that they can remain competitive in all 4 four fronts this campaign – the Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup, and the Champions League. However, to progress far and potentially win the competition, Manchester United need to bring in quality players for depth. When I looked at the line up against Villa, I was unimpressed with the backup options we had on the wings.

Ideally, Manchester United need to sign 4-5 more players. In another article, I ranked these positions in order and argued that we desperately need a right-winger. However, after some pondering (and a lecture from Jack), I’m more convinced now that we need to shore up our defence. Do we have enough firepower going forward? Well, barely. On the other hand, our defence is in desperate need for stability and we need to sort this out fast.

At the same time, I think decisions have to be made on James Garner and Diogo Dalot. I think a loan move would do well for both players. At this age, regular football would do them good, although it is almost guaranteed that they won’t find that at United. Garner has to compete with the likes of van de Beek, Fred, Mc Tominay, Pogba, and Matic for a chance to start in midfield, while Dalot appears to have fallen below Fosu-Mensah in the pecking order at right back. They can become fantastic footballers for United in the future, but for them to fulfill their potential, the club needs to orchestrate a loan move for them.

The de Gea vs Henderson dilemma

Seeing David de Gea start the match was quite intriguing, and like many other United fans, I’m clueless as to how Ole will appease both keepers with playing time. Will we see a situation where Dean Henderson plays in the Champions League and Cup games while de Gea starts in the Premier League? Maybe, vice-versa? Honestly, I’d rather Henderson start in the PL and de Gea start in the Champions League and Cup games instead. It is a gamble, but Henderson needs regular playing time at United to assimilate himself into the squad fully.

Or perhaps, Ole rotates the goalkeepers to give both players a chance to stake their claim as Manchester United’s number one. It will be interesting to see what transpires, but I hope that the competition between Henderson and de Gea keeps both players on their toes and that makes both of them better.

Plans to blood in current Academy players?

It was good to see Teden Mengi turn out for United once again, but I was even more excited to see Anthony Elanga come off the bench. I have been pretty excited about the current crop of Academy players at United. While I’d like to have seen Dylan Levitt play in some cup games, I am thrilled to see his development with Charlton Athletic after securing a season-long loan move to the League One side.

There is one player that I have been waiting eagerly to see make his debut for the first-team: Hannibal Mejbri. The French wonderkid moved to United in what is believed to be a €5 million move from AS Monaco in 2019, and I have been patiently waiting for him to make his debut. The opportunities handed to Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have assured me that Ole has faith in the United Academy. The recent purchases of several talented youth players have also indicated that Ole and the United hierarchy are serious about developing from within. The League Cup and FA Cup Matches could be good avenues for Ole to blood in young players. The Europa League proved to be an excellent platform for academy graduates to gain valuable first-team minutes. However, with the Red Devils now returning to the Champions League, can Ole afford to hand out as many first-team debuts and start academy players as frequently? I really doubt he will. We might see some cameos from promising players, but that is the extent of it truly.

The game against Palace this weekend will not completely answer some of the questions I have posted here. It may, however, provide us with some sense of the direction the club is heading towards for the 2020/21 season. Only time will tell if Henderson should start over de Gea or if we will see Mejbri feature in the first-team. One thing for sure though, the pressure will be on Ole and the Red Devils to perform better this season.

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My Response to Vikram’s Article About Donny van de Beek

He may not be an exact fit, but that does not make him a bad signing…

Two days ago, Manchester United announced their first signing of the summer. Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek joins the Red Devils from Ajax for an initial £35 million fee, not including add-ons. The 23 year old signed a five year deal with United with an option for sixth year.

This is a signing that I was unsure about, and some of the reasoning was echoed by Vikram in his blog post recently. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is a sound signing, and many of the issues with the deal have very little to do with van de Beek himself or this deal in isolation.

There is quite a bit to discuss regarding this deal, the fit, the structure of United’s midfield, and where United’s transfer priorities should lie, but let us ignore all of that for just one second and talk about the first main point about this signing:

Donny van de Beek is a very good player.

For three years, van de Beek brought a combination of youthful aggression, dynamism, and technical brilliance into an excellent Ajax team, bringing a great blend of goalscoring and assisting from midfield into that team, alongside a bulldog-like mentality. He was a key player in the Ajax team that won an Eredivisie title and made the final of the Europa League and semifinals of the Champions League, quite possibly being the main unsung hero of that team. In a team full of incredible, budding world-class talent, van de Beek seemed to miss some of the acclaim that Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech, and others received. This might be most exemplified by his performance in their 4-1 win over Real Madrid, where he was arguably the best player on the pitch outside of Man of the Match Dušan Tadić despite not really receiving much in the way of deserved recognition from that match. He ran the show from midfield and carried the team forward into attack, finding Ziyech, Tadić, and David Neres in space in order to threaten a stagnant Real Madrid defense. Van de Beek shone this season in midfield following de Jong’s departure, demonstrating a flexibility and tactical understanding that allows him to feature in any role in midfield, even as a defensive number six outside of his preferred attacking role. United are bringing in a technically brilliant, tactically flexible, intelligent, and dynamic midfielder who, at only 23 years old, has quite a bit of room to grow before he reaches his ceiling as a player.

But let us look at Vikram’s points specifically. The two points he brought up were in regards to van de Beek’s utilization in this United team and questioning how this signing fits into what United’s priorities should be in the transfer market. These two ideas are connected, but we will first look at how van de Beek fits into the team before looking at the grand scheme of United’s transfer market.

