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The Evolution of the Manchester United defence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Sir Alex Ferguson once said; “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” Especially under Ferguson, United were always defined by a solid centre half partnership that became United’s rock for years. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come in, he’s struggled to find the perfect partnership at the back, but with the improvement of Harry Maguire and the signing of Raphael Varane, can this be the pairing to restore this rock and potentially bring the titles back to Old Trafford?

In Solskjaer’s first season at the club he mainly used Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and occasionally Eric Bailly. He started off using Jones and Lindelof but switched to Smalling at times. He clearly didn’t have a preferred pairing but he was consistent in his use of Lindelof; Lindelof became a key member of Solskjaer’s team as until the signing of Raphael Varane, Lindelof was always first choice in the defence.

To resolve this issue, Solskjaer looked to bring in a dominant and controlling centre half in the summer. This was secured through the world record fee for a defender of £80 million for Harry Maguire. To this day, Maguire is overlooked due to his price tag, but recent performances have boosted his reputation. Maguire and Lindelof became Solskjaer’s trusted pairing and played together for around two years. In these two years, United have become far better defensively.

As of the 7 March, Maguire had kept 24 clean sheets since the start of the previous season which was the highest out of any outfield player. Therefore, this shows with Maguire in the team United are greatly improved as his key characteristics like heading, positioning and leadership assure the players around him and keep the defence stable. However, despite these clean sheets, issues remained and United were making mistakes defensively.

To combat this, Solskjaer has seen Lindelof as the weak link and in recent days pushed for the purchase of Raphael Varane, four-time Champions League winner and one time World Cup winner with France. Solskjaer will hope this is the final player needed in a heavily invested defence and will look to create a partnership for years to come with Maguire and Varane as the duo.

The Partnerships:

Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones

Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane

Firstly, the partnership of Lindelof and Jones. Lindelof and Jones was a pairing that both understood the game well and could hold their own but under consistent pressure would fold. The major issue was height, it lacked ariel dominance especially in such a physical league as the Premier League.

Therefore, rough teams like Burnley might look to take advantage of their weak ariel ability, which has continued through to the Maguire and Lindelof partnership as Lindelof still gets bullied in the air seen, in particular, against West Bromwich Albion when Mbaye Diagne manhandled Lindelöf to score in the second minute of the game.

As a pairing it wasn’t of the United level especially with the duo’s that had come by in the past like Steve Bruce x Gary Pallister, Jaap Stam x Ronny Johnsen and Rio Ferdinand x Nemanja Vidic. Maguire’s signing the summer after illustrates the issues with the Jones and Lindelöf partnership as he is a known tall, strong, and aerially brilliant defender purchased to give United more height.

Lindelof and Maguire as a partnership were more successful. They created a solid connection, enabling them to be Solskjaer’s trusted pairing for just under two years and win many big games together. The lack of height in the previous duo was mostly rectified, as Maguire brought this, but Lindelof was still a liability in this air, but it wasn’t as obvious as Maguire could cover for him.

However, the main weakness with this duo was pace. Both Lindelof and Maguire lacked pace and thus were susceptible to being done by quick agile players or balls in behind. This lack of pace also prohibited the United backline from pushing higher up the pitch in fear of faster forwards exploiting the slower defenders and running the channels.

This ultimately has had a detrimental effect on United’s style of play as due to the weakness of this partnership, Solskjaer has looked to use Scott McTominay and Fred to cover them which slows down United’s ball progression and transition and limits their attacking force. Overall, it’s been a decent partnership but one that always had blatant issues and subsequently Solskjaer looked to sign Varane to solve this.

In recent days, United have managed to agree a deal with Real Madrid for Raphael Varane subject to a medical. Solskjaer will be hoping his signing solves the issues of previous seasons like pace and height. Varane is a quick centre half who is 6 foot 3 inches tall and quite good in the air. Therefore, next to Maguire he should provide that necessary recovery pace needed to play next to him.

Furthermore, unlike Lindelof, Varane is good in the air which means that he should adapt to the physicality and demand of the Premier League and may be able to deal with the tricky strikers like Chris Wood, Michail Antonio and Ashley Barnes better than Lindelof. In addition, due to Varane’s pace it will enable United to play a higher line as he has the recovery speed if a ball is played in behind. Therefore, this means United can push higher up the pitch, pressing more and also being less likely to be forced back into their own half.

