Sleeping giant Man Utd have to plan for a make or break summer window

Woodward

After going out of the Champions League the other night to Barcelona whilst currently sitting outside of the Premier League top four, the questions are being raised on which way Manchester United Football Club are heading. As they look to finish another season without any trophies, it may lead the Glazers and Ed Woodward to dive into the summer window with around £200-£250million to spend.

For sure, since the last time they had won the league title, which was under Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2012-13 campaign, the club have incredibly spent just over £800million on 24 new players over the last six years. The evidence and proof is here, that the capability of splashing the cash is simply there, but the lack of planning and recruiting shows why no actual success has followed from it.

United’s Champions League exit to a dominant and ruthless Barcelona sums up that the team needs badly refreshing. The rebuilding job was expected to be completed by now, with both Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal spending a lot of money in their first season at the club, but have failed to take the team back to the top of the league and have not turned Old Trafford into a fortress once again.

From the defensive problems, midfield lack of quality and depth to the inconsistent and attack, the team has its holes that will need covering before they can start to challenge in each competition. The likes of Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones should no longer be seen as regular starters, three individuals who are seen as loyal servants but are holding the side back to quite an extent.

Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hit a poor run of games since being appointed as the permanent manager, where he has suffered defeat to teams such as Arsenal, Everton and Wolves whilst unconvincingly beating both Watford and West Ham in recent weeks. In all honesty, Solskjaer inherited a team that is mixed with deadwood players and individuals with potential, rather than a complete squad that is filled with the needed proven stars and are really hungry to be successful.

With the local reports advising of a possible director of football arriving, whether it is either Edwin Van der Sar or Mike Phelan, the hierarchy need to forget about saving costs and appoint an individual that has experience and practice within this demanding role. Once this matter is sorted out, the club can organise a list of players to target before going guns blazing in the transfer market.

On the other hand, as majority of the Old Trafford faithful will fear, the group of transfer targets as well as which players should be bought and sold may not be crystal clear until the end of the season, when it is finalised if Manchester United finish in the top four or not. A concerning factor that leaves them behind the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City, the best teams within Europe who have the winning mentality to remain ahead of the rest in and out of the season.

Overall, the only way the Red Devils can bounce back from this decline and prevent themselves from experiencing what AC Milan, Inter Milan and Liverpool have experienced over the last five to seven years, is by making a statement in the summer and by meaning total business. With both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid expected to go all out in the 2019 summer transfer window, things may become real interesting if Manchester United do the same and target similar players as one another.

Manchester United 2-1 Watford: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wins his first game as permanent manager

RashToto

Manchester United had the chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Watford, a side that have won five league games away from home and are sat in the middle of the table. With Arsenal playing on Monday and Tottenham facing Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, it was a massive must for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to achieve the much needed three points as well as the victory itself in a dominant manner.

As a whole, the visitors were the ones who surprisingly started the game and ended the game on a high note, where they forced the hosts to sit deep for majority of the first half but failed to create the clear chances to test the goalkeeper David De Gea. However, the first goal of the match actually came from United, as Marcus Rashford latched onto Luke Shaw’s perfect through ball and swept it passed Ben Foster, who had rushed out from his line to do his best to put the centre forward off.

Following the Rashford goal, the Red Devils completed the first half in the ideal way, but could have done more to complete the win with the number of shots they had on goal. The two main attempts that will be remembered the most by the Old Trafford faithful at the half time break would be, Anthony Martial’s chance from a corner which was literally hit straight at Foster, and the other one being Rashford’s dribble from the right into the middle but the shot not causing any problems at all as the defenders had it covered.

The second half was the same as the first, with Watford dominating the possession of the ball and grew in more confidence by the minute whilst United were not sure whether to sit deep or to press high up the pitch. United thought the game was set and match with Martial scoring for the home team in the 72nd minute, though, the side faced a huge scare towards the end of the match as Abdoulaye Doucoure pulled a goal back for Javi Garcia’s men, who were simply not ready to give up till the final whistle.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Midfield were ineffective and sloppy

As the usual midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba came out to play at Old Trafford against Watford, it felt like the three players had not played for a long time or were not familiar of one another. The balance on both sides of the pitch was not there, as they looked out of their depth in the opposition’s half and could not defend consistently enough when required.