It is clear that United’s midfield still needs some work. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba are clearly locks in the team, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær has seemed to want to fill that third midfield role by committee, utilizing one of Fred, Scott McTominay, or Nemanja Matić in a midfield three in his 4-2-3-1. With van de Beek coming into the team, will he be the third midfielder United are looking for? Well, maybe. While van de Beek has the ability to fit into any role in midfield, his key technical traits and desire to get forward makes him best suited to a box-to-box role, similar to Pogba. There were times where he played as the deepest midfielder in the Ajax 4-3-3, but he usually played in a role where he had the freedom to get forward, with someone like Frenkie de Jong, Daley Blind, or Lisandro Martínez playing in that defensive role. However, this does not mean that he cannot play in a defensive role for United, and Ole’s tactical set up makes it somewhat easier for van de Beek to play in this role. In Ole’s 4-2-3-1, the two midfielders playing behind the front four operate as a double pivot. This means that both midfielders sit in front of the back four when the team is defending, but when they are going forward, one of the two is able to join the attack, while the other stays back to shield the defense. The midfield is “pivoting” through those two players, one going forward to help carry the ball from defense to attack while the other stays back. In this case, Pogba and van de Beek operate as the double pivot. Both are very strong players going forward, and both are capable enough to cover the defensive needs of being in that role.

I will admit, however, it is not the most ideal pairing. Even in a double pivot, many teams utilize one player that is more of a playmaker and another that is more of a defensive-minded player, or they will use a deep-lying playmaker paired with a midfielder more prone to get forward in attack. This could be seen with Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matić at Chelsea, Thiago Alcântara and Joshua Kimmich (or Leon Goretzka) at Bayern, and, a pairing that Vikram and Rynaldy will remember well, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes at Man United. A pairing of Pogba and van de Beek is a bit weird in this sense because they are two similar players who will want to do the same things, neither fitting into this ideal pairing. Having that double pivot would be very effective for United against teams that sit deep in a low block, as they now have three midfielders able to pick out key passes and break down a defense, but they do risk being caught out on the counter if all three midfielders are forward. It definitely can work, but it will require very strong positional discipline from both players. Pogba has, at times, shown a lesser defensive work rate than would be ideal, and while van de Beek’s engine can make up for that, a double pivot of the two would likely need very good defensive discipline from both players to work. Both players would need to understand when they needed to stay back and would need to sacrifice for each other when both want to get forward. It is a partnership that definitely can work, and can work wonders, but I do admit there are issues with it that would stop it from working, and van de Beek may not have been the most ideal signing to fill that role. The aforementioned Thiago, as well as Arsenal-linked Atlético Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, would have fit into that role perfectly, cost about the same or only marginally more than van de Beek, and likely would have been more logical signings for United in this role.

This does not make this a bad signing, as this move meets two crucial needs for United: it offers them depth in an important position and provides them options tactically and personnel-wise. One of United’s biggest weaknesses as a team last season was a lack of ability to rotate Pogba and Fernandes, forcing Fernandes especially to play nearly every minute from the time he made his move to Manchester until the end of the season. Solskjær also lacked a “Plan B”, and he seemingly had nowhere to turn when he needed to make an alteration to change the course of a match. While this is partially a reflection of Ole’s weakness in game management, it is hard to look at that United bench and see many players who can come on and impact a match. These two issues were exemplified in United’s arguably two biggest losses of the season: their FA Cup semifinal loss to Chelsea and Europa League semifinal loss to Sevilla. Against Chelsea, Ole heavily rotated the team, taking out Pogba and leaving Fernandes as the only creative outlet in the team. They struggled massively to create anything going forward, with Chelsea’s midfield game plan effectively able to stop Fernandes, knowing there was no other player United could use, apart from Pogba, that could have that level of creative impact. Against Sevilla, United struggled to create chances for most of the match, outside of a strong first 15-20 minutes of the second half. Ole did not have anyone to bring on to change the match, however, and he only made his first substitutions in the 87th minute. This is partially on Ole’s poor game management, but also it shows that he had no one to turn to when he needed someone to come in and make a difference. Van de Beek fills both voids. He is a player who offers more in that creative or box-to-box role than any player currently at United, able to be rotated into the team when Fernandes or Pogba need to be rested or get injured, or he can come on late in a match to be a spark of creativity. He also presents a tactical plan B, as this allows Ole to play with a midfield four if needed, likely deploying van de Beek as one of two box-to-box midfielders on either side of a diamond. In a situation where Ole feels that he needs another player in midfield to sure up the team or to overwhelm the opposition midfield, van de Beek is able to come in and fill that role very well. United now have viable options when things need to be changed.

But this is too much to pay for a squad player, right? Well, not really. A fee of £35 million definitely is not chump change, but in this market, that is not a bad fee for a player who will not immediately play but offers, at minimum, a great influence off the bench and a high future potential. He also acts as the eventual successor to Pogba, should the Frenchman decide to not extend his contract with the club. Especially when the reported fee for the player was in the £50-60 million range last summer, getting him for £35 million a year later is a great deal, possibly one of the best deals of this window, financially speaking.

Now for the final point that Vikram brought up: a player like van de Beek is not a priority for United in this market. In many ways, he is right. I would argue van de Beek offers that depth and “plan B” role that United do very much need, but I would not say a midfielder in his profile is something United were desperate to sign this window, especially when compared to their need for a center back, left back, and proper defensive midfielder. But, for the reasons I have stated, this is still a great move and makes sense for United football-wise and financially. The overall view of this move might end up being influenced by whatever else United do in this window. The club has seemingly turned a corner under Solskjær’s management, getting back into the Champions League and seeming to be only a few pieces away from potentially challenging the Liverpool-Manchester City duopoly on the league title. They are also seeing the moves that Chelsea and Arsenal are making, knowing they need to make upgrades in key positions to at least keep pace with their top four rivals. This window is absolutely crucial for United, even with the impact of COVID on the market. If they do not sign anyone else between now and October 5th, then van de Beek will always be prefaced as “that player United did not need”, which is massively unfair on him. This window will be the greatest referendum of Ed Woodward’s role in this football club. He did a very good job bringing a high rated youngster like van de Beek to the club for a financially reasonable fee, but his ability to bring in the players this United team desperately need will have a much bigger impact in their fortunes next season, especially with the moves that clubs around them in the table will be making. Van de Beek could work out as a United player or he could not, and while I have faith that he will be a great signing for United, I do feel that people’s reflections on this move will be too influenced by whatever else the club do in this crucial window, instead of solely focusing on the player and his performances.

