The problems at Old Trafford these days are a very different state of affairs to those they faced in Sir Alex’s final season in charge. Oddly enough, it isn’t that the players aren’t up to scratch – sure, Ronaldo and Rooney are long since gone, but it’s hardly a team wanting in talent.
Back in 2013, United challenged for titles, Van Persie was defecting to win them the league with 30 goals a season. Nowadays, they beat Everton 3-1 and their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, looks visibly relieved as he lives to fight another day. It’s a team that is in real danger of falling far behind the pack chasing for the top four. Their performances have been, at times, bizarrely poor. The style of play has been uninspired. Most confusing of all, however, is when United play well, they’re winning big games comprehensively. The question is how they can do it consistently.
The Recipe to Success
The 5-0 win over Leipzig was convincing, especially considering they were top of the Bundesliga at the time. They’ve beaten Leicester, Everton and PSG, too. In those games, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood were in full flow, Paul Pogba showed up and defensively there seemed to be cohesion from the key players like Harry Maguire. Luke Shaw seems to have found some fire in his belly with the signing of Alex Telles, an addition expressly designed to put pressure on him.
It’s clear these good performances are something United have in the locker. However, they aren’t predictable, nor are they regular. Certainly, with the signing of Edinson Cavani, there are back-ups in place in almost every position. The midfield is an array of technically-gifted, physical and box-to-box players. Even David De Gea, often the target of so much abuse from pundits for perceived poor decision-making, is still an internationally-selected keeper for Spain and would walk into plenty of top-flight teams, no questions asked. The point is, the ingredients are there. On paper, this team should work – but it isn’t.
A Blind Eye
The £35 million spent on Donny Van de Beek might not be a great deal of money, given the way United can spend money. However, his inclusion in the team has been nothing short of severely limited. Used as little more than a late substitute, the Dutchman came from Ajax as the heartbeat of a leading European team. He has found his welcome to Old Trafford likely a little frustrating, with the current starting midfield made up of Scott McTominay, Fred, Pogba and Nemanja Matic interchangeably. To be this far down the pecking order is surprising, given Van de Beek’s credentials. There are inconsistencies to all of those starting players, Matic’s age, McTominay’s youth, Pogba’s inconsistency and Fred’s distinctly limited ability. You’d expect Ole to at least take a chance on his untested talent, currently sat watching from the sidelines. According to the latest Premier League betting odds, the Red Devils are 25/1 to win the Premier League and 28/1 to claim victory in the UEFA Champions League. They’re off the pace by quite a bit.
So, what next? Time runs out fast in teams like United. The reality is that, without a serious change in fortunes, Solskjaer’s day are numbered. His departure would be a huge shame, given the promise of his early days at the club. The team has played, at its worst, with almost no identity at all. As if the eleven men have never played together before. It has to change, not just for Solskjaer’s future, but for the club’s future, too.