Then finally, with Varane’s qualities, he will reassure Solskjaer which will enable him to play with a lone defensive midfielder rather than two defensive midfielders in a pivot as seen with McTominay and Fred. Thus helping United play, a more attacking style of football which will please the players and most importantly the fans as it fulfils the DNA of Manchester United football club.

Overall, I feel Solskjaer has gradually done well adapting and changing his defence in his United tenure, and with a back four of Luke Shaw, Maguire, Varane and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, I feel United could be far more secure and balanced defensively which will strengthen the team as a whole and may lead them on to have a successful season and potentially win silverware.

Written by Ethan Bents

Aaron Wan-Bissaka: Do Manchester United need an upgrade?

Happy New Year folks! It’s 2021 and Manchester United are second in the Premier League behind only Liverpool, whose defeat at Southampton left United with an advantage. Latest in the string of positive results was a hard fought 2-1 win at home against Aston Villa. It was a close game as reflected by the scoreline and central to the scoreline was United’s right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He assisted the first goal for Anthony Martial with a clever run and cross but was culpable along with others in Villa’s first goal. Childishly trying to stop Villa from taking a quick free-kick thus allowing Jack Grealish with time and space to cross in the box. 

These defensive lapses are happening too often and then there is the lack of attacking contributions. Martial’s goal was his first assist and just his 16th cross (joint 41st in the division amongst just defenders) of the season.

There is no question that when it comes to tackling and facing an attacker one on one, there are few better than Wan-Bissaka. But expectations around United are changing. They need to play less and less as an underdog and on counter and more on the front foot, dominating possession and creating chances. For this to happen, can they continue to have a right-back who is comfortable facing an attacker in his own half rather than charge forward and create chances at every opportunity? Let’s look for the answer.

Background

Wan-Bissaka was part of the Crystal Palace academy, where he started out as a winger. Initially getting his chance as a wing-back, he was quickly moved to full-back due to his defensive capabilities. Thrust into the first team on 25 February 2018 in the midst of an injury crisis, he quickly became a mainstay for the Palace defence. Such was his impact in the first full season that he was named Crystal Palace Player of the Year for the 2018-19 season.

His performances at right back prompted Manchester United to sign him on a contract of five years for a fee of £49.5 million. Signed on to replace United’s departing right back Antonio Valencia, Wan-Bissaka was being looked at someone who will own the right-back spot for years to come. 

Defensive Capabilities and Recent Lapses

Known for his tackling and defensive awareness, he has been a key cog of the new Manchester United defence under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He was a key part of the defence which conceded only 36 goals on the way to third place in the league last season. His performances in key games caught the eye where he was able to nullify highly rated opposition attackers. Such commanding performances in key games have continued this season with the performance against Paris Saint Germain away in Matchday one of the Champions League group stage, being the highlight. He is top of the tackles chart for defenders in both last and current Premier League season.

But there have been lapses and some poor performances in crucial games like the semi-final defeat to Sevilla in last season’s Europa League Semi-final and the defeat in the crucial last group game away to RB Leipzig in this seasons Champions League. Communication with fellow defenders seems to be lacking resulting in getting blindsided by runs in behind. He also tends to get sucked into the centre thus allowing an attacker to creep in at the back post. In summary, though there are no equals when it comes to tackling and defending one on one situations, there are definite areas of improvement. 

Attacking limitations

Attack is where Wan-Bissaka is severely lacking and has massive scope for improvement. He’s just had the one assist and one goal in the league this season and ranks joint 41st for crosses and joint 84th for shots amongst just defenders in the league. Too often passes are either sideways or backwards. Majority of United’s attack are coming from the left side causing asymmetrical attacking. This allows opposition teams to focus more on that area knowing that quick switch of play to the other wing won’t be disastrous. 

One reason for the low attacking output is that United lack a naturally right sided winger and end up playing either Rashford, Greenwood, James or Mata amongst others in front of Wan-Bissaka on the right side. This means it’s tough to form a partnership on the right side and additionally there’s lack of defensive help for Wan-Bissaka on the right. 

All things considered though Wan-Bissaka needs to improve his attacking contribution and there’s no reason it can’t happen. He has good composure on the ball and has a history of playing as a winger. Having a naturally right sided player might help him develop a partnership and get in the penalty area more thus increasing his attacking output but the onus will be on Wan-Bissaka.

Evolution of the position, expectation and Conclusion

The best teams in all of Europe have attacking full-backs. The best full-backs are all known for their attacking output. The game has evolved such that the full-backs are considered an important attacking outlet. Expectation is that the full-back overlaps the winger, provides crosses into the box, is available for through balls from midfield and finally create chances on a regular basis. 

