Where Manchester United have gone wrong since historic Paris Saint-Germain night
It was another weekend to forget for Manchester United fans as they lost 1-0 to Newcastle United.
Few could have predicted such scrutiny so soon into his tenure at the club, particularly given the form of United under the Norwegian at the time of his appointment as full-time manager.
When he was appointed in March, United had won 14 of their 19 matches that he was in charge of. Their most emphatic victory came away in the Champions League after an unforgettable night in Paris saw them overcome a 2-0 deficit from the first leg in Manchester to beat the Parisians 3-1.
However, a rather limp display in the Champions League quarter-finals vs Barcelona set the tone for United’s underwhelming form since. But what exactly is going wrong with United, specifically since that famous night in Paris?
Up until he was announced as full-time United boss, Solskjaer had often tinkered with his side tactically in search of the best formation.
Key beneficiaries within this formation were both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial who built a solid attacking partnership. Rashford would often make pacey runs behind a defence or into the flanks whilst Martial was able to expose those spaces using his dribbling prowess.
The two players who would work in tandem with each other whilst simultaneously presenting more attacking issues for opposition defences.
An example of the same is below, taken from United vs Watford last season.
Martial picks the ball up and plays it into the feet of Rashford who is holding off his nearest defender. After the pass, Martial is quick to make a darting run to quickly receive the ball back from the United forward.
The Frenchman then fires the ball out wide and looks to attack the box.
Too often this season, United have only had Rashford as their main threat in the area, however, in this match, both he and Martial attacked the area making it more difficult for defenders.
Martial eventual fired the ball into the Watford net from the cross to secure all three points for the Reds.
After their victory in Paris, United suffered a run of just one win in four matches. In order to reignite their good form, Solskjaer again began to experiment with his formations, using a 3-5-1-1, 4-1-4-1 and even a 4-3-3. However, that tinkering seemed to have a negative impact rather than a positive one and United’s season petered out with just one victory vs West Ham across that final flurry of fixtures in the season.
This season, United are yet to deploy Solskjaer’s one-timed favoured 4-3-1-2.
The key reason for this seems to be a lack of suitable playing personnel available. Martial’s injury-plagued campaign has kept him sidelined for the bulk of the season so far, and the Reds no longer have the luxury of turning to Romelu Lukaku or Alexis Sanchez – both of who exited the club to ply their trade for Inter Milan in the summer.
Arduous pursuits of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka meant there was little time to find adequate replacements for both attackers before the transfer window slammed shut in August.
Whilst neither were hitting the heights required at Old Trafford, their departure has shouldered all of the burden onto Rashford, who is now forced to do all the running, lead the line and provide the goals United so desperately crave.
It is, therefore, no surprise the England international is struggling for form. He is currently averaging less shots per 90 minutes at 2.43 compared to 2.82 last season. Additionally, his on target accuracy of 43.5 per cent is also a reduction on last seasons average of 48.7 per cent. That has contributed to him managing just three goals so far this season – two of which came from the penalty spot.
Behind Rashford, a lack of a standout No.10 leaves United void of creative with Jesse Lingard lacking any form and Juan Mata’s laboured legs forcing him to be nothing more than a luxury for United.
The same has been a contributing factor to United’s faltering form in front of goal which has seen them score just nine goals so far – only seven Premier League sides have netted fewer.
Whilst Solskjaer may be willing to revert to his favoured 4-3-1-2, current squad omissions clearly leave the Norwegian in a position where he feels unable to do so. The return of Martial in the coming weeks could bring more balance to the United side and open up more tactical possibilities for the Norwegian, however long term invest may be required in order to get United playing the way they Solskjaer craves.
Source: Manchester Evening News
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