Both Matic and Pogba had quite a few poor moments throughout the match, where they lost possession of the ball easily and were unable to pick out the simplest of passes. Meanwhile, Herrera was alright to some extent but failed to influence the game as a whole. Given the performances in midfield, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Fred or Scott McTominay return into the team for the Wolves fixture on Tuesday night.

Watford will surely end the season on a high note

It’s been quite some time where a team from outside of the Premier League top-six had dominated and overrun the hosts at Old Trafford whilst looking like they are going onto to win the match. If Watford had an attacking midfielder with pace and trickery and a much more complete forward, they would have surely converted one of the eight shots they had on target before Doucoure had scored in the final minutes of the game.

Although the current focus is on who will win the league, who will finish in the top four and who will be relegated to the Championship, Javi Garcia’s Watford deserve more appreciation and credit for the type of football they are playing and how well they have done against the bigger teams. Leicester City and Wolves have received a lot of gratitude in recent months for their desire and results in the huge games, but it’s time for Watford to get their fair share of recognition of how they have managed to do it their way.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed when and how to make changes

The questions were raised during the matches against Arsenal and Wolves a few weeks ago, on if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the intelligence to understand when to make the substitutions and how to change the game around. In the first game after the international break, the 46-year-old Norwegian international proved the critics wrong with the two changes that helped his side to win the game.

Solskjaer showed off his cleverness in the second half of the match, where he brought on both Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard for Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, two players that went on to inject more energy and pace into the side’s midfield and attack. Ten minutes after that, Ole was forced into bringing Martial off due to a minor knock he picked up, but was smart in adding Marcos Rojo into the team and went to a back-three setup, as Watford started to pile on the pressure and were looking for the equaliser.

The international break came at a good time for Manchester United

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If you ask a football fan of one of the things they hate the most during an ongoing season, it’s an international break, which tends to last for 10 to 14 days. In that time, a number of negative factors tend to pop up, such as injury problems and being distanced away from the club squad for some time, but without these matches, there wouldn’t be a European Championship or a World Cup.

Now, focusing on Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it can be straightforward to mention that the break away from club football has come at a good time. With the side suffering back to back defeats away at Arsenal and Wolves for the first since the departure of Jose Mourinho, the team are in need of a required rest whilst the interim coach plans well for the final two months of the season.

Although the side are currently just outside of Premier League top-four and have recently been knocked out from the FA Cup, the work that Solskjaer has done to revive the club’s style of play whilst enjoying a good run in the Champions League deserves a lot of credit. Not only that, he has reinstalled confidence into the Old Trafford faithful with the belief that the club are close to bouncing back.

Looking at the recent news, the likes of Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof have either been withdrawn from international duty or have not joined due to personal reasons. With how it is being seen, if the individuals have actually returned to focus more on league football, it will mean that Solskjaer has taken a huge page out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book.

Meanwhile, players such as Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling and Jesse Lingard are not involved at all with the international fixtures, allowing them to regain instantly to full fitness whilst also training in hotter conditions abroad to reach a higher level. If they can use this spare time effectively and professionally, they could be the perfect players to lead the charge to return into the top four.

Both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur had their fair share of injuries in recent months, so this factor should not be used as an excuse if the side go on to missing out on a Champions League spot for next season. On top of that, United’s results in the home fixtures have not been dominant enough, where they have suffered draws in the hands of Arsenal, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Wolves.

Analysing the league table as a whole, Arsenal and Chelsea seem to have the ideal list of fixtures compared to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, but will have to be aware of rotating the team around if they are to seriously compete for the Europa League. On the other hand, the Red Devils still have to face Chelsea and Manchester City at home in April, which could potentially play a huge part or role in whether the team will go on to finishing inside or outside of the top four.

Overall, winning the Champions League is very unlikely, but the main aim for Manchester United is to make sure they are featuring in the competition once again next season. This will allow them to prepare for a successful summer transfer window and have a clear understanding of who to buy and sell. If they fail to do so, the 2019-20 campaign would be the third year where they failed to qualify for the biggest competition in Europe, since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year at the club in 2014.

