Manchester United: the curtain falls on Old Trafford.
The Ole Gunner Solskjær era might come to an end as I write this article. It is sad and heartbreaking. In every sense, Solskjær tried to improve United and tried to take them back to their best. Up until last season, there was evidence of progress and many arguments on why he should head into his 3rd season with positivity. There were also concerns but the positives outweighed the negatives.
This season started however and the on-field performances (specifically after Wolves) and the recruitment strategy started to take a different direction. This direction caused many fans to question things even more. Why though? Why did it turn so bad? Why did it go from winning vs Liverpool at OT in the FA Cup and competing with them last may (despite the loss) at OT to the complete embarrassment we saw yesterday. Manchester United were not defeated yesterday, they were humiliated. Let’s discuss what happened!
Man United has many many issues, some created by Solskjær and some existed long before him.
The Manchester United squad is laughably unbalanced for a big club. This was before Solskjær. The imbalance was created due to the extreme shift between the philosophies of Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal. United were missing a Carrick like player and were not even planning to replace Carrick or had someone inline from the academy.
United were missing a right winger since Valencia was converted to a right back instead of actually buying a right back when they sold the De Silvas.
United have too many shooters and too little creators. Rashford, Martial, Greenwood, Cavani, even to a slight extent Fernandes have a shoot as a first thought tendencies. Fernandes, however, helps a lot in the creation department even though he, sometimes, doesn’t when he decides to shoot from awkward positions. As such, United needed more creators, so they went to the market and bought Sancho – 2 years too late mind you – and they still had Pogba.
Solskjær solved all these issues except for one and it is the most important one, the midfield. You can live without a winger but you can’t — at least vs the big boys — with two of your midfield positions are filled by players who are playing out of position or not suited for the role you are asking.
The issue didn’t stop there. Solskjær solved United’s creator issues but then went and got Cristiano Ronaldo two weeks later. He not only undid what he solved by bringing Sancho but he got someone who doesn’t even suit the forwards he has. Now you can debate whether it’s his decision or not among yourselves, but if it was SAF and his boys that pushed this signing on Solskjær then they cost him his job and United have bigger issues than Solskjær.
Why is Cristiano Ronaldo a problem?
The problem that people keep misunderstanding when we say Ronaldo is a big problem and the wrong signing isn’t to do Ronaldo, himself. It has to do with how it all ties up together as a team and how he complements the entire team.
“It wasn’t because of Ronaldo United got humiliated by Liverpool but he is a factor that leads to a domino effect.”
Last year, United’s press was not the best but it was still effective somewhat and they wanted to build on that. Solskjær wanted United to become ‘the hardest and most aggressive team’ in the league, well, you can’t do that with a non presser. What helped United mitigate the slight issues they had in pressing were 3 players (Daniel James, Edinson Cavani, and Anthony Martial), 1 left the club and 2 benched because Ronaldo’s status demand he plays every game.
“Martial really? He lacks work-rate” Martial might not have a competitive nature in the sense of fighting for his position when it is threatened but when he played he was the glue that connected everything. He might not make the same runs as Cavani ever in his career, but he glued everything up until the final third. And yes, there were games where he seemed disinterested.
Cavani’s work-rate alone helped United’s pressing and shape tremendously as he hassled the opposition’s first line and didn’t give them a moment’s rest.
With Ronaldo, United miss all that and they get unglued. His arrival meant United needed to stop pressing altogether. If United’s coaches already told the team then Rashford, Fernandes, and Greenwood didn’t get the memo.
In the Leicester game, United’s press was dis-jointed which caused them to be super easy to play through. Same thing happened vs Liverpool and with Moe Salah being on fire, Liverpool were extremely clinical. It could have been 8–9 nil but Liverpool took sympathy. If you are not going to press efficiently thus making it easy for opposition to keep the ball, at least stay compact in a low block to make it difficult for them to create.
Ronaldo’s defensive contributions and tracking backing are non existent but the problem here isn’t that only Ronaldo does it. It’s all of United's forwards. Note: please don’t say he ran after some guy all the way back, it was 5 seconds of a 95 minute match. He marks people at corners because that is the role given to him at corners. so please save me this and don’t be like twitter. A game consists of 2500 actions on average and an individual player has about 60 actions on average.
Martial, Rashford, Greenwood, AND Ronaldo (used to be wide midfielder/winger), are not wingers or wide midfielders, they are forwards with Striker tendencies or vice versa. They have no habit or tendency to track back. It is the coach’s responsibility to change that habit or mitigate it. You can carry one player who doesn’t do any defensive work but not all 3 of your forwards. It puts a lot of pressure on your midfield and the backline gets doubled up on as your midfield get by passed easy. So when Ronaldo came, it was like United was asking for that issue to increase or be extrapolated. This creates a chain that is reflected is the performances we have seen lately, as shown in the below image.
