Manchester United were strongly touted to challenge Manchester City for the Premier League title this season. Though, as it turned out thus far, Jose Mourinho’s men have struggled in several parts of this season. Many a times, they have lost big games in which their midfield was found non-existent. On the other hand, in games they should win, their lack of ruthlessness have stalled their winning progress. Now comes the question, whether they are good enough to win the title next season with few changes in the squad?
Let us discuss this topic in detail with events and stats explained.
Deficient against “Top Six” opponents: –
This has been quite a remarkable turnaround of events if we take a look at Mourinho’s overall record in big games. The Portuguese had an impeccable habit of grinding out results in big games home or away. During his second tenure at Chelsea, he had a fabulous record against the “top six” opponents which enabled his team to set up the rest of the season.
In the 10 big games of 2013-14 season, Chelsea won 7, drawn 3 and lost zero games under Mourinho. This means 24 points out of the possible 30 with 21 goals scored and only 4 conceded. That is quite a flawless record to have only to finish third in the league. Next season (2014-15), Chelsea did win the league with 4 wins, 5 draws and 1 loss in the big games. That amounts to 17 points out of the possible 30.
But, now in Manchester United, the Portuguese has struggled to set up his teams correctly in big games home or away. Last season, United had 2 wins, 4 draws and 4 losses in 10 big games. A very sorry reading of just 10 points from the possible 30. This season thus far, the Red Devils have 2 wins, a draw and 3 losses in 6 big games. This constitutes to 7 points from the possible 18. At this rate, they will probably get 12 points from the total 30.
So, one thing is clear, stark contrast in results in games where it matters the most. Obviously last season, United struggled against “other” teams too and eventually finished sixth in the table. This season, even though they have beaten teams they should have, inconsistencies and faltering in big games have damaged their challenge.
One stat is clear, to win the Premier League, a team must have around 16-18 points out of possible 30 in big games. Then only for the rest 84 points, they can get up to 75 and win the league. Not as easy as said though. It is a very tough league this.
Read More: – Tactical Analysis of Juventus v Tottenham Hotspur
Midfield Stability a huge problem: –
This has been another huge problem and also growing issue for Mourinho to solve. If for instance we take the games against Chelsea, Tottenham, etc, United got annihilated in midfield. The main reason of bad results in big games for Mourinho. If the back four of a team is not well protected against good attacking sides, it will have a hard time.
The Paul Pogba issue is getting bigger day by day as well, such a high price tag player and he isn’t playing well. Maybe he likes to play in a midfield 3 and Mourinho has always preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation with two disciplined central midfielders. But, we all know Pogba is more comfortable on the left of the midfield three. This is a dilemma generally means either manager or player will go, but both are such big personalities in the club that a ‘resolve’ is the only option for both. Maybe Mourinho has to change to 4-3-3 to accommodate his high priced midfielder in good form in every types of games. He struggled positionally against Man City last season and Tottenham this season for instances in a midfield two.
On the other hand, Nemanja Matic hasn’t look at ease all the time, which adds to all the instability at times. He is still one of the best when it comes to sitting in front of the centre-backs. But, he is inconsistent on the ball in many situations, got pressed out against Tottenham by Dele Alli.
Forward Line Yet to be Settled: –
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez was a signal of massive intent from Manchester United and Mourinho. Before or since the move, their forward line doesn’t have fixed personnel for a run of games. Sometimes, Anthony Martial plays or sometimes Marcus Rashford plays. On other occasions, Juan Mata played with wingers swapped again. The only man consistent enough and he has earned it, is Jesse Lingard behind Romelu Lukaku.
The entry of Sanchez means the left side is his own. Lingard has made number 10 his own for now. This means Martial, Rashford and Mata fighting for one spot on the right side. It is clearly evident Martial either loves to play as a striker or on left wing. Even Mata doesn’t have much pace to tune up with his other partner (Sanchez), and Rashford has been kept out of sorts these days.
The January transfer window ended and it was a relief for many clubs. Mourinho hinted that his attacking squad is good enough and he will look to improve other areas in the summer. Well, if he continues to bench players and play them sporadically without any balance in the team, he might have to do some “attacking” business too in four months time. Currently, Lukaku isn’t good enough for Manchester United, Sanchez is taking time to settle. The others aren’t that consistent to warrant them a Premier League title challenge.
As far as good things to take forward is concerned, United still have a highly successful manager at their helm. Signing Sanchez would certainly add that winning edge to this side. They still have likes of Pogba, Matic, Valencia, David De Gea who are quality players good enough for any squad. The only thing missing is the balance in the team. Mourinho stated he played Lingard as an 8 against Newcastle, the heat-maps suggested Englishman played as a number 10 and Pogba was deep with Matic.
In any case, for the correct balance of the team, playing Lingard as a number 8 would be a disaster in big games and away games or in any game.
Areas to Improve: –
Talking about areas of pitch to improve and the left-back slot is like going hand in hand. The other area maybe a solid, commanding central midfielder to play alongside Matic and Pogba, who would allow the Frenchman to be more expressive in the final third. Despite their attack looks complete as per their manager, they still need a consistent, very good winger to play on the right. Maybe a decent backup for Lukaku is also needed to pressurise him in that position. Until now, the Belgian despite not playing well is not under scrutiny for his place.
The centre-back pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones ain’t good either. Eric Bailly is a very good option when he comes back from injury. Possibly, Manchester United need another centre-back and offload either of Smalling, Jones or injury-stricken Marcus Rojo. Victor Lindelof can be still be given one more season to settle at the club.
So, overall, to challenge for the title and Manchester City next season, United need a handful of signings. They require a central midfielder, a left-back, a centre-back, a winger and a backup striker. Even if Mourinho feels he has enough in creative department, he can leave the winger signing for later. But, in the next summer, the other four areas has to be bolstered in a championship way. Can they do these, yes they can. Will they be favourites once squad is tarnished, yes they will be one to watch out for.
Article by Mizgan,
Twitter – @mizgans