In addition to all of the above, Manchester United find themselves in the midst of an unlikely title challenge. Solskjaer’s reign at United till now has been marred with inconsistency and labelling of the team being comfortable with counter-attacking. But with the recent consistency in form, expectation swiftly shifts for United to dominate possession and take the game to opponents. For that to happen, they need a balanced squad and a balanced attack. Sorting out the right-back spot is one of the key priorities for both to happen. Providing competition for the spot will be a good starting point. United only need to look at the left-back position for evidence. Since the signing of Alex Telles, Luke Shaw’s form has been improved drastically and Solskjaer is able to rotate between them both, thus reducing chance of fatigue and injury. Links with Norwich City’s Max Aarons are welcome. Aarons averages 1.3 key passes and 1.3 dribbles per game this season which are both considerable improvements on Wan-Bissaka’s 0.5 key passes and 0.8 dribbles per game.

Wan-Bissaka is a very good defensive right-back and has the best years in front of him. But from United’s point of view, it’s crucial that attacking output from the right-back spot increases, by a lot. Hopefully that will be achieved by Wan-Bissaka’s own improvement aided by the competition provided by a more attacking right-back. Else they will have to look for an upgrade.

Written by Sandeep Jalui

Aaron Wan-Bissaka told to improve to become a top Manchester United player

Manchester United right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been told that he will need to improve if he is to become one of the top players at Manchester United. The 22-year-old has done well this season, but as always, there is room for improvement. Last summer, when it was rumoured that United were signing the player, many were suggesting that he could be the best right-back in the Premier League. This season, probably the same people are criticising him.

This season, the 22-year-old has so far made 45 appearances for the club with United facing Sevilla in the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League on Sunday evening. The defender has not yet scored any goals but has four assists in the Premier League. The former Crystal Palace academy graduate has been praised by former Liverpool defender and now Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher but seems to have received critique from others. Tony Cascarino feels that the player could be doing more.

What Wan-Bissaka has done so far this season has been impressive and it seems a long time since we saw Ashley Young at right-back, which did not impress many of United’s supporters. The English defender has shown his ability and will continue to do so. When United signed him, he had just finished his breakthrough season at Palace making a few appearances during the 2017/18 season, actually breaking through during the 2018/19 season. Of course he will need to improve. Cascarino, speaking to The Times, said:

“Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a fantastic one-on-one defender. I’ve seen him keep Son Heung-min quiet, outmanoeuvre Sadio Mane and give Raheem Sterling a very tough time.

“But if he’s going to be a top player for Manchester United, he’s got to offer more offensively.

“He’s got to be an outlet. Full backs are very important in the modern game — look at how much Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson contribute in attack.”

Whilst Wan-Bissaka has not made the impression that Trent Alexander-Arnold has at Liverpool, making 49 appearances, scoring four goals and assisting a further 14 goals in all competitions, we must remember that the 21-year-old Premier League champion has been playing in the league for four seasons now, making his debut in the 2016/17 season and his breakthrough in the 2017/18 season, then rising his performances in the 2018/19 season, impressing this season as Liverpool won the title. Comparisons in a singular season are not all that comparable, especially in this respect. There is the chance that Wan-Bissaka could rise his performances next season and beyond. He will know what he needs to do with Solskjaer saying back in March:

“When you play at Manchester United as a full back you do have to provide assists. That’s just part and parcel of being here, so he’s getting more and more of them.”

Wan-Bissaka may not be the same kind of player as Alexander-Arnold at this moment in time but with four assists to his name so far this season, all in the Premier League, there is potential to come from him, despite being a year older than his Liverpool counterpart. Improvement will be needed to actually get to where he wants to be and Solskjaer will be seeking to get what he wants from his team, which will be attacks coming from the fullback positions. The player has the ability to defend in a way that has been needed at the club, to be offensive in a similar fashion will make him an all-round fullback and definitely a player to be noticed in the future.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United could have some players back from injury against Liverpool but will it make a difference?

Manchester United will be back in action in the Premier League on Sunday as they welcome league leaders Liverpool to the Theatre of Dreams in the clubs first local derby of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team owe the supporters a performance worthy of the support they have been given but that could be problematic with injuries.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Mason Greenwood have all suffered injuries with some expected to be back soon. Diogo Dalot was injured in his last match, whilst both Eric Bailly and Tim Fosu-Mensah remain on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery before the end of the year.

