The defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League highlighted problems at both ends of the pitch, issues that might not be solved this summer…
Manchester United’s 2019/20 season is a funny one.
They reached three semi-finals and finished third in the table, thus qualifying for the Champions League, which in objective terms is a fairly decent return.
But there’s still a whiff of disappointment about those three semi-final defeats, not least because the latest – the 2-1 loss to Sevilla in the Europa League on Sunday evening – highlighted a couple of shortcomings that could hold them back in the future, at both ends of the pitch.
“One issue United have is that none of their attacking players are real killers,” said Tom Williams on Monday’s Summer Special edition of The Totally Football Show.
“None of them are proper, old-school goalscorers. They’re all fantastic footballers and there are times when they’ve clicked since the restart and have looked really impressive, and as a unit they’re not far away from the finished article.
“Marcus Rashford hasn’t been the same player since the restart – he’s had the best season of his career, but he’s looked off the pace for a while. When that’s the case I wonder whether you need him and Anthony Martial in the team at the same time. They operate in similar roles, they both play in a similar way – I wonder if you had a slightly more dependable, more conventional striker in there, United might have a little bit extra.
“At the same time misfortune and the exploits of opposition goalkeepers does play a part. Both the keepers they’ve come up against in the last couple of games have excelled, and the forwards who’ve spurned chances haven’t done all that much wrong, but I do wonder if there’s an issue with having both Martial and Rashford in the team, particularly when Rashford isn’t really on his game.”
James Horncastle agreed: “United have three talented strikers who are all of a similar type. That lack of ability to vary the attack in the way we saw – with very modest means – Sevilla do. Taking off Ocampos and bringing on Munir; bringing on De Jong. That is something United should address, but probably won’t address because they’re looking for Jadon Sancho.”
And then there’s the defence, as Tom Williams outlined: “It’s rare to see all four defenders in the same team make a mistake for the same goal. But that’s what happened: Brandon Williams doesn’t track Jesus Navas who drifts into space, both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are drawn the wrong side of the near-post, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka doesn’t react to the fact De Jong has darted into the space, so he has the freedom of the six-yard box to score.
“United have improved defensively this season: if you look at their goals for and goals against column in the Premier League, you’d say it’s the former that’s a bigger issue, rather than the latter.
“But when you look at the players in that very well established first XI, the weaknesses are all in the back four. The jury is out on all of them really, the full-back areas in particular. It was perhaps telling that their season should be ultimately finished by a goal that exposed the shortcomings of all of them.”
And then of course there’s David De Gea, whose form has been declining all season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer received some criticism for not making a substitution until the 83rd minute, but there was probably a reason for that.
“Another issue is there isn’t any depth in that United squad,” said Tom Williams. “Solskjaer probably should have turned to his bench sooner, but when you look at the players he could have brought on, there aren’t any obvious game-changers there. Which makes it difficult when the men in the starting XI aren’t doing the job.”
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