Sometimes you feel like you are lost for words or just tired of repeating the same words over and over again. This is what it feels like being a Man United fan on Twitter. I, honestly, don’t feel sad or hurt. I spent the whole match laughing, but by the end of it, I felt bad for the away fans. I felt bad for those who the state of the club hurt them badly because they invest a lot of emotions into the club. For some, Manchester United is religion.
If Einstein were to come back from the dead and I asked him: What is the definition of insanity? He’ll not need his famous quote anymore, he’ll just point at Manchester United. United keep making the same mistakes over and over again expecting different results.
For the last 4 years, United needed to strengthen their midfield and they had not. There’s a reason why the last time United won a trophy was the last year Michael Carrick played for United — despite his age. Mourinho used him wisely and in the important games to lessen United’s defensive woes.
Teams are built on compatibilities and relationships. United have neither. United are a team where players’ weaknesses are stripped naked for the world to see. There are no players in the world past, present or in the future that are weakness free. Lionel Messi is weak at headers and average at penalties. Cristiano Ronaldo is weak as a link up player and playing as a target man/back to goal to hold the ball despite his physique. And both of them are useless without the ball in defensive situations. These two are considered the two best players to have ever existed.
I feel like I said this a million times but here goes…
United have too many mismatching player profiles. The GK doesn’t suit the CBs, thus putting the CBs under pressure and exposing any weakness they have. The deep midfield area — mainly the 6 position — doesn’t suit the style a big team usually wants to play, thus putting the backline under pressure. The FBs are at an adequate — some think championship — level both in terms of attacking and defending.
I have not gone through entire team and we already have mismatches in 3 areas. I will not even begin to talk about the mismatches in the forward line and their relationship with the 10 and the wide players and their relationships with their respective fullbacks. I won’t because I won’t finish this article if I started.
Based on this, you can see that ANY player that comes to United at its current state will have his weaknesses exposed and exploited. They will look 10x less of the player they are. However, there’s a specific relationship that I’d like to highlight, and that is the relationship between the GK and the 6 (or deep midfielders in general). Here is what I had to say last week on All for United (Fan Channel).
Note: If the video starts from minute zero, please skip to 14:50 to ~16:40 (mins:secs).
The relationship of the GK and the 6 position is one of the most vital points in a passing scheme in any build-up structure. It doesn’t matter what buildup structure you use, if that area is weak then your buildup is not longer a point of strength — it’s a liability. Short buildup already comes with enough risk as it is, one mistake can lead to a high quality chance. Yet, this is literally United’s worst area both technically and in terms of compatibility and relationships.
Let’s see United’s buildup structure under the previous manager and the current manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær:
The buildup structure vs a high pressing team (Liverpool):
United literally had to skip DDG and put Maguire in the middle between Shaw and Lindelöf to create a 3 in the 1st line. This makes their numbers lighter in attack but it gives them an edge in the first phase just purely on numbers.
When Henderson was the GK, United were able to push the fullbacks higher, as he is more comfortable with ball — so United buildup with GK and 2 CBs as an initial overload. City were waiting on the pivots to make a mistake but they forgot about the FBs. Liverpool fell into the same trap 1st half vs United in May 2021 then they risked a 1v1 at the back to cut off the FBs in the 2nd half and it worked by dispossessing Fred multiple times then forcing United long.
What I am trying to highlight here is United are very one dimensional because of the relationship of the GK and the 6. Both are afraid of passing to each other the ball and, in turn, the CBs also are afraid of them. We are talking about United’s spine here — Catastrophic.
Erik ten Hag:
Note: ETH used a similar idea to Solskjær from the 0–0 game vs Liverpool by skipping DDG vs Crystal Palace in pre-season. Go check the Sancho goal and check where Lindelöf and Maguire were standing. It was like they were baby-sitting DDG.