It has been suggested in the media that Paul Pogba could be back for the Liverpool match, however, reports have also suggested that he will miss the clash. I guess if you cover both bases, you have a good chance at being right, which is something the media do at times, all in plain sight so many don’t question it, instead use it as propaganda against the manager.

Victor Lindelof is reportedly getting ready to play for Sweden against Spain on Tuesday, which could suggest he will be back in the squad to face Liverpool. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been absent for the last three matches suffering from tonsillitis, with hope that he will be able to play after sitting out for the international break also.

Luke Shaw has missed eight matches along with Anthony Martial, both of whom suffered thigh injuries in the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace back in August. Shaw has been training since before the 0-0 draw against AZ Alkmaar, so could be ready to fortify the left-back position but Martial could still be a doubt as he might not have trained yet.

Phil Jones could also be back, although he has played just 135 minutes of football this season, is unlikely to start many big matches. Axel Tuanzebe has risen well ahead of him in the defensive ranks this season, which is a good thing, in my opinion. Solskjaer also suggested that Jesse Lingard, who missed Newcastle United defeat, may be back for this match.

Mason Greenwood, who has played a lot of football with both Martial and Marcus Rashford having time on the sidelines so far this season, suffered a lower back injury against Newcastle, which stopped him from playing for England U21s during the international break. He will be assessed ahead of the Liverpool match, which is not great news.

Diogo Dalot is also back on the sidelines through injury, suffering more of the same, to do with his hip, which kept him out earlier this season, which also suggests the problem was not solved and may have been prolonged. Not that he’s a big miss, as he is unlikely to start at right-back much this season based on his lack of experience.

Both Bailly and Fosu-Mensah are expected to be out until at least late December, in Bailly’s case, not return date for the Dutch defender, which might mean he will be out until 2020. United, however, are not crying out for defensive reinforcement yet, which is a positive at this time, not that many will see it that way. Some players seem to be made of glass now.

Hypothetically, if it were expected that Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Shaw and Pogba, Lingard and Martial were all back in the team against Liverpool, would it make much of a difference? That is a question that many will answer right away negatively, as the fan base, at least on social media is toxic and heading much deeper than that.

Some will wonder if these ‘people’ are actually supporters of the club or whether they are supporters of the decline, moaning about anything and everything. United have not had much luck this season. Injuries have been costly to this already threadbare squad and talent, determination and desire were already scarce before injury took its toll.

United should be fired up for matches such as this one against Liverpool. They were up for the clash against Chelsea at the start of the season, the best performance of the season incidentally. United has a history of playing in these big matches and all of the players who are fit to play should have the desire, determination, and hunger to achieve.

September Review: Mason Greenwood, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka shine in a poor month for Manchester United

Manchester United played five matches in the Premier League, UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup during the month of September.nIt was not a great month for United with just three wins, one of them on penalties, two draws and one defeat. It means that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a poor record at the club, winning 14 times, drawing seven and losing seven of the 28 matches he has managed at the club.

United started the month at home in the Premier League against Leicester City after the two-week international break. United won that match 1-0 with Marcus Rashford scoring from the penalty spot. David De Gea kept his second clean sheet of the season. United weathers the Leicester storm and got back to winning ways. A 1-0 victory over FC Astana in the Europa League then followed with Mason Greenwood scoring his first goal.

After back to back wins, United were seeking to break into the top four once again away to West Ham United. It was a poor match for United, who were missing a number of players through injury with the Hammers winning 2-0 – a poor performance all round. A 1-1 draw with Rochdale in the Carabao Cup then followed, which saw United win 5-3 on penalties with Greenwood scoring his second goal for the club.

Some (slight) positivity then followed in the run-up to the Arsenal match at Old Trafford. Both teams have been poor this season but Arsenal were much higher than United in the league table. Scott McTominay opened the scoring but it was not enough for United, who made a defensive error which saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang equalise. October will need to see massive improvement from United. Solskjaer will know this.

Mason Greenwood – three appearances, 196 minutes, two goals.

The teenager, who turned 18 today (1/10) made three appearances for United in September. He started against FC Astana, scoring the only goal of the game but then suffered from a bout of tonsillitis which meant he missed the away match against West Ham, a 2-0 defeat for United. Greenwood was back in the team to face Rochdale, scoring United’s only goal of the game in a 5-3 penalty victory.

Daniel James – four appearances, 300 minutes, pace and ability.