PSG is currently facing this issue with Neymar, Messi, and Mbappe. All 3 of them are not interested in tracking back. The saving grace for PSG is that they have a far better midfield — still really pressured mind you. Plus, Messi and Neymar contribute a lot to buildup. Messi, especially, he vacates his RW position to get into the central areas to create for others. United don’t have the luxury of a world class midfield nor the forwards that contribute massively to buildup — Greenwood does a bit and Martial does but he doesn’t play..
Fans need to understand this. Defense starts with your striker and ends with your goalkeeper. However, if your last line is exposed to runs from every direction time and time again then you can’t expect them to defend well and stop these waves. If you United had Paolo Maldini, Carlos Puyol and Franz Beckenbauer yesterday in the last line and they got exposed like that, they score line might have been 3–0 or 4–0 but never in a million years they’d be able to keep it all out. Think of it as you have only 5 (GK, and 4 def), vs 10.
Look at United’s forwards in these pictures. All 3 of them wandering around. How do you compete with the a team that works as a unit while your team doesn’t? United’s defense was pressured all match. That pressure forces mistakes that otherwise in an organized setup they don’t make. This no longer becomes individual mistakes.
There was no resistance from United on the transition yesterday or even in settled possession. The defensive shape and transitions were atrocious. They created chances going forward but that’s because they have a world class attack. Yes, if Bruno scored that early chance, it might have been a different game — still a loss but not as bad — due to mentality shift but still it would have hidden the issues for a couple more days. Eventually, you get exposed.
Ronaldo likes to get on the ball a lot but the problem here is he does nothing with it. This, in turn, stifles United’s attack. In addition, he is given a free role and wonders all over the pitch, which makes him vacate spaces where he should be. Spaces that otherwise can help United stretch teams.
He is also a left side dependent player. JUST LIKE MANY OF UNITED’s PLAYERS. This means United becomes even more left side dependent.
Remember when we said Solskjær negated the improvement to the balance he made by bringing in Sancho when he bought Ronaldo. This is exactly it. Plus, Ronaldo is a shoot first minded player not a creator first minded player. Like United needed any more of those….sigh..
Ronaldo demands too much possession for United’s own good as this possession could otherwise go to creative players.
The un-droppable status
Cristiano is regarded as one of the best goalscorers of all time. This comes with its privileges and problems. The privileges benefit him and the problems harm only the team around him. The benefit is Ronaldo is never dropped so he is happy. The problem here is there are many games that don’t suit him. The last few years, football saw a huge surge in pressing football and with someone at the age of 36, many games don’t suit Ronaldo.
So previously mentioned, if United had different type of forwards and were a great possession team, they can carry someone like Ronaldo. Unfortunately, they don’t and they are not excellent in possession. Even worse, they have a host of players like him which made the signing — again read this carefully — nonsensical and only exaggerated the problems that United are, currently, suffering from tactically.
Recruitment needs questioning…
This is something we thought was largely solved under Solskjær but some of the signings completely didn’t make sense.
The Van de Beek signing; Ole clearly doesn’t want him in the squad, for obvious reasons. He doesn’t suit us especially at the time he was bought. Donny needs creators a round him like Sancho. He is a give and go type of player and a space finder. He is best when he plays upfield. Don’t try to shoehorn him in the team because you don’t like the current pivots.
The Ronaldo signing; SAF and the boys interfering and pushing this signing on United really damaged United. It is scary a thought that United’s recruitment can easily be swayed and led astray from their vision by outside interference.
The efficiency of recruitment should also be questioned. Last season’s transfer window was a catastrophe. 4 panic buys last day of the transfer window. Diallo and Pellistri are kids so we can’t tell the future with them. Thank God Cavani turned out to be good. Cavani was a free agent for months, why didn’t United get him earlier if they wanted him? Telles doesn’t suit us but a backup left back was urgently needed so I, at least, understand that one .
Questions, questions, questions…
The buck stops with the manager and he will face the full brunt of it. He will probably get sacked soon but that signing ruined him and his plans. He needed to be more brave by dropping the likes of Ronaldo or any other player that didn’t perform.
If he had started Lingard and Cavani yesterday instead of Greenwood and Ronaldo, we might have gotten somewhere. He might have still lost but we’d at least say he tried a solution. When, I saw the lineup yesterday, I said this is suicide. A team isn’t looked at and compared to another team individual by individual, a team is looked at as the meaning of the word says a group of individuals working together towards a common goal. United is just a group of individuals, period.