This is the third instalment of the series ‘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, summarise any parts that need summarising (the parts I will address) and will write them below. Underneath the comment I will reply.
So, let us begin!
Comment 1 (@yoyans):
“It is bizarre that finishing is our biggest problem with Ole as our manager.”
Precisely. Yes, there are issues with regard to creativity in the final third. However, there is a huge problem in the finishing department. In every single game this season, Manchester United have outperformed their opponents xG. In some games (i.e. West Ham) the xG was closer which would indicate United should have won but a draw would have been a fair result, too. However, in the majority of games the difference is substantial. Last night, United’s xG was over 2.50 and this is being strict on the chances we had. Ultimately, we should have scored a minimum of four. Against West Ham both Mata and Maguire had clear opportunities to score. Yet, Ole is being blamed for these misses. Yes, he can be blamed for certain aspects and there is no doubt about that. Despite that, in every single game United have done enough to win and have failed to do so due to the players not taking chances.
Comment 2 (@KarthikMallavar):
“Pereira is an attacking midfielder, Lingard is not a starter, Rojo is better than Shaw, Fred is unreliable and Greenwood is immense.”
There is quite a bit to unpack. Firstly, Pereira is definitely an attacking midfielder who will naturally drift toward the left-hand side. If the ball is given to him often he can be impactful. However, he is not confident enough as of now to be that player and at a club like United the ball will be fed to the likes of Pogba and Martial (when he starts) than Pereira. As such, he will never truly realise his potential with the club. Secondly, Lingard is definitely not a starter unless it is in smaller games. Thirdly, Shaw is better than Rojo when everything is factored in. However, Rojo is substantially better offensively and games wherein we have possession and territory he is more effective. Fourthly, Fred is unreliable at times when he is on the ball as he becomes complacent and off the ball when he rushes into tackles. The United staff have worked on his off-ball activity and he has improved in that regard. Lastly, Greenwood is going to be a star if he realises his potential. It will take some time, however, he has already shown he is capable.
Comment 3 (@amadedon):
“We do not switch player often to make use of the entire width of the pitch.”
This is supported by evidence. So far, we move the ball quite slowly when we are in midfield. However, this does not refer to how many passes we make per minute but, rather, the directness of our passes. There are too many side-to-side passes that make it easier for the opposition to defend. There is a lack of direct passes which players such as Carrick and even Blind were known for. So, if we lack in that department then width must be a priority. However, we are lax in that, too. This is a tactical issue which is the fault of the training staff before the players. Yes, players should take initiative but they must be taught.
Comment 4 (@MufcJacob9):
“It is quite obvious a 4-3-3 is needed.”
Agreed. Ultimately, when a team opts to play a 4-2-3-1 it is because they possess an attacking midfielder (a no. 10) who is competent enough to dictate play in the final third of the pitch. For example, Real Madrid utilised this formation under José Mourinho with Mesut Özil playing that role. Under Zinedine Zidane they opted for a 4-3-3 mainly but, at times, would use a diamond with Isco at the top of the key. However, Manchester United have Jesse Lingard who is, when all is considered, an average player (upper tier) and Juan Mata who is on a massive decline as was to be expected.
Thus, United do not possess a competent player in this area. What is important to realise is that a 4-2-3-1 formation dictates to the two in midfield that they cannot be involved in final third creativity unless necessary. Rather, the two in midfield are there to equally distribute their performances across both defensive and offensive responsibilities. As such, the onus rests on the attacking midfielder. It is a formation that is predicated on the competency of the attacking midfielder. This is where Solskjær has got it horribly wrong. Now, it is time for him to recognise this error and proceed with a 4-3-3 until he has purchased a competent attacking midfielder. Until then, it is will be an error regardless of the result.
Comment 5 (@youwastingtime):
“I bet people would have said it was a perfect performance had we finished even half of our chances.”