Manchester United 3-2 Southampton: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men bounce back in some fashion

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Manchester United had a big chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Southampton, a side that have only won six league games and are just above the relegation zone. With Arsenal and Tottenham facing one another in the early kick off, it was important for the team to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United dominated majority of the game from the first second of the match till the final whistle, where they could have even scored a further couple of goals to pile on the misery. Though, the much needed wakeup call came through a screamer from Yan Valery and a peach of a free-kick from James Ward-Prowse, which led Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make some vital tactical adjustments.

The first half was quite good despite the poor finishing, as the front three failed to make an instant statement and did not help the side’s cause of a magical comeback. Despite the side’s list of injuries and lack of depth available to them and the manager, a brace from Romelu Lukaku as well as an incredible goal from Andreas Pereira allowed the hosts to pick the victory over the hostile visitors in the end.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Romelu Lukaku came up with the luxury goods

With the likes of Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata missing due to injury issues, United were limited with their attacking options for the fixtures against Crystal Palace and Southampton. However, Romelu Lukaku showed up for when his side needed him the most, scoring four goals in United’s last two games and is now the side’s top goal scorer in the Premier League this season. Recent form of the Belgian striker could mean that it’s time to put him back into your Fantasy Premier League Team. To see which other players you should look at including in your selections for Fantasy Premier League take a look at Footy Accumulators.

On top of that, Alexis Sanchez failed to take this massive opportunity to prove to the coach and the critics that he is still a quality player. Focusing back onto Lukaku, he may not be the fan’s favourite player or a clinical forward, but he is showing huge signs that he has improved since the managerial change. The Belgian international may have done enough to remain in the club’s long-term plans.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed off his in-game management

Week after week, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is proving that he has the intelligence to make the much needed changes to the team or the system, whether it’s to increase the amount of chances the side are creating or to see out the game until the final whistle. Some of his decisions maybe seen as bizarre and questionable, but in the end, he is yet to suffer a league defeat since taking on the job.

Solskjaer showed off his flexibility in the second half of the match, where he went to a back-three setup to match Southampton’s style, placing Ashley Young at right centre-back, whilst allowing both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to play as the advanced wing-backs. Due to this fine tweak, it allowed United to have an advantage on the opposition, letting them to turn around the game for the win.

The Red Devils are evidently missing a world beater of a centre back

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that Victor Lindelof is United’s best centre-back, but he is in need of a partner that is vastly experienced and that has the presence to lift the mentality and spirits of the defence. Until this hole is filled within the backline, the side will constantly have grey patches and dark moments, where they will lapse in concentration and are bound to suffer from this setback.

If the board and Ed Woodward want to fix the ongoing defensive issues the side are facing, they should look to relentlessly target either of Jose Gimenez, Kalidou Koulibaly or Toby Alderweireld. These three centre-backs should be seen as the perfect and most realistic candidates, especially when you consider the incredible defensive contributions they have produced for their respective teams.

Why Manchester United’s main issues lie in midfield, where they lack quality and depth

Midfield

When looking at Manchester United’s squad, one can easily see the many options available in defence and attack, whilst the midfield looks completely thin and barely existent. It’s no secret to why the Old Trafford faithful are always nervous for when they see Ander Herrera or Paul Pogba suffer a knock or a minor injury, two midfielders who play a huge role for the side on and off the ball.

Also, the departure of Marouane Fellani half way through the season made very little sense, especially when a replacement did not come in and nor did someone get promoted from the youth academy. For sure, he wasn’t seen as a United type of player and may not suit the club’s style of play, but letting him go when the side are still in the Champions League and the FA Cup was a huge mistake.

The Belgian international clearly wasn’t the fastest, most intelligent or complete midfielder available within the squad, though, his aerial dominance and presence in the penalty box allowed the side to pose further danger to the opposition. Not only that, he has always got on with his job no matter what position he played in, whether it was as a defensive-midfielder or as an attacking one.

