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Shambolic recruitments and managers without the "magic touch"

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 07: Nemanja Matic of Manchester United celebrates at the full time whistle after the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Manchester United at Juventus Stadium on November 7, 2018 in Turin, Italy.
TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 07: Nemanja Matic of Manchester United celebrates at the full time whistle after the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Manchester United at Juventus Stadium on November 7, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
On the last day of the 2018/19 Premier League season, both Manchester City and Liverpool were fighting for the title. Below them in the league table, Tottenham had one eye on the Champions League final. Further below, both Chelsea and Arsenal were making plans to outmaneuver each other in the upcoming Europa League final. And then there were Manchester United.

A side that lost its final game to an already-relegated Cardiff City side. A bunch of players which was jeered mercilessly off the pitch by their fans after the final whistle. A manager who has issued more apologies for his team’s performances in the last two months of the season than he has collected winners’ medals throughout his managerial career.

How did it come to this? Ask any Manchester United faithful, and you’d hear a variation of these two words: shambolic recruitment.

United have spent more than half-a-billion pounds since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013. They have the world’s most expensive midfielder in Paul Pogba. Their wage bill is the 4th highest in Europe. So much money, and where they would try their luck next season? In the backwaters of the Europa League.

Therefore, if Manchester United wants to get back to where it believes it belongs, the club has to do savvy recruitment in the upcoming summer transfer window, while also cutting its ties with players who are way past their best. Unless they don’t do that, their gap with their rivals will get bigger.

A DIFFERENT LIGALIVE VIDEO STORY?

Review of Manchester United’s Playing System under Solskjaer

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 07: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates victory with Juan Mata of Manchester United after the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Manchester United at Juventus Stadium on November 7, 2018 in Turin, Italy.
TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 07: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates victory with Juan Mata of Manchester United after the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Manchester United at Juventus Stadium on November 7, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Right from his first game against Cardiff as a Manchester United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown that he is fearless when it comes to adapting his formations based on the teams his side is facing.

Formation # 1: 4-3-3

By far the most used formation by Manchester United last season, Ole went for the traditional 4-3-3 mostly against the top six sides. It saw Pogba on the left and Herrera on the right of a three-person midfield, with Lukaku playing in the position of the main striker.

The likes of Martial, Rashford, Lingard and even Sanchez (when fit), meanwhile, were positioned to provide service from the wings. Manchester United played 15 games in the league in this formation, winning 10 and losing just three in the process.

Formation # 2: 4-2-3-1

When facing opposition which decided to sit back and play on the counter, Ole went for the more fashionable 4-2-3-1. While this formation retained the midfield pivot of Herrera and Matic, it shifted Pogba to the center – just behind Rashford who was playing as the sole striker.

Interestingly, United managed to avoid defeat in the six games which they played under this system.

Formation # 2: 4-3-2-1

While not as successful as the 4-2-3-1 formation, Ole also tried a more conservative 4-3-1-2 against sides like Manchester City who can flood the opposition’s midfield.

Under this system, while the midfield pivot of Herrera-Matic/McTominay and Pogba remained, Juan Mata was fielded away from his preferred right-wing role, and in the center just behind the two strikers.  Unfortunately for the Red Devils, this formation wasn’t successful as they managed only two wins in the six games that they played under it.

Ligalive Infographics: Team Performance Premier League Season 2018/19

Areas where ManU are well stocked

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: The corner flag prior to kick off during the EFL Cup fourth round match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 26, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Despite so much doom-and-gloom surrounding the club, there are areas in the Manchester United squad which don’t need an injection of new signings.

Goalkeeper

After a World cup in which his sub-par performances raised eye-brows, De Gea made more errors (3) this season than in any other since joining Manchester United in 2011. None of the other keepers playing for a top 6 side ended up conceding as many goals from outside the box as the Spaniard’s 54 in 18/19’ season.

Little wonder, then, that having made it to PFA Team of the Year for four seasons in a row before this year, De Gea’s name was omitted this time around.

Manchester United could do worse than having the Spaniard in goal. While his performances were erratic this season, those of others around him were pitiful. Hence the reason why De Gea conceded more shots from outside the box than any other Premier League goalkeeper.

Therefore, if the Manchester United board wants one less issue to deal with, they’d better award the Spanish goalkeeper a new contract with terms that he is looking for, and tie him to the club for the foreseeable future.

Left-back

His time under Jose Mourinho was a curious one for Luke Shaw.

In the first half of their love-hate relationship, he was one of Mourinho’s favorite whipping boys. The Portuguese repeatedly criticized Shaw in his post-game press conferences, with the former Real Madrid manager once stating that Shaw needed to change his football brain.

