This is the beginning of a new series called ‘Responding to Your Comments‘. Here, I will respond to the comments you have provided on Twitter under the relevent post. I will take a large handful of your comments, correct any linguistic errors [due to professionality] and will write them below. Underneath the comment I will reply.
So, let us begin!
Comment 1 (@HarryMufc97):
“[It was] not the best performance but it wasn’t atrocious. We’re having the same problems we’ve had for the past 5-6 years where any side that comes to OT (Old Trafford) and plays a deep block completely nullifies us and we can never break them down. Gomes, Fred and Tuanzebe were the main positives.”
It was definitely a good performance in terms of our ability to move the ball quickly and in direct lines (mostly in the second half). Though, this was to be expected due to the overall quality of the opposition.
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United have been unable to attack with fluidity, creating multiple chances per game. In 2016-17, there was a noticeable increase but this was due to the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba. Also, we played in such a defensive manner at times that we often removed the low block from the opponent due to how deep we would be ourselves. However, you are correct in a general sense; we have found it extremely difficult to break down low block defences and this is an issue that pertains to coaching. Yes, signings are important but United have had some incredibly creative players during the last six years and yet have still struggled.
Gomes had the best game from the younger players. His technique on the ball and his overall decision making far exceeded the likes of Chong whilst Greenwood, too, had a good game. Fred was required to put in a good performance and he made sure to do that with his involvement. He ranked first in the majority of statistics throughout the game which Solskjær will have noticed. Regarding Tuanzebe I mentioned that his positioning, awareness and composure should be scouted by fans. In terms of positioning this encompasses aerial prowess which is based on two things: (1) positioning and (2) execution. Tuanzebe engaged in 12 aerial duels against FC Astana and won eight of them. In the Premier League, this would place him in the top 15 for aerial duel success. Yes, the quality of opposition matters, however, this is merely a statistic to give you an idea as to how good it was for him.
Comment 2 (@HiJustMyOpinion):
“Not being clinical is going to cost the team in the long run.”
This has already occurred so far this season. Manchester United have not been clinical in scoring bigger chances nor have they been clinical in converting penalties. The result has left us fourth in the league whereas we should either be first or second at the moment with a perfect record. Even though we have not performed incredibly well we have still created enough good chances in every game – in one way or another – which should have led us to winning each game. However, being clinical is key.
Comment 3 (@NinjaPirat_):
“Fred and Greenwood obviously need more game time.”
Solskjær knows the importance of having a more intelligent midfield in terms of on-ball activity. The problem with Fred has never been his on-ball distribution in midfield. Rather, it has always been his off-ball activity. Often, he is rash and rushes into tackles in a bid to be proactive. However, the better midfielders in the Premier League are intelligent enough to read such intent and they will play around it. Usually, Fred will be the last man in midfield on his side (due to playing as a CM and not an AM). Thus, if he is beaten the opposition will face United’s defence immediately. This is something Solskjær does not want. Fred performed well against Leicester City when he came on which highlighted his ability to adapt to game-state – an important attribute of any footballer. Against FC Astana he was given a good game to test his abilities. He definitely passed that test but he will remain a player that should be integrated into the starting line-up as opposed to being thrown in there.
Mason Greenwood is in a difficult position at the moment. Anthony Martial is set to be the go-to striker of the club with Marcus Rashford and Daniel James playing significant minutes in the line-up. If we are plagued with injuries – as per usual – then Greenwood will definitely be the first choice to start from the reserves. However, him getting minutes as a starter will be difficult as a base if the aforementioned are fit and ready.
Comment 4 (@nv_97):
“There are real question marks regarding Ole’s ability; I can’t understand what his plan for United is going forward (i.e. attacking). We are so bad at creating chances.”
