Manchester United have all the components needed to challenge for trophies – they just have to increase things on and off the pitch.
It can not be forgotten that they finished in second place in the Premier League last season, but in the pursuit of getting better, they have moved away from what made them successful. I think there has been a lack of identity and structure in the whole club, which has seeped into the squad. This season under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the players did not know if they were an urgent team or a defensive team that received.
I like Solskjær, and he was great for the culture of the club and for getting on with the fans, who had been missing since Sir Alex Ferguson resigned, but the top managers are tacticians, and the Norwegian fell short. It ended in a sad affair at Watford that culminated in the negative comments from the players. I think it was right to fire him because it failed and in the end there could only be one result.
The summer recruitment hampered the team. It remains to be seen whether they have recruited the right type of players and that seems to be a real mismatch. Cristiano Ronaldo has clearly changed the dynamics of the squad, but that’s not all up to him; he arrived late and at short notice and it would have required a strong personality at United to reject the return of a club legend who still performs at such a high level.
Ronaldo has not failed the team – he keeps scoring and proving that he is still one of the best. The problem is that his signing changed the tactical plans after the season started and no adjustments were made to accommodate his shortcomings. If the staff had known he would come, they could have picked up a midfielder or really maintained the identity of the player philosophy, especially the team defender from the front.
Solskjær also suffered an accident with Raphaël Varane’s injuries, because he could become a key player in the heart of the United defense. The sooner they get him back, the better, to help take the pressure off Harry Maguire. The back line needs to be refreshed so Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who are out of shape, do not have to play every week. In the modern game, fullbacks win matches for teams, as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City prove. Similarly, the back line could be helped by the attackers, who do not do their job when it comes to pushing and tracking back – because the defense starts in front.
Many United fans want the team to be more positive. Under Solskjær, they would most often operate with two holding midfielders. He should have had his reasons, but the formation could be adjusted to use only one and allow Donny van de Beek to come in and bring a more dynamic threat in midfield.
Paul Pogba flew at the start of the season – I saw him and thought he was brilliant. He played from the left and entered the central midfield, where he caused many problems. Then he was suddenly moved from that position. I sympathize with him because he works hard and tracks back and it can go unnoticed. Can he play in central midfield without protection? No, but we’ve known that for a long time. It’s not all on Pogba who have missed the last three games and will not be back for weeks due to injury; there are others in United who do much less.
When it comes to attackers having to work harder, it does not make sense, it is a fact. Their running statistics going back are nowhere near those going forward. These players can do it, but they have to take responsibility and be accountable. Liverpool and Manchester City work so much harder without ball possession to win the ball back, keep the opponents on their own half of the pitch and protect their back line. United have all the talents, but they need direction and authority to make that happen. They require a new leader with a strong personality who will tell them that if they do not make an effort, then they are gone.
The right permanent leader must come as soon as possible. They may have a temporary period, but if this person starts putting ideas in place that are not long-term, they will have to start again in the summer, which puts the team further behind the opposition. The best solution would have been to get started right away and give a new manager the opportunity for the January window, an entire summer and a pre-season with their own ideas to revitalize the club.
But United have apparently concluded that the coach is not available, which is why they are in advanced negotiations with Ralf Rangnick to take over the job temporarily. Now they have to look at who is available for the summer and what direction they want to go in, which has been the topic all along. Unfortunately for United, the best tactical leaders are in jobs at rival clubs, making it quite difficult to appoint someone who can compete with Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel and Jürgen Klopp. At the very least, from now on, players must make a significant shift in intensity and desire. They have high quality players, but those players have a lot more to give.