Manchester United are a baffling contradiction of a side – which explains their recent downturn in form


Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer happens to be in one of the most awkward positions in the game of football right now. On the one hand, the former United striker has done a lot in recent times to switch sides. In fact, one could argue that he has done more than any manager since Sir Alex Ferguson to get United back in a position to compete for top honors. Despite this, there is always a question mark over the job security of Norwegians. The pattern has continued so far this season. Initially dominant victories have given way to disappointing results. And the latest of those – a 1-1 draw against Everton – was one of the key points to come out of this week. And has also raised those familiar old questions.

It is worth noting, mind you, that these doubts do not seem to be in the mind of the United Hierarchy. The board is, by all accounts, well behind SoluxJar at this point. And to have a change of heart will have consequences for falling completely off a cliff.

However, while they haven’t completely fallen off a cliff, they are certainly closer to the edge than they were a month ago. And that is precisely why questions are being asked.

Of course, it’s worth noting that Solskjær has weathered past storms strong. However, the real question for him is what else he can do to mitigate these storms.

Lack of a Coherent Plan A

The biggest criticism of Solskjaer at this point is that, despite the length of his tenure, Manchester United does not have a style of play.

United under Solskjaer have been a somewhat reactionary side, changing systems and personnel to suit the opposition. It works well against more dominant sides, but not with sides where United should take the initiative.

United often struggle against sides that are defensive in nature. The reason they struggle is that their attacking system… isn’t really a system.

The sides are heavily dependent on individuals to weave moments of magic and win games. Considering United have the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and even Jesse Lingard in attack, it’s not the worst idea in the world.

However, modern football is based on having a defined system with players being given specific tactical instructions. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are good examples of being right in this regard.

All three managers will make tactical changes when needed, but there is a set and defined system that is their favourite. Klopp’s Liverpool rely on quick passing, hard-working midfield and attacking full-backs as well as forwards. Guardiola’s City is similar, although it is more technical than physical.

Tuchel’s Chelsea play with a back three which allows them to defend and attack with at least five men at all times. Wingbacks provide width, while attacking midfielders and strikers surround the penalty box.

This is a simplified view of all three sides, but you get the point. Yet ask any fan how United play and you are bound to get the opposite answer.

Why is this a problem?

The idea of ​​there being a fixed style of play in soccer is not new. Some managers are rigid, others are more flexible; Yet the idea of ​​a team with a football identity has been around for a long time.

Manchester United, at present, does not have a defined identity. And it becomes a problem when individual players fail to deliver those magical moments of their own.

One of Klopp’s biggest struggles when he first arrived in England was breaking down teams that had ‘hauled the bus’. Rather than giving his players more freedom to move forward – a tactic that would leave them exposed to counter-attacks – Klopp instead looked for different solutions.

The more noticeable one was when Liverpool tried to build up a side overload before switching play. This was aided by their use of attacking full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. The use of Roberto Firmino as a False 9 also helped. His movement will force defenders out of position, making room for other attackers.

Guardiola, for his part, adopted a range of tactics – from using a false 9 to sometimes employing two strikers or sometimes without a defensive midfielder. Notably, the solution came from the training ground and not the players.

The other issue is that modern players are used to playing in a system designed specifically for the team. One of the reasons Sancho has struggled so badly is United’s inconsistency in attack.

At Dortmund, he knew his role and knew what to do in different situations. At United, he is not playing his preferred role nor is he in a fully formed tactical system.

But can Manchester United still win the league?

Amazingly, yes. And that’s the point – this joint side is inconsistent, but they still get results. Yet, their inconsistency has come down to purely coming up against sides that are better drilled, sides that have a preferred gameplan.

The Everton team they drew against contained mostly players who were worth far less than United’s superstars. The reason Everton look better is because they are a team with a better coach.

The same happened against BSC Young Boys in the Champions League. Lingard’s late howler aside, the Swiss team looked like a side with a clear idea of ​​how they should play.

Of course, Manchester United still has time to turn the tide. But time is short for Solksjaer and co. As the team prepares for an important run of games after the international break.

Neither game will be easy, yet United can’t afford any bad results. The points haul will dent their trophy-winning hopes for the season – and put pressure on their manager.

United have done well to get results so far. However, a change in approach can help them achieve greater stability. There is no time like the present for this to happen.

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