I have more faith in this move for United. I believe this is a very good signing, possibly the best pound-for-pound signing in this window among Premier League teams. Even if he cannot be the crucial third midfielder in that United starting XI, he will still be a very good player that can grow into a starting role in the post-Pogba midfield. Concerns about his utilization in the team are unfounded, and while he is admittedly not a major priority for United in this window, that should not take away from how good of a deal this is financially and when looking to the future.

Don’t worry, Vikram. He will be fine.

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Donny van de Beek is a quality signing but is he a priority for United?

I have mixed feelings about Manchester United signing Donny van de Beek. Recently, BBC Sport reported that Manchester United have agreed to personal terms with the midfielder and have negotiated a £40 million move with Ajax. On paper, it represents a well-calculated move by Manchester United. Like Bruno Fernandes, United haven’t overpaid for the Dutch international, who has been brilliant for Ajax last campaign. Van de Beek scored 10 goals and made 11 assists across all competitions last season and can play as a central, attacking, or defensive midfielder. On paper, he is a quality player who can play in the Premier League.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like he will be misused at United. Don’t get me wrong, I think van de Beek can excel in United’s set up if he is played correctly – a free-roaming central midfielder. Why does that sound familiar, you might wonder? Well, that’s cause Pogba currently plays in that role for United in a midfield set up where Bruno is an attacking midfielder and Matić plays as a defensive midfielder that sits back.

This raises an important issue for United: what do they do with their new acquisition? Where does he play?

One thing is for sure – Donny offers United depth because he can slot in and fulfill either Bruno’s or Pogba’s role. While Fred is a good player, he struggles in Pogba’s position, and van de Beek offers something different in that regard. Similarly, Manchester United do not have a proper back up to Bruno. Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata pale in comparison to Bruno, but the Dutchman has shown a lot of promise in that central attacking midfielder role at Ajax. Hence, van de Beek is an excellent signing in this regard – someone who is brought in to provide cover for both Pogba and Bruno.

However, I have two main issues with this transfer. Firstly, it is highly likely that Ole might field a midfield trio of Bruno-Pogba-van De Beek, with the Dutchman sitting behind the other two. Secondly, van de Beek is not a priority signing given the issues in other areas in the squad. Allow me to go through both points.

Donny van de Beek is not the defensive midfielder that Manchester United needs.

If he is brought in to play as a defensive midfielder mainly, then United are not only under-utilizing the player but also will suffer in big matches. Yes, van de Beek can be deployed as a defensive midfielder, and he can do a decent job in that position, but to harness his full capability, he needs to play higher up in the field. Even if he does play as a defensive midfielder, I am doubtful that the player can sit back and ensure that the defensive line is covered. After enjoying the freedom to roam and express himself at Ajax, van de Beek would probably need a lot of time to adapt to a Fabinho-type role that Manchester United need for Ole’s system to work properly.

It is bewildering because there are other options out there. Wilfred Ndidi would have been the perfect signing for the Red Devils. Also 23 years old like van de Beek, he has the potential to become a main fixture in United for the next decade. Sure, United will have to fork out a fortune to purchase a promising player from a rival Premier League club (I mean we paid £80 million for Harry Maguire, so yes, Ndidi won’t be cheap). However, I believe he would be a worthy investment, and the massive fee paid would pay dividends because he is a significant upgrade from Nemanja Matić, who is the best player suited to that defensive midfield role under Ole’s tactics. Let that sink in a bit, Matić is 32 years old and past his prime. Yes, he has experienced a revival in form at the start of the year, but the aging Serbian cannot be starting every single game.

The thing is, given his playing style, I do not know if van de Beek would do a significantly better job than Matic. Maybe he could? I do not know. It’s times like these when I kind of regret selling Daley Blind. No, I am not joking. Blind has shown his defensive prowess at Ajax and has established himself as a solid centre-back but is also capable of executing long-range passes. Wilfred Ndidi may not possess the same calibre of passing, but I’d argue that he defends better than Blind, and by extension van de Beek, in that defensive midfield position. Manchester United are in dire need of this defending ability.

Not the Red Devils’ Priority

Secondly, while van de Beek is a fine addition, he isn’t a priority for United right now. Let me list our priorities in the order of what we need.

  1. A Right-winger
  2. A Centre-back
  3. A Left-back
  4. A Defensive Midfielder (that fits Ole’s tactics)
  5. Quality Depth in midfield [This is what the van de Beek signing accomplishes]
  6. A Forward (to replace Ighalo once his loan expires)

What we need now, more than ever, is a right winger. Yes, we also need a centre-back, a left-back, and a defensive midfielder are important but relatively less so. Daniel James is our only natural right winger Daniel James is not good enough to start every match, and I do believe a loan to another Premier League club would do him a world of good. Jadon Sancho should have been our priority signing, but it looks like we are going to miss out on him. There have been rumours circulating that united may pursue Kingsley Coman and Ousmane Dembélé. However, there have been no concrete developments just yet.

I’m afraid I have to disagree with the notion that United do not need to invest in a world-class right-winger because they already have options within their academy prospects. Yes, Tahith Chong played brilliantly in his first few friendly matches for Werder Bremen, providing an assist in his debut scoring an impressive solo goal against FC Groningen in his third match. However, he still needs time to develop. The same goes for Mason Greenwood, who even though has played well in that right-wing role, would probably fare better up front. The same goes for the other positions and United need to reinforce the squad before the start of the season.

