Tag Archives: Ole

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.


Statement Signing Stipe Plazibat Shines as Sailors overcome ten-man Eagles

Lion City Sailors have been making waves in the local footballing scene since tech firm Sea’s takeover of Home United. Besides becoming a fully privatized club, the Sailors have recently launched their football academy, and they made the news recently by becoming the first academy in Singapore to receive AFC’s one-star rating. Geylang International were […]

The Singapore Premier League is Back: Hougang Stun Tampines and Tanjong Pagar Made to Rue Missed Chances

After 211 days of local professional football being absent from our TV screens, the Singapore Premier League has finally resumed. However, there were certain changes made by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). Instead of a three-round league, only 2 rounds would be played, with cup competitions cancelled. Moreover, just like many of the European […]

English Football’s Hostage Crisis

How “Project Big Picture” hides its nefarious intentions behind a veil of perceived benevolence… Yes, this is a very strongly worded title. It is intentionally done so, and you will see why soon enough. This past weekend, the Daily Telegraph leaked a proposed plan for financial restructuring and debt relief within English professional football. This […]

City’s Defensive Wall Reshaped?

On Manchester City’s acquisition of Rúben Dias and how it may or may not fix their defensive issues… Manchester City finally got their center back target this summer. Rúben Dias, the promising young Portuguese center back that launched into the spotlight in Portugal’s Nations League triumph, joins the Citizens from Benfica for £62 million plus […]

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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My All-Time France XI

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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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“Ole Mismanaged Angel”: My thoughts on Angel Gomes leaving Manchester United

Alas, it has happened. In hindsight, it was bound to occur, but still, I kept faith that things would work out between both parties and he would eventually agree to a contract extension. I guess I was being naïve but it’s official. Manchester United have confirmed that Angel Gomes has parted ways with the club, ending his 14-year association with the Red Devils.

It is honestly such a shame. I still remember when Gomes made his debut for the club on May 21, 2017, in a match against Crystal Palace. He replaced Wayne Rooney in the 88th minute, and at 16 years and 253 days, he officially became the club’s youngest ever player since Duncan Edwards in 1953. The son of former Portuguese Under-21 player Gil Gomes and the godson of United cult hero Nani, there was a lot of hype about Gomes following his debut. He appeared destined for great things, and United fans eagerly awaited to see him in action for the club. Yet, that never happened.

While Jose gave him his debut, he hardly featured under the Portuguese after that. He only appeared once more, as an 88th-minute substitute for Marcus Rashford against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup. When Ole took charge, it was widely expected that more opportunities would be given to academy prospects, and, to a large extent, he did fulfill those expectations. Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have benefited immensely from regular first-team playing time. Players like Tahith Chong and Axel Tuanzebe seem to be in the long term plans of the Norwegian and have played a fair bit as well. The same can’t be said for Gomes.

In short, I think Ole has mismanaged the player. He offended Gomes by saying that he was “too small” to be playing in the Premier League. Standing at 1.61m (5’3″), Gomes certainly isn’t the tallest player you’d ever meet. However, he makes up for his short height with his pace, dribbling ability, and fantastic balance on the ball (no surprise given his lower centre of gravity). While Ole has demonstrated to his other academy peers that they would feature in his plans, he has done nothing to suggest the same for Gomes. The young attacking midfielder has only played six times (3 starts & 3 substitute appearances) this season. By contrast, Tahith Chong, whom I believe pales in comparison to Angel Gomes in technical ability and natural talent, has featured 11 times (4 starts & 7 substitute appearances) for the Red Devils. Gomes felt that it was time for him to leave and head somewhere he would be better appreciated.

However, Ole might be faced with another potential Paul Pogba situation. Back in the summer of 2012, Paul Pogba left Manchester United on a free transfer to Juventus after his contract expired. The Frenchman left Old Trafford after he believed that Ferguson didn’t trust in his abilities. Ferguson will forever be known as one of the best managers of all time, but he has his flaws. Letting Pogba go would be one his biggest mistakes and one that cost Manchester United dearly. Pogba went on to shine at Juventus. Realizing what they missed out on, the Red Devils paid the Italian giants £89.3 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford. With Chelsea reportedly interested in signing Gomes, Manchester United could see a repeat of one of their best talents playing brilliantly for another club, or worse, a rival one.

I felt the need to re-look at his time at United, and by doing so, I started to ask myself a few questions. These are questions that Ole needs to ask himself to prevent more instances of the “Pogba Situation.”

Even if Ole believed that Gomes wasn’t big enough to play in the Premier League, why was he never loaned out? Even during the past January transfer window, Gomes was denied the opportunity of a loan move to another Premier League side. The United hierarchy could have provided a loan opportunity subject to an agreement of a new contract. More importantly, why wasn’t Gomes loaned out when it became clear that he was not going to feature in Ole’s plans. A move would have helped the hot prospect demonstrate what he could offer United.