Focusing back onto the midfield department, Pogba is the only one that can influence the side’s midfield and attack to drive on forward, which is slightly down to the lack of tactics implemented by the manager but also the limited amount of midfielders to choose from. Due to this, the Red Devils do not have the total freedom to rotate around like Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City can.

Both Herrera and Nemanja Matic should be praised for how they constantly assist the defence and help to retain and recycle the ball, something that the duo complete at a high level and importantly when the full-backs are high up the pitch and out of position. Though, the former is not known to unlock the opposition’s defence from a deep position whilst the latter does not have the intelligence or pace to play as a box-to-box midfielder, which leaves everything to be done by Pogba himself.

Andreas Pereira and Fred have had their moments here and there to prove themselves, but did not make the most out of the limited opportunities they had so far, as they failed to take the game by the scruff of their neck and were unable to dominate the match and the opposition. On a serious note, the Brazilians should surely receive another match or two to potentially win over Solskjaer soon or later.

Having a quick look back at recent years, United did not do enough to replace the veteran Michael Carrick, an individual who had spent 12 years at Old Trafford and had gone on to become one of the most decorated English players of all time. When you deep the crucial experience and presence he brought to the side on and off the pitch, nearly everyone knew of how much he would be missed once he was gone.

Overall, Manchester United have decent quality and depth when it comes to defence and attacks, which can be easily reflected on when you see the likes of Alexis Sanchez Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly and Romelu Lukaku on the bench. Meanwhile, in the defeats to Manchester City away and Tottenham Hotspur at home, the side only had young Scott McTominay and summer signing Fred on the bench.

In the end, if United are aiming to compete in all competitions they take part in, they will need quality midfielders in the starting line-up and on the bench. The last time they had a good number of options to choose from, it was during the 2007-08 season under Sir Alex Ferguson, where they amazingly had Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves.

What did Manchester United learn from loss against PSG?

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Manchester United headed into the first leg of the Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain with full confidence, given their fine form in recent weeks and the fact that Edinson Cavani and Neymar would be missing both legs of the Champions League tie. Though, all did not end well, as the visitors gave the host a football lesson and showed that they are levels ahead of the Red Devils.

Despite the questionable refereeing and the fact that the side lost Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard by the half-time break, Thomas Tuchel had his side setup in the most perfect way whist Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now showing that he is beginning to lack a Plan B. With how the first leg had come to an end, United’s chances of qualifying for the next round are very slim as PSG take two away goals and a win back to France.

Here are three valuable lessons that can be taken from the Champions League defeat…

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to desperately find a Plan B

For sure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying the dream of managing Manchester United and has got the fans of Old Trafford bouncing again. However, he needs to come up with a backup idea or a different system for when things don’t go according to plan, especially with how Tuchel made some clever choices with his starting line-up and made sure to make tactical tweaks during the game.

It’s more or less obvious that the injuries to Lingard and Martial badly affected to how the side normally attempt to break on the counter through pure pace and movement, which led the full-backs and the midfielders to then take part in a more direct approach. Given the injury issues and the lack of midfield options, it may be ideal for Solskjaer to consider using the back-three/five setup, to restore balance from defence to attack.

In regards to a back-three/five formation, it would allow both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to push high up the pitch as the wing-backs whilst Paul Pogba potentially playing in an attacking role with freedom will do the side real good. As long as United’s main players in Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof are in high confidence and spirits, they should be able to play effectively and smartly within this style.

The midfield battle is where the match was won and lost

Without a doubt, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos stole the headlines at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, as the midfield duo controlled and dictated the game like it was a walk in the park. From keeping it simple with the short passes and the through balls into the wide players, to silencing each attack United could offer, they truly gave Gianluigi Buffon and Thiago Silva a quiet night at the back.

Meanwhile, for the hosts, it had seemed like only Pogba was attempting to guide the midfield and attack whilst the rest were waiting in the opposition’s half for something to happen. Herrera and Nemanja Matic provided assistance defensively and were able to support the backline when required, though, they struggled a lot when it came down to helping them push forward and to create constant chances.