Donny van de Beek is by no means a bad signing, and I am thrilled that Manchester United have finally made a transfer, especially since other clubs have already secured multiple targets. What I am fearful of is Manchester United misusing the Dutchman or, even worse, not signing anyone else. The club has done well so far in securing hot prospects for the United Academy and Reserves. They need to replicate this success of acquiring talented youth players for the first-team setup. I sincerely hope that van de Beek’s acquisition will open the flood gates and United go on to secure other priority targets. Only time will tell. Ed Woodward please, I beg you, do not screw this up…

Featured Image by Image by bertholdbrodersen from Pixabay

Manchester United’s Return: The Reds Go Marching On…

An Article by Khertan Harshad Ramanan

The Season

It has been a rollercoaster of a season for Manchester United, the players, the manager and the fans. It was a dream start for United as they ruthlessly overcame Chelsea 4-0 on opening day which gave fans huge expectations. However, the score in that match did not entirely tell the whole story as Chelsea was dictating the play for most of the game. Solskjaer’s men would go on to score six more in their next eight league games. As a result, after nine matches United found themselves sat in 14th in the table, having picked up 10 points winning only twice.

At that point, I predicted United would be finishing in 7th in the table, knowing that a long-term injury to Pogba and Martial would make it hard to go against teams using low-block defence. As predicted, the Red Devils faced an ailing Bournemouth and were defeated after their former striker, Josh King, scored the only goal. United were struggling to score against sides that used a low-block to defend, especially without Pogba and Martial. All the other teams noticed the issue and played United accordingly as a poor string of results kept piling on.

The lowest point of the season was when United lost to Burnley 0-2. In rare scenes at Old Trafford, the team were booed off at half-time and full-time. Former player Darren Fletcher described the atmosphere on the night as “toxic”, with fans voicing their anger towards club owners the Glazers and chief executive Ed Woodward. After the game, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conceded it wasn’t good enough, with the team “lacking ideas”. In the weeks following the game, Solskjaer would solve this problem with the Fernandes signing. It was mid-January, and United would not lose a game for the rest of the league campaign.

The Bruno Effect

 Who knew that one single player was all that’s needed to turn this team around? Bruno Fernandes came from Sporting Libson for £47m and now he’s looking like a huge steal. He came in and gave the confidence that this side needed. He was that creative spark that was needed to help the team penetrate low block defence and ever since he came to Manchester United has only lost once in twenty-two games and that is astonishing. He has a record of 10 goals and 7 assists in 18 matches so far and he has only arrived in January.

 With the coronavirus pandemic bringing football to a halt, it allowed vital players such as Rashford and Paul Pogba to return back to match fitness, adding even more quality to the squad. Now with the full squad ready, United looked like one of the biggest threats in the Premier League. Since Bruno’s arrival, the Red Devils collected 32 points in just 14 games leading United to finish 3rd in the league, securing Champions League Football and are currently in the semi-finals against Sevilla on Sunday.

The Future

Now with Champions League football, Manchester United has the chance to beef up their squad by adding in new talents to make this team title contenders. With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Van De Beek closely linked to Manchester United, the club now has to get the job done by signing these players and back Solskjaer up as he fulfilled his promise of bringing Manchester United back into Champions League.

I am very excited for next season as a Manchester United fan. It’s been seven years since I felt this alive watching United.

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A Response to “Getting Real with United”

This write-up is in response to Vikram’s article, Getting Real with Manchester United. A rich vein of form followed by a week of “abysmal” results. Manchester United were unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions since their 0 – 2 loss against Burnley in late January. United were then brought back to earth after their […]

My All-Time France XI

A random idea Vikram gave me… So the other day, Vikram and I had a discussion about Eric Cantona and his place among the greatest ever French forwards. While we had some disagreements and disputes about Cantona’s proper position compared to the likes of Thierry Henry and Jean-Pierre Papin, it spun off an idea to […]

A New Challenge Outside England: Angel Gomes Moves to Lille

When Angel Gomes left Manchester United at the end of June, many believed he would secure a quick move to Chelsea or another top-flight club in Europe. Rumours circulated that Chelsea were seriously considering signing the player. However, no offer came from Stamford Bridge, and since the start of July, the pacey attacking midfielder has been without a club. July must have been a difficult month for Gomes, who probably second-guessed his decision to leave Old Trafford in search for regular first-team football elsewhere. August, on the other hand, paints a different story for him, as he starts a new chapter in his footballing career.

Ligue 1 side Lille have recently signed Gomes and have shown that they are serious about the player’s development because they have done something that United failed to: loan Gomes out. For the upcoming 2020/21 season, Gomes would be on loan at Portuguese side Boavista F.C. A move to the Primeira Liga is a sensible one because the level of competition is relatively high and Gomes would surely gain regular playing time. Also, as a footballing romanticist, I do think it’s pretty symbolic of a spiritual restart to Gomes’s career. The player heads to Portugal, where his family is from, to gain some much-needed experience before he returns to Lille.

It is a smart piece of business from Lille, who look to rebuild their club with a host of key players expected to leave the club the upcoming transfer window. Victor Osimhen has already left for Napoli on a 50 million Euro transfer, and it will be hard to replace the Nigerian, who was Lille’s top scorer last campaign. Other players rumoured to depart the club include:

  • Gabriel Magalhães, CB
    • Linked with a move to Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal, Napoli
  • Boubakary Soumaré, CM
    • Linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Chelsea
  • Mike Maignan, G.K.
    • Linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea
  • Mehmet Zeki Çelik, R.B.
    • Linked with a move to Everton, Tottenham Hotspur
  • Jonathan Ikoné, FW
    • Linked with a move to Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund

These players formed the backbone of Lille, and the Ligue 1 outfit probably needs a season or two to rebuild and create a new spine for the team. Lille have already signed veteran Greek goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis from Napoli as a short term replacement for Maignan if he leaves. In addition, the club has also signed Turkish icon Burak Yilmaz on a free transfer from Besiktas. The move for Yilmaz is a good piece of business as well. Lille get an experienced forward who adds depth to their frontline, which would be severely depleted if Jonathan Ikoné leaves.