The main difference between these two structure above is instead of having the double pivot on the same line as the fbs, only one of the pivots is there. Solskjær’s 2–4 created triangles all over the pitch and ETH’s creates diamonds. Remember proximity and angles determine whether it’s a diamond or a triangle.
Despite both managers using different schemes to buildup, there’s one constant. The player’s comfortability and technicality on the ball remain the same, thus both fail abysmally. It’s the Achilles heel.
I got mocked when I said this earlier after the win vs Liverpool:
The issues still existed in that match and if Liverpool weren’t rusty, they would have scored multiple. They craved United open on multiple occasions but I didn’t want to ruin the party more than that — so I didn’t emphasize at the time.
But you know what? I stand corrected. ten Hag did change the buildup structure from OGS’s 2–4 and inverted the FBs a little then pushed one of the double pivots up. However, as I actually meant in the tweet, that has literally changed nothing. The same weaknesses are there and the same behavioral patterns are there. United skipped the midfield because it was weak. The pressing scheme was the same as when Marital was always there under Solskjær. DDG tried to impress but he looked very shaky and you just knew when it mattered he will crumble. Fred was also shaky during the pre-season games.
This leads us nicely to what did I mean by “behavioral patterns”?
Well, I talked about this a lot before in the form of “habits”. My brother @utdarena explained it nicely in the following tweet.
Players are not dumbasses, they know very well the weaknesses they have and their shortcomings — with the exception of DDG who apparently thinks he’s a well rounded keeper (not a dig, he literally said that himself). As a result, when they are about to do something they know they are not comfortable with their minds go into overdrive. When that happens, the likelihood of them making a bad decision is heightened and depending on how uncomfortable they are in that area or that task, the probability of making a mistake will be much higher.
Even ETH said it himself:
He is absolutely right here, you can give players all the instructions in the world but the players are in charge of the decisions during play time. The part ETH didn’t mention is when human beings go into overdrive thinking, those instructions evaporate. They go into auto-pilot/avoid risk mode. This is what our brain does when it senses risk or danger, it makes us drop the thing that brings us the risk or discomfort — which in DDG’s case making an auto-pilot/quick decisions to get rid of the piece of charcoal at his feet. To be fair to ETH, he probably thought — these are top professionals at one of the biggest clubs in the world — they will evaluate the situation and pick the correct decision, which is going long. But Erik, a keeper like DDG panics under pressure, in training, the pressure is different to live and the stakes are high. DDG knows this in his subconscious so he may look good in training but when reality hits, he reverts to type. Same can be said about multiple players, I am just highlighting DDG because he was the one with the most recent blunder.
You, the reader, and myself included, are probably asking ourselves; How the hell did United reach this point and have players at such a level?
I said earlier that Manchester United are the definition of insanity and the reason is because of the mistakes they are making in recruitment every transfer window. I touched earlier on it when I talked about Carrick.
Note: When Rangnick said “the best possible coaches to develop these players”, he assumed that United will be buying youngsters — 21 and below. You can actually influence and improve the young ones — even Sir Matt Busby had a saying about it. After 22–23, they are stuck with their attributes (habits) and they become stubborn and highly unlikely to change. I’ll discuss this in another article.
As we have explained in this article, It doesn’t matter who the manager is or what structure or tactics they use, the weaknesses in some of the players are fundamental — meaning it is in their core attributes (habits). A keeper like DDG could have been an ace 10 years ago but he is not now. Midfielders like Fred and Scott who are not comfortable in deep areas could have been fine 15 years ago but not now. Secondly, when you scout players, you have to scout their weaknesses and see if the players that you have in the team cover that weakness or expose it further. DDG exposes Maguire and Martinez, Fred and Scott expose everyone behind them, Rashford and Ronaldo expose Fred and Scott, Fernandes is a pressing nut who plays with non pressers…so on and so forth. None of it makes sense. Insanity.
“A repetition of petty requisitions soon becomes an odious tyranny.”