The Welshman has proven himself as a great signing, a £15 million bargain if you will. Daniel James played four times during September, missing the Europa League match against Astana through injury. He was not able to add to his three-goal tally during the month but showed himself as an injection of pace in the squad which has helped the attack. He started the attack against Arsenal with Scott McTominay scoring.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka – three appearances, 270 minutes, composed defending, an extra man on the flanks.

The 21-year-old right-back was a great signing this summer. He has improved United’s defence that much that when he is not playing, he is missed. Aaron Wan-Bissaka played three times for United in September and was missing from the Arsenal draw due to a bout of tonsillitis, which was a shame as he was missed, again. His worth to this United squad is going to be massive in the months to come.

Notable Mentions: Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay, and Marcus Rashford.

September was clearly not a great month for United. However, it does not mean that individual players did not perform. Axel Tuanzebe played four times for United, spending 274 minutes on the pitch, captaining United against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup. He defended well but made a mistake against Arsenal which his teammates failed to deal with. It is a team game after all. Tuanzebe will kick on though and improve.

Scott McTominay made three appearances, missing the Europa League and Carabao Cup matches, although he was on the bench. 270 minutes played and one spectacular goal at Old Trafford against Arsenal will make the player more determined to shine. Marcus Rashford made four appearances, playing 331 minutes of football, scoring one goal, a penalty, assisting another. Not the best performance from the 21-year-old though.

Who is your Player of the Month for September 2019?

A look at what lies ahead in October…

In October, United will play six matches, two of these before the international break, four after. United start the month away to AZ Alkmaar in the UEFA Europa League (3/10) and they travel to face Newcastle United in the Premier League (6/10). After the international break, United face Liverpool at Old Trafford (20/10), Partizan Belgrade away (24/10), then away to Norwich City (27/10), ending the month away to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup (TBC 29/10).

Manchester United trio ruled out of Leicester clash. Youth need to be given a chance but will they?

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed that Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, and Anthony Martial will miss the Premier League match against Leicester City at Old Trafford on Saturday. It was also confirmed that Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jesse Lingard have a chance to feature for United this weekend.

Solskjaer has eight players on the sidelines currently with Eric Bailly and Tim Fosu-Mensah, who are both recovering from knee injuries and Diogo Dalot, who has a hip injury. In order to find a squad capable of beating Leicester this weekend, the manager will need to draft in some of the fringe players in order to aim to get a result.

However, with the liked of Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic, and Juan Mata, despite the fact they have the experience, it hardly suggests that they are going to bring in the ‘must win at all costs’ mentality. However, if talented youth players were given a chance, they will give their all in a bid to show that they are ready for the first-team.

United will no doubt miss Martial but whether they miss Pogba is another story as he has not really pulled it out of the bag this season so there is really nothing to miss. Perhaps sitting out of matches is necessary for him to find his love of the club and the game, wanting to give his all for this club, if not, is he really going to be a suitable player on the pitch?

In order for Solskjaer to continue his rebuilding of the club, he needs to look at other options at his disposal, rather than relying on players that have failed to ‘inspire and achieve’ for much of the last six years. We already know that the usual suspects will let the side down, which is not rebuilding, it is trying the same thing over and over again.

I would like to see Ethan Laird, if fit, Brandon Williams, Angel Gomes, James Garner, Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, and maybe even Largie Ramazani given a chance this season. Some of them would be ideal at this moment in time considering the injuries in the squad. All seven of these players will fit into the areas weakened by injury.

Laird could play at right-back, Williams at left-back, Garner could fill in for Pogba, Gomes for Lingard, Greenwood for Martial with the others on the bench ready for an opportunity should they be needed. This would be a more positive approach than utilising Rojo, who wants to leave the club and Matic, who is too slow to play in this squad.

With the injury news, it is clear that Marcus Rashford will lead the line again, with Daniel James playing on the left. Greenwood could play on the right. If Solskjaer utilises the 4-3-3 formation, Gomes could be playing as the more advanced midfielder with Garner and Scott McTominay dealing with distribution and defensive midfield aspects of the game.

Not only would this send a message to those who have continued to allow the decline of this club, it would give the supporters hope that Solskjaer is the manager that will inspire youth as United really do have some great players coming through the ranks. Risks need to be taken in order to see if it could work. At least something was tested for the future.

Looking at Manchester United’s defensive depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United did well during the summer transfer window, adding Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who signed from Crystal Palace and Harry Maguire, who arrived from Leicester City. It was a summer that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to pay attention to the defence, which allowed more than 50 goals to be conceded in the Premier League along last season.