Solskjær’s plan with regard to United’s offence is clear. He wants to attack with width as well as play quick, flowing football. However, there is a lack of quality in the squad which makes it harder for him to implement his ideas. Remember, Barcelona had Lionel Messi but bought Luis Suárez and Neymar. Likewise, they signed Coutinho. Real Madrid had Kaka and signed Cristiano Ronaldo. They signed the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez, too. Manchester City bought Leroy Sané, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez despite having Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. The best teams buy players who are gifted. Then, they coach them as a team. At this very moment in time, Manchester United have an aging Mata who is a few years past his prime, Jesse Lingard who is an average player for the most part and a young Angel Gomes who needs to be integrated into a solid, stable system.
Solskjær needs to spend more in the winter and summer transfer windows and with the right acquisitions United will slowly return to where they should be – fighting for trophies.
Comment 5 (@SirFellaini):
“We will draw a lot of games this season and that can be the difference between top four and [less than that which will qualify us for the] Europa League.”
This is a great point. It is a reminder of the 2016-17 season wherein we finished 6th largely due to the fact that we had drawn an incredible 15 games. Likewise, we had only scored 54 goals which ranked 8th in the league. Despite that, we were 4th in chances created, shots and expected points. Thus, our general performances warranted a higher position than 6th but our finishing let us down.
Comment 6 (@LodbrokAaron):
“Do you have any idea what Rashford’s problem is exactly? I don’t understand him. Are they playing him out of position? What is the issue exactly?”
Rashford is a player who suffers from a lack of direction. When players want to improve their repertoire they must be taught how and when to implement the things they have learned. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to improve his overall ability whilst maintaining his focus of being creative in the final third and scoring goals. The only manager who has cultivated Rashford in that way was Louis van Gaal and he was sacked by the end of the season wherein Rashford made his debut. In that season, van Gaal ensured Rashford played as a striker and instructed him to focus on his ability to play on the last man.
Under José Mourinho, Rashford played in a multitude of positions and each position required its own speciality. As a result, Rashford began to tick multiple boxes in terms of his playing ability. However, due to not playing in a set position and consistently being moved around those ticks were small.
Thus, he fits the statement of being a “jack of all trades”. He is able to do many things offensively but cannot do any of them as proficiently as wanted by the club. At the end of this season it will become extremely clear whether or not Rashford will make it as a first-team starter at Manchester United. His recent contract extension highlights United’s intent on keeping him, however, performances on the pitch will always speak the loudest.
Comment 7 (@UTD_Global):
“How long will it be until Mason Greenwood benches Marcus Rashford unequivocally?”
I doubt this will occur unless Martial and James continue to play well. In this case, Rashford’s lack of product from open play – his performances are fine – will be highlighted even more so than they are.
Comment 8 (@UnitedRoad9):
“Am I the only one who thinks Angel Gomes was our best player after Fred? I think his awareness for the game is very good.”
Angel Gomes was arguably the second best player on the pitch for the minutes he played. He was tidy on the ball (92% pass completion) and won a good amount of ground duels (6 from 8). Though he started as an AM in a 4-2-3-1 formation he often drifted to the left-hand side which is something that should be noticed. Attacking midfielders should not drift to either side unless they play with forwards who are naturally going to drop backwards to help build play (e.g. Özil with Benzema).
His awareness on the ball was good to see. At times he could have moved the ball faster (he averaged 1.72 touches per pass which is considerably high). Nevertheless, it was a good performance from him.
Comment 9 (@hsnx_):
“Rojo could take the LB spot if he continues in that manner.”
Yesterday, Marcos Rojo played very well. However, we must remember that he was playing with 74.5% possession and 67.8% territory. This means he was not required to perform any meaningful defensive work. In addition, there was a moment in the second half when he lost possession, tried to win it back but was quite aggressive in a lunge. This is the problem with Rojo. He is quite intemperate when it comes to defensive work. In the Premier League, he will come up against better teams with better players in every position. Ultimately, his days at United are numbered but it is nice to have him for games against weaker opposition.
Comment 10 (@sriramefearth):
“Should we go for James Maddison or play Angel Gomes?”