Fast forward to May 2019, and Shaw was named the club’s 2019 Player of the Year, as voted for by United fans, as well as being named the Players’ Player of the Year award by his team-mates. He was also named the club’s player of the month in three months last season.

What’s it that changed for Shaw, then? For starters, the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer liberated the left-back. With more permission to go further forward the pitch than what his previous manager had allowed, Shaw thrived in his new role and ended up making 41 appearances for United in all competitions.

Consequently, with Diego Dalot and Marcos Rojo also waiting in the wings for his chance, Manchester United would do well to trust what they have and not bring in a new left-back in the summer.

Striker

Unless Romelu Lukaku leaves the club for foreign shores, there is simply no need for United to bring in a new striker in the summer transfer window. In addition to the Belgian, they also have at their disposal the likes of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

While the former hasn’t featured in the striker role that often, his finishing and eye for the goal gives Martial the predatory touch which every striker longs for. The same could be said about Rashford who has played brilliantly when deputized alongside Lukaku in United’s two-pronged attack.

Ligalive Infographics: Team Profile Premier League Season 2018/19

Areas where ManU need new signings

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: Paul Pogba of Manchester United removes his shirt to give to a young fan after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton FC at Old Trafford on October 28, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28: Paul Pogba of Manchester United removes his shirt to give to a young fan after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Everton FC at Old Trafford on October 28, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Having identified the areas where Manchester United are already well-stocked, let’s turn our attention to the weak points in their squad which need addressing in the summer transfer window.

Center Back

During his last few months at the club, Jose Mourinho made no secret of his desire to bring a new center back to the Old Trafford last summer. The Portuguese repeatedly pleaded with Ed Woodward to sign him a world-class defender, only for the United’s executive vice-chairman to rebuff his efforts.

To Woodward’s credit, the situation looked different back then – helped by the fact that Manchester United conceded only 28 goals in the 2017/18 season. However, now that they have let in 54 goals in the 2018/19 season, it should be crystal clear to everybody that United do need new center halves.

While Eric Bailly has been unable to maintain the form he shown after his arrival from Spain, both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are calamities waiting to happen. Victor Lindelof, meanwhile, has been demonstrated that he is inexperienced and might do well as a substitute rather than a nail-on starter in every game.

Right Back

After seeing his initial attempt of winning the Premier League go in vain, Pep Guardiola gave his Manchester City bosses a wishlist: bring me Kyle Walker and Danilo to strengthen the full-back department. He got his wish, and two seasons later, Manchester City have won back to back titles.

Even if they don’t want to learn from their noisy neighbors, United only need to look at their history to gauge the importance of a world-class right back. Gary Neville, the Sky Sports pundit, was a formidable full-back in his glory days and helped the Red Devils win eight titles during his 2-decade stay at the club.

Since their academy is no longer producing players matching the quality of Gary Neville, United has no choice but to splash the cash on a right-back which could run up and down the pitch and make life difficult for the opposition.

Defensive Midfielder

Manchester United have spent over 600million on new signings since 2013. Manchester United also have the likes of Fred, McTominay, and Matic in their defensive midfield. If these two sentences don’t appear compatible, it is because they shouldn’t, especially for a club of the size of the Red Devils.

Matic played well after arriving from Chelsea, but in a fast-paced league like the Premiership, his lack of pace exposes his defenders now and then. Fred, meanwhile, hasn’t even come close to justifying the £52m which United paid for his services whereas McTominay is one for the future.

Also, with Ander Herrera reportedly on his way to PSG on a free transfer, there is no reason why signing a quality defensive midfielder shouldn’t be atop Manchester United’s transfer plans for the summer.

Right Winger

On his good days – which are becoming few-and-far-between – Lingard is unplayable. On days when it’s not working for him, the English midfielder might well be subbed off before the hour mark. That unpredictability is the reason why United need a new winger.

It isn’t that United haven’t been able to bring in right-wingers in the recent past. Instead, it is that the players who were brought to provide goals from the right flank – Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez – have both failed to do their job.

And while Rashford has been occasionally deputized on the right to terrorize opponents with his fiery pace, it cannot be ignored that the Englishman is more fond of playing on the left of United’s attack. That leaves United with no option but to bring a right-winger in the next transfer window.

Attacking Midfielder

Paul Pogba might be the most expensive midfielder ever. He might have scored more goals and managed more assists than any Manchester United player last season. But when push came to shove, and the heat was on, the Frenchman went missing.

Have doubts? Then go through his performances in big games last season. In the eight games in which he featured against the top five sides of the Premier League, the French World Cup winner managed a single goal to his name.

In fact, of the 13 goals that Pogba scored last season, only three came against sides which finished in the top half of the Premier League. That is not good enough for a player of the quality of the Frenchman, which is why United need a new attacking midfielder.

Ligalive Infographics: Player Performance ManU - Premier League Season 2018/19

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