The midfield department is an area that the hierarchy should look to aggressively strengthen, especially when the only options are Andreas Pereira, Fred and the young Scott McTominay from the bench. If one of the current midfield trio were to be injured or suspended for a number of games, then it can easily be stated that the backup choices would not be able to come up with the needed displays without any issues.

United’s board need to have a good look at the strength and quality between both squads

Majority of football supporters would have thought that the absence of Cavani and Neymar would make the fixture more balanced and would make the hosts the favourites, on the other hand, the visitors still had the likes of Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and surprisingly Dani Alves utilised as the front three. Straightaway, one can gain the understanding that PSG’s squad depth is no joke at all.

Though, when United’s two main attackers were forced off a half-time, Solskjaer could only bring on Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata, two players that are clearly past their best and are not able to take the side’s attack to the next level. On top of that, PSG’s quality in the starting line-up was incredibly outstanding, leaving Tuchel with no reasons for them to complete their third and final substitution.

Overall, PSG have the perfect squad to allow them to convincingly challenge in every competition they take place in, whilst United’s current team is just about enough to challenge for the top four spots as well as the Carabao Cup or FA Cup. If the board want to improve instantly, they will need to bring in a director of football, someone who can help when it comes to recruiting and scouting.

Manchester United: Who should start against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford?

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With the Premier League fixtures of the weekend now coming to an end, the main focus now turns to the exciting and thrilling Champions League matches, where Manchester United will be taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the knockout stages. Potentially, if all the build-up and hype meets its true expectations, the tie could go on to be one of the best ties of the whole competition.

The main news at this moment of time is that Neymar will be missing both legs of the tie, as he suffered an ankle ligament injury a few weeks ago and is not expected to return to training until the middle of April. Not only that, the Ligue 1 leaders have had to release more injury issues today, stating that both Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier are unavailable for the match on Tuesday.

Focusing back on the Red Devils, it’s time to look at who has become really reliable under Solskajer and are expected to start in what is the side’s most important fixture of the season. The selections for the midfield and forward department would seem straightforward and very easy to complete, whilst the defence would be a questionable one as they can become inconsistent here and there.

It’s time we look at United’s best XI that should start against Paris Saint-Germain…

David De Gea and the backline

Starting with the main individual between the goalposts, it is a no brainer that David De Gea will be starting a huge match like this rather than the back-up options in Lee Grant or Sergio Romero. At the heart of defence, it should be a partnership of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, who are simply he best centre-backs within the squad and are the only ones capable of helping the team out on and off the ball.

Meanwhile, the full-back position can be covered by Ashley Young, Diogo Dalot or even Luke Shaw, three players that are capable of defending at a decent level whilst attacking when required. Given that the opposition will have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Kylian Mbappe starting, it will be more than important to have the experienced ones in Shaw and Young as the full-backs.

David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Ashley Young.

The consistent and dominant midfield

In the middle of the pitch, the usual midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba will be expected to carry out their duties on both sides of the pitch. This will have become clear and plain obvious over the last couple of weeks, especially with Marouane Fellaini leaving for China, whilst both Andreas Pereira and Fred have not been able to take their chances when provided.

Not long ago, Herrera and Matic were seen as two average and unconvincing midfielders under the managerial of Jose Mourinho, but are now regarded as the key pair in midfield that helps the side to defend in numbers and to retain possession of the ball effectively. On top of that, Pogba continues to control and dictate the side’s attack as well as produce the much needed goods in the final third of the pitch.

Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba.  

Pure movement and pace of the attacking trio

When Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford were rested on the bench ahead of the Fulham game, it was a clear indication that Solskjaer were giving the duo a well deserved break going into the Paris Saint-Germain fixture. The third and final player that should be completing the front three is none other than Anthony Martial, because he can amazingly produce something out of nothing and is really clinical in front of goal.

All three individuals have shown what they can do in attack, whether it’s through their intelligent movement off the ball or the way how they can dribble past two to three players within the matter of a few seconds. If they can start off the game at a quick pace and at a high tempo, then there should not be a problem at all of expecting two to three goals in the first leg at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United 2-2 Burnley: The winning run comes to an end for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Manchester United had a big chance to extend their run of winning matches to eight league games, with their next fixture being at home to Burnley, a side that have managed to go on their own winning run in recent weeks. With the side being only a few points behind the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, it was important for the Red Devils to pick up the three points and in a secure manner.

