Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks set to lead Manchester United to a second consecutive season in the top four for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, a feat that looks set to be rewarded with a new contract for the Norweigian. But whilst he continues to enjoy the support from his players, revitalising the careers of the likes of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominany, Fred and Luke Shaw, there are undoubtedly more than a few United fans out there that remain unconvinced that their former forward is still the right man to take the club forward.
And one of the biggest issues at Manchester United remains the continued selection of centre-backs such as Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, and all of the resources that go into protecting them even before a game has kicked off.
With the club’s trophy drought under Solskjaer continuing to plague them following their humbling 3-1 loss to Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals, here’s the full guide on the biggest issues the Norweigian HAS to fix.
Centre Back Woes
In Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, Manchester United have got one of the most protected, albeit inconsistent, centre back pairings in the entire country. With transfer fees of £35m and £80m, Solskjaer routinely finds himself forced into picking two players who have rarely ever looked completely compatible together.
Harry Maguire was brought in during the summer of 2019 for a world record fee, with United intending for the English central defender to have the same kind of impact that Virgil van Dijk has had for Liverpool, and Ruben Dias has since gone on to have for Manchester City, two sides that frequently dominate the football spread betting markets when they take to the field.
Not only are these rival players the perfect epitome of a modern centre-back, blending together a good level of skill on the ball, an ability to drive the team forward and a world class level of positional sense, but what really stands them above all others is their unrivalled mentality that helps make the players around them so much better. Examples like Joel Matip and Joe Gomez at Liverpool and John Stones at Manchester City go a long way in showing the effectiveness of a world class leader at the back however, despite his inflated transfer fee and continued England selection, it’s clear that Harry Maguire is far from the standard set by these players.
His body language is seemingly one of a shy and introverted individual, thrust into the role of a leader on the pitch and one who goes missing when the going gets tough, especially when coupled next to the attitude of players such as Bruno Fernandes or the match-winning abilities of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw or even David de Gea.
The Lack Of Chemistry And Overly-Consistent Selection
Harry Maguire is a good honest traditional defender, but also one that seems to be playing in a role and within a style that doesn’t suit him. His lack of pace is painfully exposed when he is continually put alongside Victor Lindelof, another defender lacking speed, his passing is laboured and often reflects the comments he has made in the post-match reactions where he is passing on the blame. A good example of this in action is the shambolic build up to Leicester City’s first goal against United in their FA Cup quarter-final tie.
What’s more, his genuinely world class qualities such as his aerial ability seems to be completely nullified by United’s approach. Solskjaer’s continued insistence on putting the likes of Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominany and Fred, ahead of the likes of Donny van de Beek or Paul Pogba in the pivot, means that United are often completely smothered at the back and forced to play an exceptionally low block. This is remedied somewhat when Eric Bailly, a pacier option, brings Maguire a good ten yards forward with his forward thinking, but so often Harry Maguire can be found ducking out of the way of challenges or exposed by tricky forwards who bring into play his lack of mobility, just like Jamie Vardy proved in the second half in the FA Cup.
Instead, United would benefit hugely from a more attacking option being deployed in the pivot and Maguire being encouraged to foray further up the pitch where his aerial presence will help the side win overturns and get the ball to their genuinely world class attacking line. Players like Rodri at City and Fabinho at Liverpool are examples of one player doing the job that United ask of two of theirs; not only is this against the fabled ‘United way’, but it is also sucking the good qualities out of some of their best assets.
Until Ole Gunnar Solskjaer changes this attitude and this style of playing, United’s trophy drought could well continue on.