They will deny this but they would have called it a good performance. Here are some numbers from the game:
- 65% possession
- 60%+ territory
- 31 shots on goal
- 26 chances created
- 6 big chances created
If three or four of those chances were taken – as they should have been – the performance would have been praised. However, fans are reactionary and led by their emotions so the final result dictates their thoughts. This is not the way to analyse football. Yes, results are the conclusive end, however, one must be detailed in their analysis and ascertain the reason why a team did not win a game. Manchester United did not beat Rochdale because players were incapable of finishing off the multitude of chances they received. It was not because they failed to create them. Rather, they created 26 in total with six being big.
Comment 6 (@ds_tee19):
“A striker is needed in January.”
We are coming to the point wherein we have to ascertain whether Martial will be an injury prone player. In every season he has played with us aside from his debut season he has suffered injuries whether they are small or large. Ultimately, the best players are also those who are able to play every single week and do not cause problems tactically or in chemistry due to their absence. If Martial cannot prove his fitness this season I am afraid it may be the end of the road with him.
Therefore, looking at the market for a striker may be a good idea. Then, the conversation will revolve around who to buy. Do United go for a player to grow with the team or do they plug the hole until the rest of the season, subsequently looking at their options in the summer? These are important questions.
Comment 7 (@ManUtdWeBelieve):
“Do you think Solskjær is technical/creative enough of a coach in terms of style-of-play? Everything seems to revolve around a straight forward counter attacking set-up. However, once the opponent sits back, ideas run out.”
This is a great question. Manchester United’s players as of now excel in the physical aspects of the game aside from remaining injury free. When every player is fit and ready to go they are quick, agile, direct and aggressive. However, they lack the necessary finesse to open teams up. When they have less possession they can counter well and do well in the transitions generally speaking. However, when teams defend deeper and concede possession, United lack ideas.
Is this the players’ fault or Solskjær’s fault? The answer is “it depends”. If we are looking at the final scoreline in tandem with the chances we have had to score in games then the players are to blame as they have had enough opportunities to win games they have either drawn or lost. However, if we generalise the conversation to our overall playing style then Solskjær and his coaching staff are to blame. This is because our players are good enough to create more chances than they have been creating. In April, I mentioned that Pochettino had improved a number of Totteham players individually and that Solskjær would have to be able to do this. So far, he has not. We are seeing United perform at times as if players are lost – this should never happen on a football pitch. If you lose the game that is OK if you knew what you were doing but we unable to execute it due to a lack of quality. In United’s case, there is often a lack of ideas and patterns of play which refers to rehearsed movements which are utilised often to open up defensive-minded teams. For example, Manchester City utilise a rugby style-of-play of keeping the ball on one side of the pitch and then suddenly switching it to the other side to drag the opponent’s defensive line from one side to the other. In fact, Pep Guardiola has used this tactic for a number of years and stated his admiration for it in an interview. Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp use inverted wingers (Salah and Mané) to act as second strikers with Firmino dropping deeper into midfield. As such, they often play a 4-4-2 diamond with wing backs due to their territorial dominance. As for United, there are no patterns on the pitch and these patterns can only be created on the training ground.
Some may argue: “Perhaps they are taught patterns of play but cannot execute them.” The response to this is: If they were taught patterns of play but were incapable of executing them this would be visible on the pitch. We would see particular movements but, perhaps, the failure to meet the runner with a pass for example. However, we do not see the pattern in the first place which indicates one of two things: either they are not being taught or they refuse to enact. Both are a problem.
Comment 8 (@ogwich):
“Half of the players at Manchester United are technically and tactically poor.”
This is an excellent comment and something many have not realised. Often, the players are incapable of bringing the ball down, controlling the ball in tight spaces, merely completing the 5-yard pass correctly and much more. Football is about mastering the basics before moving on. There are only a handful of players who are technically sound at the club (e.g. Pogba, Martial, etc). However, the majority of them are below average or, as stated, poor in this regard.