Lille have also attempted to sign Colombian forward Alfredo Morelos from Rangers F.C., who would come in as a replacement for Osimhen. Morelos would be a shrewd piece of business for Lille. They get a good player to build a new spine for the team at a bargain price, and yes, while the Scottish Premier League may not be the most competitive in Europe, his statistics in the Europa League show that he is a lethal finisher. He has scored an impressive 14 goals in 16 appearances for Rangers in Europe this campaign, and Lille would have an upgrade from their current crop of strikers (other than Ikoné).

Another player heavily linked with Lille is Jonathan David, which indicates that the club is more than likely going to cash in on Ikoné. David is one of the brightest talents to have emerged from North America, let alone Canada. He has been absolutely brilliant for Gent in Belgium and will easily fill the boots of Ikoné. Only 20 years old, David’s impending acquisition is further evidence that Lille are in the process of a rebuild.

The decision to sign Angel Gomes is in line with this plan of creating a new backbone for the long-term. He comes in as a free transfer and represents a low-risk acquisition with no significant transfer fee involved. However, his inexperience in first-team football means that he cannot be rushed into the first-team. As much as people call Ligue 1 a farmer’s league, the level of competition in France is high, and Lille cannot afford to risk fielding Gomes weekly.

Manchester United and Ole take note, this is how you develop your academy prospects. Loaning them out to gain valuable first-team minutes at another top-flight European team shows the players that they are part of the club’s plans for the future. Gomes was stuck playing Under-23 football when he could have been playing on loan at a club like Celtic. Seeing his peers and fellow academy teammates get significantly greater playing time

For Gomes, Lille have offered him a new challenge and the chance to prove Ole and Manchester United wrong. As a United fan, I sincerely want Gomes to do well. I hoped that he would develop into a phenomenal player and become an integral part of the United team. That dream has been crushed with his departure, but he can become an essential player for Lille if he performs well with Boavista and remains free from injuries. Only time will tell. That being said, I am probably going to closely follow Gomes’s spell in Portugal and see how he progresses. Fingers crossed that he shines!

Featured Image by Edar from Pixabay

Goodbye Alexis Sánchez. I’m Genuinely Sorry It Didn’t Work Out

It would seem that Alexis Sánchez’s time with the Red Devils is finally coming to a close. After a two and a half year “association” with the club, Internazionale look to make his season-long loan move into a permanent one. Quite honestly, it is a move that suits all parties: Inter would not pay a transfer fee for the Chilean international, Manchester United would save tens of millions in wages, and Sanchez gets to continue his fine form with the Serie A giants.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder what in the world went wrong.

On January 22, 2018, Manchester United announced the signing of Alexis Sánchez from Arsenal in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan move the opposite way. At the time, I believed it was a brilliant move for all parties involved. Sánchez was running down the final 6 months of his contract, looking for a move away from the Emirates, and Arsenal did not want to lose the winger on a free. Manchester United wanted to offload Mkhitaryan, who, while he did not want to leave Old Trafford, was in need of regular playing time. That was my assessment then. Oh boy, how wrong I was.

In the history of swap deals that have transpired in the footballing world, the Sánchez-Mkhitaryan swap is by far one of the worst ones. Both players failed to live up to expectations and coincidentally find themselves on loan to Serie A clubs this past season. Mkhitaryan was loaned to AS Roma.

What I don’t understand is why Sánchez failed at Manchester United. He was a proven Premier League goal scorer and had an excellent track record before his tenure with Arsenal. He was outstanding for FC Barcelona and played well for Udinese. At Arsenal, he was lethal up front. The Chilean made 166 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners and scored an impressive 80 goals. He was supposed to continue his scintillating form at United, and was slated to form a formidable attacking partnership with Lukaku and Rashford.

However, from the get go, Sánchez was off. It wasn’t a case of him being a lazy player or wasn’t hardworking enough. He often ran for the ball when the team lost possession and he would make runs and attempt to link up with the attacking play. However, something never ever clicked during Sanchez’s time at United.

Was it due to Mourinho’s management? One could make a case for this given how the Special One often utilized a defensive (or how some would term “negative”) approach to the game. That could have contributed to why he racked up so few assists and goals. A lot of his teammates, like Rashford and Martial, appeared shackled under Mourinho as well. However, while the rest of the squad prospered after Ole took over, Sánchez still never took off.

Injuries hampered his second season season at United as well, and perhaps it affected the player’s ability to settle in. People often overlook this as a problem when it can actually make or break a players career at a club. The psychological well being of a player is really important, and maybe Sánchez never had the time to properly settle in the club. After all, he was brought mid-way through the season, and adapting to new teammates and tactics in a short span of time is by no means an easy task. That being said, he did have a full preseason with the club to adapt for the following campaign but still fired blanks most of the time.

One also has to look at why he performed so well at Arsenal, and there was one key reason for that: Mesut Özil. At United, Sánchez lacked someone like Özil – someone who was a playmaking maestro. Pogba could have offered what Özil did at Arsenal, but under Mourinho, he rarely featured in that attacking midfield position that the German occupied.

One thing is for certain, Sánchez was expected to come in and produce fireworks immediately. The United hierarchy were so certain that their new number 7 would be off the mark that they provided him with a staggering 500,000 pounds-per-week contract. That really did him more harm than good, and United fans circled the player like vultures whenever he failed to score or make an impact in the game. For 500,000 pounds a week, Sánchez needed to do better. He showed glimpses of his old form in some matches, but they were rare exceptions. He was pocketing a colossal figure weekly for regular sub-par performances and thus became a scapegoat for the club’s struggles. Maybe United fans were too harsh on the player, but time is a luxury in the Premier League, where instant results are demanded.

Sánchez is most certainly departing Manchester, and it makes the most sense for him to join Inter. Since the Serie A’s restart, he has been in fine form, and continuing that momentum with a team and system he is comfortable with makes the most logical sense. Offloading Sánchez also means that more resources become available for a move for Jadon Sancho. If the rumours are true, Sánchez will end his contract voluntarily, and it saves the Red Devils a ton of cash.