Solskjaer spent £125 million; £80 million for Maguire and an initial £45 million for Wan-Bissaka giving some much-needed defensive ability ahead of the 2019/20 season in which United would be tasked with chasing the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, to regain a place in the top four of the league.

United finished sixth last season, five points adrift of a place in the top four, which could have been much different if United managed to beat both Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City at the end of the season. However, hindsight is only fantastic when you look back as if you change two factors, other factors may have had to change also.

Goalkeeper depth; Solskjaer does not need to worry in this area.

Solskjaer has three great first-team options in goal this season; David De Gea, Sergio Romero and Lee Grant. That will be the order of importance in the squad. The club also had the likes of Dean Henderson, Joel Pereira and Kieran O’Hara, who have all been loaned out to Sheffield United, Hearts of Midlothian and Burton Albion respectively.

De Gea will be the go-to guy to start the majority of matches, namely in the Premier League. As for the Carabao Cup, the UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup, it could well be Romero who features, as he did in the cup competitions last season, other than the UEFA Champions League, of course. Grant could be a shoo-in for matches in these competitions too.

It was hoped that Henderson could have been afforded time in the Premier League this season but with De Gea’s contract being extended by the extra year agreed to in 2015, it was unlikely that he would be the first option in the goalkeeping ranks, however, he will get that Premier League experience he craved for, which might do him some good.

Fullback depth; Solskjaer’s options are much improved this season.

Last season, United’s defence left a lot to be desired. First of all, in the fullback position, Jose Mourinho, who started the season as manager, then Solskjaer had Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, and Diogo Dalot to choose from in both the left-back and right-back positions. Not a lot of pace, or youth for that matter.

Valencia was on the sidelines for much of the season, leaving the other four to contend for places in the squad. Young was often criticised, as way Shaw. Dalot was too inexperienced, but gave his all and Darmian seldom played. This season though, after the departure of Valencia, Wan-Bissaka arrived and has improved the position greatly.

Both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw will face competition from Young and Dalot, who can both play on the left or the right. Darmian may still play a part despite his future up in the air, although his current contract will expire at the end of the season. The fullback role is looking good for the current season with youth coming through the ranks to add more competition.

Central defensive depth; the strongest defence in six years?

Solskjaer has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe in his ranks for the current season. There was the rumour of Rojo likely to depart before the closure of the European transfer window at the start of September, but it is just rumour right now. With seven players, there is some depth in this area.

Bailly is injured until the Christmas period, meaning Solskjaer has six players contesting two positions in the squad. Lindelof and Maguire secured the central defensive area in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford last weekend and will be expected to resume their positions against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

In case of injury to either Lindelof or Maguire, or the need for rotation, Tuanzebe will be a great option for Solskjaer as he did well during pre-season and learned some valuable things on loan with Aston Villa last season. The likes of Jones and Smalling could also be considered. Rojo not so much, based on pre-season appearances.

The depth of this squad is pretty good, despite the moaning for central midfield signings during the summer transfer window. Solskjaer will have had targets and if it was not possible to sign them, panic buying was just going to create more problems in the future with many players on high wages and unable to be moved on; Alexis Sanchez for instance.

United have many options in different areas; a minimum of three players, counting those already in the first team this season, which are players who have already made their debuts for the club in the recent years. In some positions, United has four sometimes five options, based on my opinion on where they would be able to play in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

This is the formation which Solskjaer has used more often than not, and a formation which will get the best out of the attacking players, using their hunger, determination and more importantly, their pace to launch attacking and counter-attacking plays during matches. Solskjaer’s identity seems to be young, courage and success.

Above, you can see the 4-2-3-1 formation, keeping an eye on the defence where there is a minimum of three players for each position, listed in order of importance to the squad. At fullback, both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw seem to be safe, although the emergence of Dalot could change that, more for Shaw, if he does not improve as he should have.

In the centre of defence, Lindelof and Maguire are certain to start more matches together, fitness and injury aside, but in that instance, there is some depth which could help get United through a difficult time. Tuanzebe, at least for me, is trusted more than the likes of Jones and Smalling; Bailly is at the bottom because of injury at the present time.

If the Ivorian improves his game, he could add more competition for either centre-back, which in turn will inspire players to perform to the best of their ability in order to keep their place. Competition is the best thing to bring the best out of players. This defence could achieve a lot; first of all to ensure they concede fewer than 54 goals this season.

copyright: JW