Overall, United experienced one of those nights where nothing was going well for them in the final third of the pitch and they were struggling to create constant clear-cut chances. However, the home side unsurprisingly fell asleep on a few typical occasions, which allowed the visitors to pounce on the lack of concentration from the defenders to score twice in the second half through Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood.

Majority of the supporters thought the game was done and dusted, though, the introduction of Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard turned the momentum around as they began to play the ball at a high tempo and with attacking intent. United first pulled a goal back through a Paul Pogba penalty, and then minutes later, achieved the equaliser as Victor Lindelof scored his first goal for the football club.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

United’s toughest battle yet at home

It is probably straightforward to say that the Burnley fixture has been Solskjaer’s biggest test so far this season, not due to the end outcome, purely because of the fact that Sean Dyche’s men were defending in their own half for majority of the match. Due to the opposition’s setup, it forced United to play in an uncomfortable way that led them to managing zero shots on target in the first half.

Not only that, Tom Heaton was having one of his best games, or else, the hosts would have easily scored a further two or three goals on another day. Since the arrival of the interim coach, United have played the likes of Burnley, Brighton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield at Old Trafford, which does mean that this stalemate has to be seen as a wakeup call for the manager and the players before the big fixtures kick in.

Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial were missed badly

Ole made a couple of changes and they were pretty much required, especially to make sure that the squad as a whole, received enough game time ahead of the make or break February fixtures. Against Burnley, the likes of Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata, Phil Jones and Romelu Lukaku were brought into the line-up, but none of them showed a single reason to why they deserve to remain in the starting XI in the long run.

On a serious note, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial were badly missed, two individuals that have the pure ability and the quality to make the side simply tick in midfield and attack. When both players are not in the team, the side’s pressing off the ball is inconsistent and unorganised, whilst the side’s way of utilising possession is ineffective and really slow without the two main duo.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a lot to learn from his first league draw

Although the hosts dominated possession and created most of their best chances in the second half, they did not do enough in taking their shots and it led the visitors to grow in confidence as they took their limited chances on the counter-attack. By the 81st minute, Burnley seemingly had the three points secured and all they had to, was continue to defend in their own half for the final ten minutes of the game or so.

In the end, the comeback to come from 2-0 down to 2-2 will be seen as a huge positive turnaround, but it is still two points dropped and the chances of finishing in the top four slightly decreases. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking to improve his in-game management as well as his ability to quickly react to any rising issues, whether it’s the side failing to take their chances, or the opposition posing more threat towards the final stages of the game and are coming really close to scoring.

Three things that have improved since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

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Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are currently on an amazing winning streak of eight games in all competitions, which puts them just three points behind the top four spots in the Premier League as well as a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It’s been the ideal comeback since the departure of Jose Mourinho, however, the second half of the season is now kicking off in full effect.

Since the managerial change, a lot of things have changed on and off the pitch, allowing the side to revive their style of play and a footballing campaign that had seemed to be apparently over and buried in the grave. Not only that, even the Old Trafford faithful are enjoying the rollercoaster of a ride they are on at the moment, as they are simply taking each game and fixture one small step at a time.

Here are three things we have learnt about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United…

Best way to defend is to constantly attack

United’s defence has constantly been the side’s main weakness throughout the season so far, where they have lacked solidity as a unit and have been relying on David De Gea to come up with the vital goods in goal as usual. However, they have now learnt to dominate possession once again and to calmly play the ball around the opposition’s half, minimising the amount of times they have to defend in their own half.

Thanks to Solskjaer’s positive mindset and his ability to install a winning mentality into the squad, the team are able to show to the opposition that football is played the Manchester United way or the highway. The recent statistics are surely backing up these opinionated comments, as the side have managed to achieve 22 goals and have conceded on only five occasions, showing huge improvement defensively.