To conclude, I want to go over one last point. Some people might attribute Sánchez’s failure to the curse of the number 7. After Cristiano Ronaldo, every Manchester United player to don the (in)famous number has struggled. Memphis Depay, Ángel Di María, and Michael Owen are all amazing players, but they failed to reach the heights they were supposed to at United. Perhaps there is some truth to this “curse.” Not that there is some actual black magic spell put on the number, but rather the weight it carries. Many famous players have donned the number 7 and the expectations are immense. United fans have longed for another star player like George Best, Eric Cantona, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

You might think it’s stupid to blame the failure of a player due to the jersey they wear. It’s just a number on their back, it’s meaningless. Maybe. Yet, at the same time, perhaps we treat players like machines and fail to remember that they are humans which may be the problem. After all, Sánchez had at least a billion United fans expecting him to perform magnificently every game. It is a daunting task for any player to assume the mantle of the number 7 shirt. Maybe, just maybe, Sánchez cracked under the enormous pressure.

A Response to “Getting Real with United”

This write-up is in response to Vikram’s article, Getting Real with Manchester United.

A rich vein of form followed by a week of “abysmal” results. Manchester United were unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions since their 0 – 2 loss against Burnley in late January. United were then brought back to earth after their 1 – 3 loss against Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals. It seems like everything is going into a rut, but that is not the case. There was a point when United fans turned on Ole after back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Burnley left them 14 points off third-place Leicester City. United were far off the pace at Match Week 24, but somehow, Ole managed to galvanise the team after the losses. This was also certainly aided by the signing of Bruno Fernandes and the break, which saw crucial players coming back from injuries. United are far from perfect, but many forget that they are still a work in progress. Many of the problems that United fans bemoan about show that they have certainly forgotten where we came from.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Vikram’s points are valid, and these are the issues that many United fans are frustrated with. The Bruno-Pogba combination have been influential and integral to United’s unbeaten run since the resumption of the league. There is no doubt that Ole has been reliant on Bruno and Pogba for creativity, and there may seem to be no plan B at the moment. However, before Bruno’s arrival and during Pogba’s absence, Rashford was the creative force and scored important goals for the team. At that moment, it seemed like the form of Rashford plastered over the cracks of United’s jarring lack of creativity. The “creativity” in midfield came in the form of Pereira and Fred, and we could see how United were unable to finish teams off during the first half of the season. It seemed like teams that sat back and defended could force a draw because there was no one in midfield that could seek the final pass. A midfield that used to lack creativity was suddenly jolted into life when Bruno and Pogba entered the first team. It is no doubt that when teams shut Bruno and Pogba down, as seen from the games against Chelsea and Southampton, they would nullify United’s attacking prowess.

However, I believe that mistakes and fatigue played a part in United’s dip in form rather than a lack of plan B. Unluckily, their other source of creativity, Marcus Rashford, has been suffering from a dip in form ever his return. Martial and Greenwood have also been sources of creativity too but have been over-reliant on the Bruno-Pogba partnership. Nevertheless, we cannot take away the impact of Triple M (Marcus, Martial and Mason. Cringe, I know but I COINED THIS). Their individual brilliance at times have terrorised defenses and had changed the complexion of games when creativity from midfield was largely lacking. The attack need to find that spark again and be consistent so that they are not too reliant on Bruno and Pogba.

An Improved Defense

It is true that United’s defence needs to be sorted out. Maguire has been full of mistakes, but theres no doubt he has been integral in shoring up the defense. He has been one of the best centre backs for United since Fergie retired. This season he completed the most number of passes, has the most aerial battles won, most clearances and most interceptions. There have been costly mistakes, but these mistakes have been magnified because of his price tag (which he is not responsible for). I agree with Vikram’s assessment of certain players. Rojo and Jones need to be shipped out, but his preference for Bailly and Williams seem to stem from a few of their standout performances. Personally, I do not rate them as highly. Williams could be suffering from a poor run of form as well but he has not entirely impressed since the resumption of the league.

To say that Chris Smalling has been our best defender largely neglects the defensive stability brought about by the Lindelöf and Maguire partnership. They are not perfect, but they are the best that we have. Smalling has played well in Serie A, but the league plays at a much slower pace than the EPL. The Englishman would make a great squad player, as he is defensively sound but still prone to the big mistake. The new look United have benefitted from a stable back four and has kept 13 clean sheets in the league this season, almost twice from last season as they kept only 7 clean sheets. Eric Bailly is good, but he is not a stable force in the back four. He can be great, but his concentration is lacking in some games, which makes him inconsistent.

Not the Finished Article

Quality outside of the Red Devils’ first team is embarrassingly meagre. A strong bench is needed to turn the game around, and it is important for fans to understand that United have been getting rid of the deadwood and bringing in fresh faces either through transfers or from the youth setup. It is fair to criticise United on this aspect because none of the second-string players have brought anything to the table. These include Lingard, Mata, James and Pereira. Even with a plan B, I do not have the confidence of playing these players to change the game.

United seem to need four more signings to challenge for the title again. Ole does have some tactical nous. We have seen how he adapts the way the team plays against the opponents United are up against. Now that United are stronger, Ole set the team up to play with more possession, have fluidity in their attacking movements and use the midfield double-pivot to remain stable at the back and to control the midfield. To prove that Ole is tactically astute, we can look at games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and Man City. Many times Ole had out-thought great tacticians this season and have been consistent at outsmarting seasoned managers. The Norweigian “PE teacher” does have a flair at managing United and has been an integral in its rebuild.

Lastly, I do believe Ole could be the man to bring United back to the glory days. However, to expect the Norwegian to amass 98 to 100 points or winning 32 games, could be a little unrealistic. It would be a mammoth task for Ole to emulate the managerial success exemplified by Guardiola and Klopp. Does United need to eventually find a successor for Ole to take the club to the next level? Only time will tell, but his system has worked so far.