Sadly, this is not an exaggeration.
Comment 9 (@bobs_andrew):
“Lingard should be sold immediately. He does not offer anything to the team.”
He should not be sold due to our current squad quality. However, he is an average player. He is not proficient in scoring, creating chances, playmaking, initiating play or set pieces. He is not quick nor agile, too. Likewise, he is not a shooter. Rather, he is an intelligent player who is gifted with type I muscle fibre which is why he is able to run for long distances and seems to have stamina in the latter stages of a tough game wherein many others are tired. Aside from this, he is an average player and should not be in the team.
Comment 10 (@Adlanamirul):
“We need more vertical passes into the opponent’s area.”
This relates to the phrase: “You do not know what you have until it is gone.” Manchester United possessed two players in Michael Carrick and Daley Blind who, under José Mourinho, retired and was sold. However, that ability they had of passing vertically through defensive lines was never replaced. In every single game Manchester United dominated under Sir Alex Ferguson, Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, van Nistelrooy, etc., would drop slightly between the midfield and defensive lines and Scholes, Giggs, Carrick, Keane, etc., would thread a pass through to them. This would force the defence to drop back as the attacker would then run at them. Consequently, this would create openings between the opposition defence and midfield for the likes of Giggs, Ronaldo, Park, Fletcher, Cantona, Sharpe, Beckham, etc., to move into. Likewise, this would cause the wingers to push forward which would not only push the defence backward but wider, ultimately creating more space. This would be the result of a simple pass through the midfield line. This is a tactic the best teams use often. However, the right personnel is needed. United rarely pass between the lines because they lack the quality to do so.
Comment 11 (@Espenwiik91):
“Why are Manchester United not converting their chances? Is it down to individuals unperforming, not being good enough, bad luck or a combination?”
This is an excellent question. Firstly, “luck” does not really exist. Rather, events occur that may have been forced or unforced by an individual. However, if the event was not forced by them then it was forced by someone or something else. For example, if a team hits the crossbar three times in a game this should not be classified as “unlucky”. Rather, it was a lack of quality that caused this to occur. Likewise, if a player were to commit a last-second block and the ball struck him as a result it would not be a “lucky” block but, rather, the player’s determination that caused the event (in this case the missed chance). This is why the best teams tend to have more “luck” as is defined except that it is not “luck” but rather forced events. The best teams have the best players and players are deemed “better” as they are able to enforce their will on the opponent thus “forcing” events.
In terms of why we are not converting chances then the answer is three-fold:
- A team will never convert every single chance they get in every game they play. So, when they do not create often the importance of converting chances is greater. As such, when they miss it is highlighted more.
- Individual errors will dictate how chances are converted. Against Rochdale, Manchester United had multiple chances with Greenwood, Pogba, Wan-Bissaka, Rojo and Lingard. Against West Ham, both Mata and Maguire had big chances. Earlier on in the season both Pogba and Rashford missed penalties.
- A lack of quality will influence how chances are converted. At United, there are only a few players who are proficient finishers and they are Greenwood, Martial and Mata (when he has a little more time). Other than them, every other player is somewhat to highly deficient in this regard.
Comment 12 (@nyawizzy):
“This just vindicates what we already knew. As much as we created many chances we still lacked a natural finisher. Lukaku would have scored today. Van Persie, Ibrahimović and Martial would have, too.”
Agreed. People forget that in a defensive-minded side that was struggling to create chances Romelu Lukaku finished his debut season with 27 goals. Nevertheless, we are missing a forward to finish chances and, yes, I place Martial in that. Why? He cannot remain fit for 15-20 games in a row. He is slowly becoming unreliable despite his talent.
This is the last comment I have responded to for Part 3. I will be publishing this series on a weekly basis so if your comment did not feature this week it does not mean it will not get featured. I hold an opportunity every week for your comments to be heard and merely choose a selection of ones with the idea that they are not repetitive. For more, get it touch on Twitter.