The mood within the dressing room has massively turned around

Throughout the final couple of weeks or so under the reign of Mourinho, the manager had lost the faith of his key players in Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba whilst dividing and tearing the dressing room into pieces. Once this had become evident within a number of league matches, there was a huge feeling within the fanbase that he would be relieved of his duties before the matter affected the club in the long run.

Now, six weeks into Solskjaer’s time at the football club he adores the most, he has re-assured the squad and had advised to each single one of them, of the important role they will be playing for the side from now until the season comes to an end. The positive feelings and the high spirits speaks for itself on the pitch and during the training sessions, where all the individuals are better and stronger as a whole than ever before.

Pressing high up the pitch with intensity can lead to positive outcomes

Believe it or not, football has massively changed over the last five to ten years, and one of the main factors to this has been the high pressing system that is utilised by the best teams in Europe. Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester City are the perfect examples to use, three well-known sides that play effectively within this method that allows them to advance well in all the competitions they take part in season by season.

Looking back at United, it is important for the side to press in numbers and to understand when to press, purely because it is crucial to not run around like hooligans and it is a must to control the stamina levels during the match. With the likes of Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford pressing with intensity, whether it’s down the flanks or through the middle, a lot of the side’s goals have been by forcing the opposition into making mistakes and pushing them out of their comfort zone.

The curious case of Manchester United’s Eric Bailly

Bailly

When Manchester United completed the signing of centre-back, Eric Bailly, in the summer of 2016, it had seemed like the club’s diabolical presence of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the backline had come to an end. Having left Villarreal and La Liga at such a young age, the Ivory Coast international moved to England as an unknown player who cost the biggest club in England a fee of £30million.

The player himself moved to a new country and a new league with very little expectations, given that he wasn’t seen as one of the best rising and upcoming centre-backs within Europe. However, the instant mentions about his athleticism, composure on the ball and his mentality of intercepting and tackling every ball, made it feel like a defender was coming in to fix the side’s ongoing issues.

Looking back at Bailly’s first season in the Premier League, it can be easily stated that he exceeded all opinions and predictions of how he would do, as he formed a really consistent and dominant partnership with the likes of Jones and Marcos Rojo throughout the campaign. In that very moment, the centre-back seemed like the perfect individual for the manager to form his defence around.

Although the main focus was on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who arrived in the same window as Bailly did, it was the latter that instantly became a fans favourite and was seen as one of the signings of the season. Not only that, he came out on top when facing the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Sergio Aguero in his first campaign within English football.

Though, the unfortunate issues began in the following season with an unknown injury in October 2017, which kept him out on the sidelines until the first week of December as he missed five games altogether. At first, it was regarded as a minor setback that would keep him away from the side for four to six weeks, but he returned to training and a week later, he suffered a major ankle problem that would see him face his longest spell so far in his professional career as an injured player.

Within the period from October 2017 till February 2018, Bailly missed 26 important games and it could very well be the reason to why he has fallen down the pecking order over the last couple of months. Also, the defence has been mentioned as a department that is filled with flaws and weaknesses, so it’s not actually a surprise to see the backline being changed week in and out.

Also, the 26 games he missed should be seen as three quarters of a season that the 24-year-old spent on the sidelines, which has simply stagnated his development and has prevented himself from proving that he is one of the best centre-backs within England and Europe. If the long-term injury had not occurred, he would have potentially had another 15 to 20 league games of experience under his belt and he would now be playing alongside Victor Lindelof at the heart of defence on a regular basis.

On the other hand, Eric Bailly still has a lot to learn given that he has a tendency to lose focus in the matter of seconds and can frustratingly be seen as a red card waiting to happen. If the former manager, Jose Mourinho, who has a history when it comes to improving young and upcoming defenders, cannot help take the centre-back to the next level, the question has to be seriously asked on what needs to be done, in order to make the individual become consistent and defensively dominant again.

Overall, the majority of Manchester United supporters and the Old Trafford faithful know how brutal and talented Eric Bailly is, someone who is not afraid of putting his head where most would not even confidently put their feet into the challenge. And in the end, all he may need is more game time alongside Lindelof under a manager that has an actual footballing system, or a defensive coach that can kind-heartedly assist him on and off the pitch to become a more complete and perfect centre-back.