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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Premier League Week in Review

The start of something special for a few teams?

Welcome to the Premier League Week in Review, where we take a look back at everything that has happened in the last week or so in England’s top flight league. We go over our player of the week, name three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned. And man, did we learn quite a bit.

Player of the Week

Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United

What else is there to be said that has not been said already? The Portuguese midfield magician has been a revelation since his arrival in Manchester, becoming United’s most important player and arguably among the best players in his position in the league. In United’s last two games, 3-0 and 5-2 demolitions of Brighton and Bournemouth, respectively, Fernandes was the best player on the pitch, pulling the strings from midfield and acting as the conductor of the terrifying Manchester United attack. His finishing ability and eye for a pass were on full display in both games, amassing three goals and two assists over those two matches. Two incredible performances from one incredible player, his rise to near-world stardom is coinciding with a potential phoenix-like rise of the new Manchester United.

Honorable Mention: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United), Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)

Winners of the Week

1.) Manchester United

Yes, the competition was not great, but oh boy did United look good. Yes, there were issues in defense (R.I.P. Harry Maguire’s ankles), but United showed they have enough firepower in attack to be an absolutely terrifying team for the rest of the season and going into next season. The midfield pairing of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has been nothing short of outstanding, and Ole has seemingly found a working front three of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood. The movement of the front three and ability of the midfielders to provide for them and score themselves makes United an incredibly fluid, difficult to predict, and hard to stop team when on the attack. They have the ability to counter with pace through all three of the front players, as well as utilize the creative ability of Pogba and Fernandes to pick apart teams sitting back and defending. This team is on the cusp of title contention, and while they definitely are not there yet, this attack is a major part of the larger solution for Solskjær. I would say United are currently the favorites to finish in the newly formed race for third place between them, Leicester, and Chelsea.

2.) Arsenal

In a similar vein to United, you can sense that the pieces are starting to come together for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. The Spaniard’s shift to a back three has provided some needed defensive solidity and seemingly brought out a consistently solid David Luiz. The back three has also juiced up the Arsenal attack, adding in the element of attacking wing backs to the equation. The wing backs, Kieran Tierney especially, have shone in the last two games, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pépé have all put in solid shifts in attack. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have been solid in midfield, despite some shakiness in the second half against Wolves, and things seem to be progressing on keeping Ceballos in North London for at least one more season. Positive improvement on the pitch sees the Gunners with a solid chance at qualifying for the Europa League next season, which is a massive improvement compared to where they were when the season resumed a few weeks ago. The most important developments have happened off the pitch, though, as the club confirmed new contracts for youngsters Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and rumors in the tabloids indicate that there is positive momentum leading toward a contract extension for Aubameyang. For a season that seemed to be falling apart at the seams when the league was suspended, Arsenal and Arteta have done well to not only get back on the rails, but begin building toward something great.

3.) West Ham United

I will not lie, I absolutely did not see West Ham’s win over Chelsea coming, and I know I am not alone in this. The Irons have been largely hapless this season under both Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes, but when they needed it most, they seemed to pull the rabbit out of the hat here. The Chelsea defense was shockingly poor, having difficulty dealing with the creative ability of Jarrod Bowen and pure dynamic unpredictability of Michail Antonio. It was a match seemingly defined by chaos, with Andriy Yarmolenko’s 89th minute winner the epitome of this, coming on a wild counter after Chelsea were pushing for a winner. It is one of those games that makes you miss having fans in the stands, as the delirium that ensued following Yarmolenko’s goal would have been that much better with fans in attendance at the Olympic Stadium. While their 2-2 draw to Newcastle was disappointing, having conceded twice from winning positions, results around the relegation zone meant that the single point they got at St. James’ Park lifted them to four points above the drop zone with five matches to play. They are not safe by any means, especially since they still must play Norwich, Watford, and Aston Villa, but they get a tiny extra bit of security from the drop. That win over Chelsea may be the reason that the Irons stay up.

Losers of the Week

1.) Norwich City

Norwich continued their trend of looking decent at times in open play but being unable to score, despite the talent they have going forward. A 4-0 demolition at the hands of Arsenal followed by a very disappointing 1-0 loss to Brighton caps off four matches without a point and without a goal since the league season restarted, leaving the Canaries seven points from safety with five matches remaining. While they have matches remaining against Watford and West Ham, they must also face Chelsea and Manchester City, two matches in which they would be very unlikely to pick up any points. It looks like Norwich will be relegated to the Championship. Their season can really be characterized by one lasting image: the shot of midfielder Todd Cantwell slumped onto the pitch following the Brighton loss, a look of defeat and resignation on his face. Despite the talent that Norwich have, including the dynamic, exciting Cantwell, they have never been able to fully figure it all out for an extended run of games.

2.) Sheffield United

Chris Wilder and his merry band of Blades have ran into a serious stumbling block in their hunt for European football next season. Sheffield United had failed to win since the season restarted before a 3-1 win over Spurs this week, but a 1-1 draw to Burnley in the very next match continued this stuttering form that has seen the Blades fall out of the European places into ninth, one point behind Arsenal in seventh with five matches remaining. The European dream is beginning to die for Chris Wilder’s team, and while their next four games (Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton) can reverse their fortunes completely, it is hard to envision Arsenal’s new form massively slowing down. It feels like it will be either Wolves or Arsenal occupying sixth, with the other occupying seventh. Eighth can be a European place if City’s appeal of their European ban fails, but it is not safe to assume that will be the case. Chris Wilder needs positive results in those four matches to get into Europe, but without that, it will likely be a mid-table finish for the Blades. Mid-table is nothing to scoff at for a newly promoted team, but the knowledge that it could have been much more might be painful for Sheffield United fans to deal with.

