Man Utd have issues to solve but what are their short-term solutions?

Manchester United’s transfer plans are in TATTERS and Solskjaer has problems in goal, defence AND midfield. So do they splash the cash or find solutions within a bloated, unbalanced squad?

  • Manchester United somehow won 3-2 at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday
  • The win didn’t hide the fact that United are performing poorly at the moment
  • Their transfer window has been a disaster so far with time running out quickly 
  • Red Devils legend Rio Ferdinand has been highly-critical of their centre backs
  • Donny van de Beek has added competition to their central midfield options
  • David de Gea faces a tough battle with Dean Henderson over the No 1 shirt too 

Manchester United finally got their Premier League campaign up and running with a win at Brighton that redefines the phrase ‘smash and grab’.

Bruno Fernandes’ penalty, after the full-time whistle had initially blown – following a VAR decision for handball, gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side an extremely fortuitous 3-2 win on the south coast.

Speaking after the match, Solskjaer was under no illusions about their performance.

Bruno Fernandes’ late penalty saw Manchester United win 3-2 at Brighton on Saturday

Fernandes (centre) celebrates with his team-mates as the Red Devils somehow left with a win

‘We’ve got to be honest enough to say they created the most chances, they had big chances so we need to improve a lot in a few weeks coming forward,’ he said.

‘We got away with one. Maybe one point we deserved, we didn’t deserve more. But the character deserved more.’

And despite the victory, the 47-year-old will know there are some issues he has to address if they are to improve.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) admitted his side were fortunate to win

Sort out the transfer mess 

There are seven days left to go of a transfer window that opened on July 27. More than two months have passed and the only arrival is in a position that they are already very well stocked; central midfield. 

The stories about another swoop for Jadon Sancho are swirling once more but Dortmund remain resolute – the chance to sign the young star has been and gone. 

Now they are linked with a move for Watford’s £45million-rated Ismaila Sarr, also on Liverpool’s radar. But, as their efforts against Crystal Palace and Brighton show, they will need more than one new arrival to bridge the gap at the top of the table. 

Manchester United have been linked with a move for £45million-rated Ismaila Sarr of Watford

Yes, Manchester United have been deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as all clubs have, but now they must be bold or risk another lost season. 

But what can they do in such a short amount of time? Deals like ones for Sancho don’t happen in a week unless United storm in with fistfuls of cash; something they clearly are not willing to do. 

Patrice Evra laid out the problems last week. ‘We make so much impact on social media but the reality is different,’ he said. ‘Every target, like the main target, fans have to understand you don’t buy five, six 10 players then your team will improve… but at least get your main target. That’s what we’re not doing any more.’

If their main target, Sancho, is out of the equation, where does that leave them? 

Deals for the likes of Sarr or perhaps Bournemouth’s Josh King as an option to add more firepower are the type on the table. Would they be moves to add depth and competition for places and spur Solskjaer’s men on? Or would they add weight to an already unbalanced squad? 

Either way, it’s not the outcome United fans were hoping for in a summer where rivals like Chelsea and Manchester City have splashed the cash.  

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been criticised for his handling of transfers again

Centre-back conundrum

Manchester United have a plethora of centre-backs but yet there is not one rock-solid partnership within that. This is a bloated area that needs culling quickly.

Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are all at the club still. Smalling and Rojo look set to head for the exit door before the transfer window closes on October 5, while Tuanzebe and the much-maligned Jones are injured.

This leaves captain Maguire, Lindelof and Bailly as Solskjaer’s options. The former two were his first-choice pairing last season and they have remained that way in the two Premier League games so far against Crystal Palace and Brighton.

Harry Maguire (left) and Victor Lindelof (centre right) have played poorly at centre back so far

However, despite that continuity the pair have looked visibly shaky – none more so than in the 3-1 opening day home defeat by Palace on September 19.

Analysing that display, Manchester United’s legendary centre back Rio Ferdinand was damning in his assessment of the pair.

‘They did anything but set their stall out. They were slow and cumbersome,’ Ferdinand told BT Sport.

‘There were so many different mistakes. It was terrible to see and it disappoints. This is an area I have spoken about for many many months, and it has not been addressed. 

‘He [Solskjaer] could show them the Europa League semi-final and FA Cup semi-final as well [for poor performances]. I think you look at Liverpool, they bought Alisson to solve their goalkeeping issue and Van Dijk for their defence, Man United have not done that [addressed their issues at the back].

‘It is not an issue that emerged the other day. I want [forward] Jadon Sancho, he is a generational talent and would get fans off their seats, but does he solve the fundamental problems I see with this team?

‘Are there moments before games when the opposition look across and say “they are going to have to be at their best to score past this Man United defence”? I don’t think so.’

Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand has been highly-critical of Maguire and Lindelof 

Slow and cumbersome is a fair assessment of the Maguire and Lindelof performances to date – they can certainly be got at too easily. Bailly would immediately offset this problem. Although rash at times, the centre back’s athleticism would compliment either.

The trouble with the Ivory Coast defender though is his fitness record. However, now healthy he must be in the forefront of Solskjaer’s mind.

Despite, Ferdinand’s views Solskjaer is happy with his defensive options.

‘We’ve got many defenders here and I put Eric (Bailly) on to bolster the defence, following the runs of Trossard and Maupay,’ he said post-match on Saturday.

Maguire and Lindelof has been labelled as ‘slow and cumbersome’ by ex-defender Ferdinand

‘For me, we’ve got enough good centre backs here at the moment.

‘When you concede chances and concede goals, there are two different things you can look at – it’s either the team shape, or are there any individual mistakes.

‘We’re not in our best shape of form, our shape isn’t there, we’re not sharp enough to stop crosses or follow the runs.

‘We’re a little bit behind, that’s more structural mistakes than individual mistakes. I thought Victor did well today.’

Short term solution: Bring in Bailly for either Maguire of Lindelof. On the basis that Maguire is the captain the logical move would see Lindelof drop out.

Eric Bailly (left) would provide some much-needed athleticism to the heart of United’s defence

Midfield maze

The arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax in a £40million transfer saw Manchester United fans dreaming of a ball-playing midfield trio of him, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. However, on the basis of the Palace and Brighton matches – that is not going to happen.

Against Palace, Scott McTominay anchored the midfield with Pogba and Fernandes higher up, while Nemanja Matic performed this role at Brighton in place of McTominay. Both matches saw Van de Beek come off the bench.

It is early days but the cohesion of Matic, Pogba and Fernandes is missing in comparison to their form during the coronavirus restart last season. A lack of a pre-season, due to their Europa League campaign, can ascertain for part of this. 

Donny van de Beek has bolstered United’s midfield options after his £40m arrival from Ajax

Paul Pogba (centre) was fortunate to see this penalty on Aaron Connolly (right) overturned

On top of this, Pogba’s brief summer break saw him contract Covid-19 – something he has now fully recovered from. However, the France World Cup winner has looked off the pace in both Premier League matches and substituted on 65 and 67 minutes respectively.

Pogba was replaced by Fred for that match as United were getting carved open at will by a brilliant Brighton side. This will be of concern for the Red Devils as there was no defensive stability in the midfield. Against a side with more quality (or fortune) they may not be as lucky to emerge with the three points. 

He saw a penalty decision against him get overturned, while Fernandes was at fault for Solly March’s equaliser in injury time by not tracking his run. These are all wake-up calls for Solskjaer to tell his players to sharpen up when they don’t have the ball.

While Matic is the apparent first-choice defensive shield and Fernandes the primary playmaker, Pogba’s place could be the one most under threat from Van de Beek. Building squad depth is key to any successful side and it is a welcomed-problem for Solskjaer.

Short-term solution: Depending on his adjustment period at the club, Solskjaer must consider how best to utilise Van de Beek in the Premier League. However, with a huge game coming up against Tottenham next, the Norwegian may stick to his tried and trusted trio of Matic, Pogba and Fernandes for that encounter. If he does, he needs to work on their defensive shape to prevent them being cut open at will.

Solskjaer has to solve his midfield jigsaw out after they were cut apart at will by Brighton

Goalkeeper dilemma

Manchester United have conceded five goals in two Premier League games so far – and in truth that statistic could be a lot worse. Brighton hit the frame of the goal five times during their 3-2 defeat and if those had gone in then the goals against column for Solskjaer’s side could already be in double figures.

David de Gea versus Dean Henderson is going to be an on-going narrative for the Red Devils’ goalkeeper shirt this season – with both having strong aspirations to be their country’s No 1 come next summer’s Euros (De Gea with Spain and Henderson with England). 

Indeed, there is a belief among the United players that Henderson is close to being named number one ahead of De Gea.   

David de Gea has shipped in five goals in two Premier League games already this season

The Spaniard knows he faces strong competition for the No 1 shirt with Dean Henderson (left)

De Gea looked shaky occasionally against Palace – mainly while in possession – but it doesn’t help when his defenders fail to sense danger (note the earlier section), while they were all at sea against Brighton too. 

The 29-year-old hasn’t been at fault for any of the goals conceded so far, so it would be harsh to replace him for Henderson – despite the clamour of some fans wishing that would happen after De Gea’s wobbles during the previous two campaigns.

Short-term solution: Stick with David de Gea. Dropping him now would cause unnecessary headlines at Old Trafford. Dean Henderson must keep pushing De Gea in training and if the latter incurs poor form like last season it’s only fair Henderson gets his chance. Until then De Gea is still the club’s No 1.

With two top-class keepers, Solskjaer has a good problem but De Gea should be No 1 for now

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