In terms of his career at this very stage, Angel Gomes is an average player with potential to become excellent. Many fans confuse potential, talent and ability. Potential refers to what a player can become, talent pertains to what they are able to do whilst ability concerns what they actually do on a regular basis. Likewise, many fans focus a lot on potential and talent which leads them to overrate a current player. Angel Gomes is an average player with a few good traits. One could declare him as an above average player and that would be fair, too. However, he is not a good player as of yet. Rather, he is below that tier.
As for Maddison, he is an excellent player with mostly excellent qualities. He would cost the club somewhere in the region of £60-80m, however, I believe the club are willing to spend that sort of money on him especially if Solskjær emphasises his need for him. If Maddison is signed, Gomes should be second in line to start after him, sharing such a load with Lingard. Mata should not be considered unless we are in games similar to the one yesterday or we are playing in the Carabao Cup.
Comment 11 (@littlepea1982):
“The lack of buying an experienced goal poacher/finisher is going to hurt us this season.”
United can fall into a big problem this season. As of right now we do not create enough. I highlighted this in a recent article. Due to our lack of ability in volume creation we need to have players who will take lower-quality chances. For example, Mason Greenwood’s goal against FC Astana had a 7-10% chance (roughly) of being scored when all circumstances were taken into account. Likewise, Martial is a player is able to score difficult chances. However, they cannot relied on when Martial has already gotten injured and Greenwood will not start every game. Moreover, one cannot rely on a player to consistently score difficult chances as they are termed ‘difficult’ for a reason.
Comment 12 (@AverageUnited02):
“Are Solskjær’s tactics good enough against teams that park the bus the majority of the time or is it just a lack of finishing from the team [that is the problem]? Surely, there is room for improvement.”
This is a great question. So far this season, United have struggled to create a high volume of chances as well as high-quality chances. There are three reasons for this:
- a lack of quality
- deficient tactics
- players not able to implement instructions
In terms of the first the explanation is quite obvious. Tactics are a big problem and I highlighted this during my live commentary of Manchester United’s 1-0 victory against FC Astana. The third point refers to players who, despite knowing what to do, are not confident enough to do so. I would differentiate this from the first point as the first refers to the ‘can’ of a player i.e. can they pass, can they shoot, etc. However, the third refers to the ‘will’ of a player i.e. will they pass, will they shoot, etc., with the knowledge that they can do either as they are good enough.
Despite this, we have had enough good chances to win games. Rather, we have played good enough that we should have won all five games so far in the Premier League. This is down to poor finishing as well as missing penalties.
Comment 13 (@utd_Lewis):
“Do you think Greenwood should be starting in the Premier League? If so, which position(s) and alongside which players in the attacking three?”
This is a good question. I do not feel Greenwood should be starting in the Premier League just yet. When I say this I am referring to the regular starter i.e. the player you know that if he is fit he will play. At this current moment in time, Rashford and Martial are better than him and James has started brilliantly.
However, I do believe Greenwood should be our first substitution if we need to make one and I firmly believe both Rashford and James are replaceable in the team if their form diminishes i.e. they can be substituted out of the game. In terms of Martial he should play the full 90 minutes whenever he can due to how intelligent he is in the box and considering how proficient he is at finishing the ball. Data highlights how Martial is one of the best finishers in the world and he is definitely the best finisher in the Premier League.
If Greenwood comes off the bench, he should only ever play as a RW who moves into a central role. It is little benefit in cultivating players for multiple years in a particular position and then moving them to a different position once they get into the first team. Ideally, Greenwood would play as our striker with Martial coming off the left. However, this would leave us with a problem at RW as neither James or Rashford are proficient enough in that area.
Ultimately, it is an issue Solskjær will have to solve in a wise way, remembering the potential Greenwood has.
This is the last comment I have responded to for Part 1. I will be publishing this series on a weekly basis. Get it touch on Twitter.