3.) Watford

Whatever good form and positive energy existed when Nigel Pearson was hired is now gone. Watford have failed to win a league match since their shock 3-0 win over Liverpool back in March, and that rut in form has dragged them right back into the relegation fight, leaving them clinging onto safety by only a point. The Hornets’ attack has struggled to find their feet since the league season resumed, with Ismaïla Sarr and Abdoulaye Doucouré especially being unable to regain their pre-lockdown form. They still must face Norwich and West Ham, which should allow them to pull away from the relegation places, but with Manchester City and Arsenal as their final two games, there is significant pressure to get positive results in their next three games before that awful finishing duo. Anything less than five points in their next three matches could leave them in serious danger of going down, with at least seven points being the ideal target. Watford are good enough to stay up, but that is the thing about the relegation race this season; you could say that about every team that is fighting the drop.

What we Learned

1.) Arsenal and Man United are building something special

This has been covered in other areas of this post, but it is worth emphasizing again. Both teams began a rebuild this season, and you are beginning to see the image of what these rebuilt giants can become. Manchester United have built a terrifying attack, with really an attacking five that can rival the best in the league. Arsenal have found stability in a back three that is able to get the most out of the players at their disposal. Both are moving toward finishing in a European place this season, which will provide them a solid platform to build on in the coming transfer window. Both have flaws in defense, Arsenal especially, but the vision is there for what Solskjær and Arteta want to create. Next season might be too soon to consider either a true contender, but they are two teams to watch over the next 12 months.

2.) We all aren’t sure what to take from Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Part of me thinks this resounding victory for City was Pep’s men throwing down the gauntlet for the title challenge next season, staking their claim as arguably the best team in England despite their unfortunate season this term. Part of me also thinks this was an über-motivated City team taking advantage of a figuratively, and probably literally, hungover Liverpool team. Part of me wants it to mean everything, and another part of me wants it to mean nothing. That is where I am at. This is a match that served as a good reminder that City are still a very strong, albeit flawed, team that is capable of winning the title and Champions League basically every season. However, the results around this game, mainly City’s losses to Chelsea and Southampton, remind you of the major flaws in this team (notably in defense) and why Liverpool won the title so easily in the first place. City will likely be title contenders next season, as I do not see Liverpool running away with the title again, but they still have things to fix in order for them to fully be in contention again. It is wild that we are saying this about arguably one of the best teams ever assembled in the Premier League era, but here we are. Leroy Sané’s departure will likely hurt the Citizens, but it does provide them with the funds to bring in a much-needed center back partner for Aymeric Laporte. Bringing in help at fullback will also be important, and while the COVID impacted transfer market will likely not hinder City all that much, it is ever more important for them to stay within the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, since their entire organization now operates under a microscope. So in conclusion, does City thrashing Liverpool mean anything? Not really. Will City be title contenders next season, though? Probably.

3.) One step forward, two steps back for Everton

It was very difficult to find a place in either the winners or losers tab for Everton, despite being a team that we need to discuss. Carlo Ancelotti’s team seemingly took a massive step toward European football with two…let’s call them gritty…wins against Norwich and Leicester, but their drab and uninspiring 1-0 loss to Spurs yesterday acts as a sudden crash back to Earth for the Toffees, seemingly in a way that only Everton can provide. Ancelotti deserves incredible praise for the work he has done so far on Merseyside, guiding a very weird squad to an outside chance at finishing in a European place, seemingly punching above his weight with a thin and not incredibly talented Everton team. Europe was seemingly a bridge too far, however, and unless Everton win their remaining matches and a miracle happens around them, it is unlikely that they will be playing in the Europa League next season. There is definitely an argument that not being in the Europa League, and especially not having to deal with whatever wild schedule comes out for the Europa League qualifying rounds, is a blessing in disguise for an Everton team that is not quite ready for that step up. However, having to deal with their neighbors’ title celebrations must make life especially difficult for Evertonians, who are still frustrated at the apparent lack of progress in their team after all of these years. They are on the right track, but they have a long road ahead of them. Trust the process, Evertonians. Trust the process.

4.) Great week for young English players

This was a momentous week for four young English players in the Premier League: Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones. Foden started proceedings in City’s 4-0 thumping of Liverpool, scoring and assisting in a fantastic display against a very good side. Greenwood followed suit with three goals in two games, with his second thunderous strike against Bournemouth being the pick of the bunch. The young United striker continues his Wayne Rooney-esque ascendancy to superstardom, while, across the city, Foden demonstrated that he just might be able to live up to his “Stockport Iniesta” nickname. The other two are an interesting pair. Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka and Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones both signed new deals at their respective clubs this week, with Saka’s coming at a major relief to Arteta and the Arsenal hierarchy. Both are considered to be very promising young players at their clubs, both being academy graduates, and both clubs and managers will likely be overjoyed having them tied down to long-term deals. Both also scored their first Premier League goals this week, both ironically on half-volleys, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Wolves and Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa, respectively. Both players are very good stories, and seeing them succeed at the top level for their boyhood clubs is heart-warming. If you are English, seeing the progress of these four players has to be exciting, and given the amount of young talent in the England player pool at the moment, one has to think that it is only a matter of time before “football comes home”.

5.) What a goal from Che Adams

Let’s just all take a moment to talk about Che Adams and his goal against Man City. Firstly, if you have not seen it, go watch it. Now that you have, yeah, what a goal. The goal by itself is already quite impressive, having the confidence to chip a keeper as good and athletic as Ederson from that kind of distance as well as having the technical ability to pull it off, is quite remarkable. However, that is not the full story. That goal was Adams’ first ever Premier League goal, having arrived at Southampton from Championship side Birmingham City before the season started. He featured about 30 times for Saints in all competitions, failing to score until this moment. I genuinely cannot think of a more astounding way to score your first Premier League goal, considering the manner the goal was scored, the opponent it came against, and the fact that it was the winning goal. A moment so unique and insane for the young English striker that it deserved its own special shoutout.

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