Manchester United and the art of creating one's own downfall

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

The word uncertainty seems to summarize Manchester United's current season as there have been plenty of ups and downs already. After defeating PSG and RB Leipzig in their opening Champions League group games, they surprisingly lost to Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir and bowed out of the competition.

Just when they looked set to mount a strong title charge, they drew 5 out their 7 Premeir League games to give Manchester City the decisive edge in the title race. The latest setback was their 1-1 draw with AC Milan which leaves their Europa League charge in the balance.

Are Manchester United deploying the right approach?

Manchester United have secured the highest number of comeback wins in the Premier League this season. While they have been unable to defend their lead on many occasions, their extremely cautious approach against the big six teams has also been a point of criticism.

Another major issue has been Manchester United's ultra defensive approach in protecting their lead even against weaker teams. It is not uncommon to see Solskjaer send on an extra defender or defensive midfielder in the dying minutes of the game even when they are leading. This approach of protecting a single goal lead rather than finishing the game off has proven to be unsuccessful quite a number of times this season already.

Their 2-2 draw against Leicester City was a clear example in this regard. After Bruno Fernandes scored to give his team a 2-1 lead in the 79th minute, they put up a low block. Instead of maintaining their attacking momentum, they invited pressure on themselves, which Jamie Vardy took full advantage of by drawing his team level.

A similar pattern followed against Everton, where Manchester United again dropped points. They would have suffered the same fate against Brighton, but were saved by a VAR intervention after the full-time whistle. Bruno Fernandes candidly summarized Manchester United's deficiencies in the aftermath of the Everton draw:

“For me, it doesn’t matter how we play, we have to win the games, we have to understand the moments. In the second half when we scored the third goal we have to understand that we have to not give away nothing, not to give them chances and to keep trying to score and press them. We don’t do that and unfortunately we concede the goal in the last few seconds.”

A similar approach came back to haunt them again as AC Milan struck in stoppage time at Old Trafford to take back a healthy away goal advantage back to the San Siro.

At this stage of the season, it seems almost foolish to think that United can leapfrog City to the title, but the race for the top-4 is still very tight. The Red Devils will be required to be at their attacking best until the end of the season if they wish to secure a seat in the Champions League next season

Edited by Prem Deshpande
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