Furthermore, I can’t entirely agree with Ole that Gomes’s small stature would be a significant hindrance. Does size really matter? Personally, I don’t think so. The Manchester United squad has enough tall players, and some of the world’s best attacking players are of small stature. Besides Messi, Atlanta’s Papu Gomez, Argentina legend Diego Maradonna, and ex-Liverpool stalwart Samuel Peter Lee are just some players who come to mind. If he was given a better chance like his peers and if he was given some guidance, he would have certainly stayed at United.

Now, if Gomes joins Chelsea, you can be sure he is going to show United what they missed out on and potentially, come back to haunt the Red Devils. Don’t think Lampard won’t feature him as well. If it’s one thing that we’ve seen Lampard do, it’s that unlike previous Chelsea managers, he wants to offer more opportunities to young English players. Angel Gomes fits that bill.

To conclude, let me say this. Gomes could have developed into a proper first-team player for United had he been given the proper development. Even though United have signed Bruno Fernandes, who plays in a similar attacking midfield position, Gomes would have had chances galore in a season or two. Juan Mata would probably have retired by then, and Ole would have probably offloaded Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira. When these players do leave the club, I hope United don’t regret that they had someone like Gomes within their ranks that could have replaced them and instead splurge an enormous amount of money on a replacement. It’ll be a case of déjà vu for the club if that replacement happens to be Gomes himself.

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What do Manchester United do with Alexis Sanchez?

Alexis Sanchez arrived at Manchester United with a lot of promise. Sanchez was absolutely sensational at Arsenal, notching up an impressive 80 goals and 45 assists in 166 games for the Gunners. At that time, I remembered how I really wanted Lucas Moura to come to the club instead. Moura was younger and faster than the Chilean, who was already 29 by the time he signed with the Red Devils. However, since United were swapping the frustratingly inconsistent Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Sanchez with no additional fees, it seemed like an absolute bargain for the club. The Red Devils hyped up his arrival, revealing a heart-warming announcement video that Alexis had signed for the club.  

Glory Glory Man Utd! | Alexis Sanchez Signs! by Manchester United

I still remember how excited my friends and I were when they released this video. Finally, we had someone worthy to wear the famous no. 7 shirt. Sanchez had demonstrated his prowess at Arsenal, and United fans waited eagerly for him to replicate his form at Arsenal at Old Trafford.

So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And well, we’re still waiting.

Some say his finest performance in a United jersey was playing that piano in his announcement video. The truth is Sanchez is a shadow the player he was at Arsenal. He has shown glimpses of his talent, but mostly, he has been poor. Even at Inter Milan, Sanchez (to be fair he has been plagued by injuries) has not produced when it mattered. Now, many United fans probably would have forgotten about him after Bruno Fernandes’s arrival. Honestly, I forgot that he was going to return at the end of the season. It does beg the question though, what do Manchester United do with him?

I stumbled on an article written by Kevin Bernie for the Manchester Evening News, “Four reasons Alexis Sanchez should be given another chance at Manchester United.” I’m going to be frank. I disagree with the weak arguments he has come up with. Read his article and you’ll understand what I am saying. Still, his article has made me think about what the club should do with Sanchez.

Should he stay?

If Alexis Sanchez were to take a significant pay cut, I think he can be an instrumental member of the squad. Sanchez can play on both wings and operate as a striker as well. Manchester United have deployed Dan James as a makeshift striker because of injuries to Rashford and Martial. With Ighalo potentially not signing permanently for the club and Woodward recently ruling out big-money signatures, Sanchez adds some valuable depth to the team.

Bernie mentions that with time, Sanchez can rediscover his Arsenal form. The likelihood of that happening is slim. Those days are well past him, but Sanchez does have significant experience under his belt. He doesn’t have to be the same player he was at Arsenal. Instead, he can become a mentor-like figure for developing players (just like Juan Mata and Nemanja Matić). Harry Maguire has added much-needed leadership in the youthful United locker room, but more experienced heads are needed..

Most importantly, Sanchez should be given a fair chance with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker’s arrival has reinvigorated the entire team. Sanchez was a great player at Arsenal not entirely because he was a gifted footballer but also because he brilliantly linked up play with Mesut Özil. Özil’s incredible vision and passing ability meant that he always found a way to supply the ball to Sanchez. Quite frankly, when he first arrived, no one at United was a formidable playmaker. Now, we have one with Bruno. Will Sanchez regain some of his form with Bruno’s playmaking ability? In fact, if Bruno and Pogba were fielded together with Sanchez, that could make for some exciting football at United.

Should he go?

