One step forward, two steps back: The story of Manchester United's season so far
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The advent of the 2019-20 Premier League season coincided with the start of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge of Manchester United, and truth be told, no one quite knew what to expect from the Norwegian's men.
United had experienced a rollercoaster ride under the Norwegian’s stewardship last season, and not even the most experienced of fortunetellers would dare to predict their fate this season.
Well begun is only half done
However, against all odds, United made a flying start to the Premier League season by crushing Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford on opening day. Following the arrivals of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka over the summer, United looked resolute in defence and lethal on the counter-attack. Nevertheless, all the joy and optimism garnered from that win was short-lived as United crashed to a surprising defeat against Crystal Palace the very next week.
In hindsight, that was a sign of things to come as far as United’s season is concerned. Just when you think the Red Devils have turned a corner, all their good work seems to come undone.
Though Solskjaer’s team has been plagued by several injuries since the start of the campaign, that’s not been the only cause of concern for them. A closer look at United’s performances this season reveals the lack of an alternate game plan. This also explains the team’s struggles to beat so-called smaller Premier League teams this season.
A lot has been made of United’s enviable record against the traditional domestic heavyweights, as over the first half of the season, the Red Devils have managed to beat the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City. More impressively, United are the only side in the league who have managed to take points off Liverpool this term.
However, somewhat ironically, the vast majority of their grief has been caused by the lesser teams. Simply put, whenever the opposition has dominated possession, Solskjaer’s men have almost certainly breached their defence on the counter-attack, but whenever the opposition have parked the bus, United seem to run out of ways to break them down.
The lack of creativity in the team’s ranks can also be attributed to the lack of creative players in the midfield. Paul Pogba is known to be Solskjaer’s most creative player, and as luck would have it, the Frenchman has missed most of United’s season so far through injury.
However, Pogba hasn’t always covered himself in glory, because his inconsistent performances can also be seen as one of the reasons behind United’s struggles in the recent past.
More importantly, the Frenchman cannot be seen as the sole answer to United’s midfield woes, and so it comes as no surprise that the likes of James Maddison, Jack Grealish, and Christian Eriksen have all been linked with moves to Old Trafford. When the transfer window opens on January 1, Ed Woodward has his task cut out to try and bring at least one of the above-mentioned players to the club.
While United have struggled to create chances in some of their games, what's even more frustrating to see is that they have not always converted the few chances created. Listless performances, individual errors, and wasted chances have been the hallmark of United’s performances so far this season.
Marcus Rashford may be United’s leading marksman this term, but he is also guilty of missing a few absolute sitters in front of goal. The same can also be said of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, and a host of others. In times like these, the rumour that Erling Braut Haaland is on his way to Old Trafford is bound to put a smile on the faces of the Old Trafford faithful.
Learn from your mistakes or history will repeat itself
United have always had a great tradition of giving budding football talent a chance to flourish, but even by their standards, Solskjaer would perhaps be the first to admit that he has had to rely on his youth a bit too much so far.
Given the number of injuries the team has had to cope with, a lot of graduates from United’s famous academy have taken to the field and given a good account of themselves. Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, and a few others are set to have bright futures, as there have been times when the products of United’s academy have been the only silver lining for Solskjaer.
However, if the manager wants to stabilise what has been a topsy-turvy first half of the season for his team, he must find a way to get the Red Devils to play a more assertive and penetrative style of football that ensures they can breakdown teams whose entire gameplan is to lie low and then hit back on the counter-attack.
In addition to this, United must also learn to be ruthless in front of goal, and this can be done by adding a few new faces to the roster during the winter transfer window. However, if Solskjaer does not address the above-mentioned problems, then United's performances in the new year will certainly be a mirror-image of the year gone by.