In what seems like a long long time ago, Manchester United were the most threatening side in England under manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The legendary Scotsman led his club to a record 13 Premier League titles, something that may never be obtainable again by any manager of any club. Flashback to the 2012-13 season for the very last game in the Sir Alex era, Manchester United faced off against what was actually a decently impressive West Bromwich Albion side. What turned out to be a dream start in the game actually ended in what will go down as one of the most exciting games in football. The match ended in a 5-5 stalemate, a bittersweet but thrilling match that put a cap on Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at the club.He left that match with not only the Premier League trophy secured in his hand but also the pride of the great club that was Manchester United.
Since that day, the club was never the same. A 7th place finish in the next season and 3 new managers put the club in a rare state of instability. 5 years since the legendary Scot’s retirement from management, Jose Mourinho now heads the reigns and not even a manager of his pedigree has been able to turn the fortunes for the club. 13 games into this season and Manchester United find themselves out of the top 6 and only 1 point above AFC Bournemouth; and perhaps the worst part, they currently sit with a -1gd. What is going on at Manchester United?
LACK OF DEFENSIVE QUALITY
Long ago were the days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand securing the back line at Manchester United. The two club legends were integral to the success under Sir Alex Ferguson, the root of the clubs problem may just be the lack of defensive quality at CB. Since Vidic’s departure to Inter Milan and Ferdinand’s to QPR, Manchester United have failed to replace them. Ferguson did his best during his time, bringing in Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers and developing Jonny Evans from the youth academy. Evans made over 100 appearances before leaving for West Brom and Jones still features for the club under Mourinho; however, the CB tandem never reached its potential.
Mourinho has been searching for his best CB pairing, toying with combinations between, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo. Only until a few weeks ago has Mourinho been settling for the pairing of Smalling and Lindelof. Despite the growing chemistry, Manchester United still have managed a negative goal differential thus far. It may be time to look into the quality of the defenders. Lindelof is young but has only ever been tested in the Portuguese league with Benfica, outside of Europe’s top 5 leagues, he now starts every game in the back line for one of the most legendary clubs in the world. Making the jump from non-league football, Smalling has made quite the name for himself, but often becomes victim of his own inconsistency. The rest of the CBs often struggle with fitness, limiting their ability to contribute.
FIGURE OUT ATTACKING UNIT
Manchester United looked in great shape with the arrivals of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Romelu Lukaku from Everton. With these buys they poached some of the Premier League’s best talent…. So they thought. Sanchez, as the league’s highest earner, has scored just 4 goals since arriving in January. Lukaku, who recorded a modest return of 16 goals and 7 assists last season, remains one of United’s only threats. Young stars Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, natural no. 9s, have been pushed out wide to accommodate for the big Belgian. This change in position has seen them suffer inconsistent form, finding themselves in-and-out of the starting XI.
With no in-form, natural wingers, Mourinho now is tasked with finding an attacking unit that can get the goals. Mourinho is famous for his “park the bus” intensely defensive football, but this season has been a wake up call that not only does the back line need reinforcements, but the attacking trident must do its job too. That all starts with finding the right players; you may have some of the best talent but they must be played where they will have the greatest impact.