If Sanchez remains, the board would almost certainly have him start every game since he is earning a staggering weekly wage. His wages could have significant impacts on the rest of the team. Under Ole, Manchester United have undertaken a different approach when it comes to transfers. The Norwegian has rebuilt Manchester United by buying young players and blooding in academy prospects. Would Sanchez’s arrival threaten the playing time of hot prospects and thus hinder their development? United have done well to give Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood ample game time on the wings this campaign. Selling Sanchez will make more sense if Ole is sticking to his philosophy on youth.

Sanchez hasn’t merited a place in the squad through his loan at Inter Milan and at this point, he is nothing more than an unnecessary gamble. Let’s compare his performances to another United loanee, Chris Smalling. On loan at Roma, Smalling has rediscovered the excellent form he displayed under Louis van Gaal. United could potentially bring him back to help add competition in defence. Sanchez has done nothing of the sort at Inter Milan. Based on his performances thus far, I don’t see any reason why he should be given a spot over other members of the squad.

Moreover, as I mentioned earlier in the article, Sanchez has an unjustified amount of weekly wages. Selling him frees up wage space and prevents potential rifts in the locker room. Give it time and other players at United would start demanding for similar astronomical wages. Sanchez needs to take a pay cut or else, he should be given the boot.

Image by jorono from Pixabay 

Time will only tell what the club does with Sanchez. Ole seems to be keen on giving the winger another chance at redemption. No one wants a player to be dreadful. Regardless of whether he stays or goes, the footballing world needs Sanchez to regain his form. He is an exceptional talent who has a few more years in him at least (he is only 32 years old this year). I refuse to believe he is past his peak. He needs time. The question is, are United willing to give him some?

Manchester United’s decision to let Ashley Young go makes little practical sense

Under Ole, Manchester United have evidently embarked on a more youth-centred policy. This approach was evident with the club signing Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James in the summer and the promotion of youth team players like Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood and James Garner to the first team. Furthermore, since his arrival in Dec 2018, Ole has gradually culled the older players from the first team – with Fellaini, Herrera, Smalling, and Sanchez all departing the club. Ashley Young appears to be the next senior player to be axed by the Norwegian. Inter Milan have reportedly agreed a $1.3 Milion dollar move for the veteran right-back. Even though most Manchester United fans would rejoice at this decision, I think Young’s transfer is a poor piece of business (for United) and could have long term impacts on the squad.

Yes, It makes some sense to cash in than let him go for free

I agree that the decision to let Young go is a financially sound one. Ashley Young is no longer the 25-year-old spring chicken he once was. After eight and a half seasons of mixed performances at Old Trafford, he is 34 years old with his contract expiring at the end of the season. The opportunity to sell him now not only injects a bit of cash into the club but also frees up the wage budget by a bit.

If you were to ask most United fans, they would be happy to see him leave the club. Young has produced moments of sheer brilliance (remember the goals he scored against Arsenal). However, he has also produced god-awful displays during his time at United, which has often cost the Red Devils matches.

Yet, I can’t but help wonder why the club is selling Young at this juncture, midway through the season.

Ashley Young has been a loyal servant to the club and whether you like him or not, is a role model at United. Having joined in 2011, Ashley Young is one of a handful of players have Premier League winners medal with the club. [The others being Phil Jones and David De Gea. Though, Mata and Matic won the Premier League with Chelsea]. He has the experience of what it takes to win trophies. Every locker room needs characters like that to help guide the younger players and ensure that their heads remain cool in difficult situations.

More importantly, young Manchester United players should take grasp the chance to learn how Ashley Young successfully reinvented himself as a full-back. Young single-handedly prolonged his time at Manchester United when he successfully converted to a wing-back under Louis van Gaal (LVG). Van Gaal staunchly believed in the 3-5-2 formation during his time at United and Young would have been shipped out if he could not fit that system. Even though Young gets a lot of stick from United fans, in all fairness, Young played well most of the time as a wing-back under LVG. Young’s presence at the club symbolizes the notion of perseverance and reinvention. It motivates players not to give up and look at different ways to reinvent themselves to fit Ole’s system better.

Besides the symbolism, it makes no practical sense to let Young leave. Manchester United are fraught with injuries in defence, and Young helps to plug the gaps in the back. While Diogo Dalot is now fit and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the starting right-back for the club, Luke Shaw is still out injured and has been injury-prone. Brandon Williams has slotted into the left-back position nicely but who do United have as back-up options? Marcos Rojo is out injured. While Dalot could play as a left-back, what cover is available for Wan-Bissaka? Timothy Fosu Mensah is out and has been out for sometime now. He can’t be expected to start weekly straight away after such a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Amidst such an injury crisis, Young offers much-needed depth in the full-back department because he can play either side.

