In his last post, Ryan Fisher gave us a January Roadmap for Manchester United. Just a few weeks on, some of his fears have come to fruition…
Manchester United are in the middle of their best season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and would be well placed in a title race in any other season. However, the squad Jose Mourinho has assembled does have issues, and they were perfectly illustrated as the Red Devils slumped to a disappointing defeat at Wembley to Tottenham.
Jose Mourinho’s team selection was all wrong.
Against smaller teams, United can get away with starting Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in a midfield two, but this is not the case against the top six. Tottenham’s midfield ran rampant as United struggled to cope with their firepower.
Pogba is United’s best outfield player, the system needs to be designed around him.
The Frenchman works best in a 4-3-3, on the left, with limited defensive responsibility. Any other system wastes him. Starting with Anthony Martial on the right was also a grave mistake: he flourishes on the left where he can cut in on his right foot, but seems a bit lost for ideas on the other side. Alexis Sanchez’s versatility should be utilised to allow Martial to start on the left.
Of course, United’s midfield options are limited.
Beyond Pogba, Matic and Ander Herrera, you have Scott McTominay, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini, all of whom aren’t at the level required to start in big games for different reasons. Andreas Pereira, currently in fantastic form on loan at Valencia, would make a great addition to this squad. A new acquisition is definitely needed in the midfield, with the frontrunners coming from Serie ‘A’ in the form of Jorginho and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
Defence is where the real problems are, however.
Mourinho has misguided faith in the combination of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Jones is one of the most inconsistent players in the league: he’s either rock solid or calamitous, there is no in-between. And Smalling has only been up to scratch at Old Trafford for one season; that being Louis van Gaal’s swansong.
His general defending is poor and distribution from the back equally bad, which has cost him his England place. The best defender at the club is Eric Bailly, and by some margin, with Victor Lindelof and Marcos Rojo next in line. The club could definitely use some defensive reinforcements. Just look at Manchester City, who have splurged more than £150 million on defenders since Pep Guardiola arrived, and are now rock solid, for the most part.
If Manchester United are to return to the summit of English football, ruthlessness in the transfer market — in both defence and midfield — is key. A settled 4-3-3 with another top quality centre-back and a central midfielder are absolutely essential for Jose and Ed Woodward in the coming summer. Failure to do so will allow their noisy neighbours to dominate English football for the foreseeable future without challenge.