Man United need versatile players in such a fixture-congested season. Besides Perreira, who can be deployed virtually anywhere in midfield (albeit to varying degrees of effectiveness), Ashley Young is probably the only other “utility player” at United. He can be used anywhere along either flank (be it as a full-back, wide midfielder or winger). This is important since United are still involved in every major competition they have taken part in. Besides the Premier League, the club is also playing in the Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup. The fixtures will undoubtedly pile up, and the Red Devils need to rotate their squad to limit fatigue. Young offers a solid back up option and can start both Europa League, and FA Cup matches as United focuses on securing a Champions League spot in the League.

Also, and quite frankly, what is 1.3 Million Pounds to a club like United – what is the real reason behind axing Young? The club doesn’t appear to be making any signings this January, and there has been no serious attempt to blood in academy prospects (who can play in the RB role) like how Ole has incorporated Brandon Williams into the first team. So why not wait till the end of the season, utilize his experience, and give our captain a proper sendoff. As a fan, it is frustrating to see a lack of recruitment when we have little squad depth. It becomes even more frustrating when the club prioritizes the sale of players that are not “deadwood” but arguably essential members of the squad. Just saying, it would make more sense to prioritize the sale of Matic, Rojo, Phil Jones over Ashley Young.

Addressing Manchester United’s Inconsistent Form

There are two things that Manchester United has been consistent in this season: Inconsistent form and their policy in playing youth. With the departure of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United started the option with a thin frontline. Martial’s injury was a blessing in disguise as it thrust greenwood into the first team, and he has benefitted immensely by gaining more playing time. However, it also highlighted how limited United’s options are upfront. At times, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard have played upfront. Even though Rashford has filled that void, he has been most effective when he’s deployed as wide forward.

It’s not just the lack of options up front but also the consistency of the players. Don’t get me wrong, Martial and Rashford are exceptional talents but they fail in consistently delivering. It’s as if both players suffer from “Theo Walcott” syndrome, where they put in quality performances and pick up momentum by notching in goals and then suddenly fire blanks. The recent goalless draw with Wolves in the FA Cup 3rd Round is yet another episode of United’s inability to piece together several good performances.

The main issue is that Manchester United lack quality in creating chances – we don’t have enough playmakers. Juan Mata is past his prime and is a bit-part player at best. With the ridiculous wages he’s on, he has never really justified his contract extension. Jesse Lingard has never really recaptured his incredible form in the 2017-2018 season and has been simply dreadful this season. Pereira has shown glimpses of brilliance but has been so inconsistent that he should not be the first player on the team sheet. Paul Pogba is the only quality first-team player who creates chances but has been out injured the whole season. Rumors of his exit have been prevalent all season but even if he stays, the club needs more depth in that department.

The only player that has been consistently creating chances is Daniel James, who unsurprisingly has registered the most assists for United in the league this season, with 6. While Daniel James has been effective as a support-winger, he would be more effective as an inside forward with his electric pace. His 3 goals earlier in the season demonstrated how he could convert chances if he’s in the box. The problem is he rarely gets into these positions primarily because he appears to be the only player making chances in Pogba’s absence.

Image by jorono from Pixabay 

Besides a Central Attacking Midfielder, Manchester United needs to reinforce in central midfield with a holding midfielder. McTominay’s injury is a major setback for United simply because he has been Manchester United’s only saving grace in that holding midfield position. There is a major disparity when McTominay is in the team and when McTominay isn’t in the team. Fred is ineffective without McTominay by his side and Matic, like Mata, is no longer the dependable player he once was. James Garner is promising but is still raw. He is definitely one for the future but United need to reinforce their holding midfielder position.

Reinforcements are necessary but only the right kind. Manchester United cannot fall into the same trap they did under Van Gaal where his signings were solid on paper but on hindsight, were mostly panic buys that did not fit the squad or system that van Gaal played. Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger spring up to mind as quality players who floundered at United. The club has done well in the Summer transfer window and must ensure it maintains a recruitment policy that supports the strategy and tactics of the manager.

In the quite possible event that Manchester United fail to make any signings this January transfer window, Ole has to ask himself what Manchester United can realistically achieve. If a top 6 finish is unlikely, Ole should concentrate on youth development and instead focus his efforts in the Europa League – a certainly achievable feat. Mason Greenwood has progressed well and so has Brandon Williams, perhaps more opportunities should be given to academy prospects. After all, the club deviated away from its youth policy under Mourinho and its decline in fortunes has prompted promising local talent to switch to the Blue side of Manchester.

Regardless of the direction Manchester United takes, change is necessary. One should not be disillusioned by the long unbeaten streak last season. Manchester United has failed to replicate similar form for whatever reason – unless drastic improvements are made, Ole will face the sack (as much as I hate to admit it).