An Attacking Dilemma: How will Manchester United cope without Marcus Rashford?

In the 2020/21 season Marcus Rashford had a career best season, scoring 21 times and assisting 15 in 57 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United, this attacking return cemented Rashford as a key player in the United first team, with only Bruno Fernandes having a better attacking contribution with 28 goals and 17 assists in one more game than Rashford. With these attacking returns, it is easy to understand why many United fans are anxious about the prospect of not having the number 10 until October.

The reason for the absence of Rashford is surgery he decided to have on a shoulder injury, the Manchester Evening News reported that ‘the forward has been playing with several injuries for the last year, with the shoulder injury being the most troubling’, the fact Rashford had been playing through an injury barrier in the 2020/21 season and still managed his best attacking return implies that had he not been injured, those numbers may have been even better, proving how crucial a player he is. While Rashford is side-lined it is important to evaluate the options Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has available to him in that left wing position while and consider who may even thrive in that position while given the opportunity. 

The first, and perhaps most exciting, option that United have in that left-midfield area to fill in for Rashford is Paul Pogba, who played in that position in United’s opening game at Old Trafford against Leeds United. Pogba put in a “Man of the Match” worthy performance, contributing four assists during the 5-1 win. Playing the Scott McTominay and Fred pivot allowed Pogba more freedom down the left-hand side in comparison to the more reserved game he must play when he is played deeper and more central in a pivot role. 

This freedom not only allowed Pogba to go further forward down the pitch with the ball, but also allowed him to be more fluid in his positioning, an example of this being the position he was in to deliver the assist for Fernandes’ first goal, Pogba occupies a central position while Mason Greenwood turns and runs down the left hand side and Fernandes pulled ahead into the space Greenwood has just vacated to run between the defenders and slot home his first goal of the day. 

This fluidity is a crucial part of Pogba’s game and is something he did regularly during his time at Juventus, however, since signing for United in 2016, Pogba has more often than not been played in a midfield two, expected to create from a deep lying position, this injury to Rashford, and the managers trust in the McTominay and Fred partnership, has created the perfect opportunity for Pogba to show his ability when given freedom down his favoured left hand side of the pitch. After his five-star performance on the opening day of the season, maybe United don’t need to look much further than their record signing for the perfect option to fill the void left by Rashford. 

The key issue with relying on Pogba in that left midfield area is that as a team United are still relatively thin in midfield, it would only take an injury to Fred, McTominay or Nemanja Matic for Solskjaer to need to use Pogba in the central midfield role he can also play. Therefore, while for now, with a very fit squad, Paul Pogba is the most exciting and straight forward replacement for Rashford, he cannot be the one to completely rely on. There must be other options for games where Pogba will need to play midfield between now and October, which is the expected return date for Rashford as reported by Sky Sports.

A second natural fit Manchester United could use to play on the left, that wouldn’t take away from their midfield options, is winger Daniel James. Since signing for United in 2019 James has played 4,526 minutes in all competitions across two full seasons at the club, in that time scoring nine goals and getting nine assists, while these numbers are much weaker than Rashford’s, it must be noted that for the majority of James’s Manchester United career he has been played out of position on the right wing, instead of his favoured position of left wing, which is the position he played for previous team Swansea and his national team. 

In his final season at Swansea, before he signed for United, James registered five goals and 10 assists in 2,815 minutes from the left wing, for a young player in the Championship, in a team like Swansea who will not be attacking as regularly as Manchester United, these are very respectable numbers. Similarly, in only 1,877 minutes for Wales, James has registered four goals and three assists, again this is in a much more conservative team than United, with weaker players around him. 

These numbers imply that James produces better attacking contributions when playing on the left-wing, it could be argued that the current predicament is a natural time for Solskjaer to give James a run of games in his favoured position to see what he is able to do there. It must also be noted that James is one of the fastest players in the league, an attribute that Rashford also has, this might help in games against teams who defend with a high line as James speed in behind, must like Rashford’s when fit, could be used as a tactic to break those teams down. This is an attribute Pogba lacks. 

The final player who could be used to fill the position left vacant by Marcus Rashford is Anthony Martial. Of course, since Solskjaer’s arrival at the club, Martial has been used primarily as a central striker which is his favoured position as reported by The Daily Mail, a move which paid off in the 2019/20 season when Martial delivered his best attacking return in a Manchester United shirt, scoring 23 goals and getting 12 assists in 48 appearances

However, in the following season, these numbers stalled significantly in the central forward position, with the number nine only managing seven goals and nine assists in 27 appearances, this meant that Edison Cavani took his spot as United’s starting striker midway through the season. Interestingly, in Martials first season at United in 2015/16 the attacker played a total of 4,128 minutes getting 17 goals and nine assists, from the left-wing position only, he played 2,132 minutes scoring nine goals and getting seven assists, showing that most of his attacking contributions came from the left-wing position, in 2,000 fewer minutes overall. 

This is a trend that continues throughout his United career, until he is moved to only play striker in the 2019/20 season. He consistently produces most of his attacking returns from the left-hand side, proving that he is a valuable player in that position. 

Another reason why Martial may be the perfect fit to replace Rashford while he is side-lined is because he is currently third in the pecking order in his favoured position of centre forward. After the breakthrough of Greenwood and the solid season in 2020/21 from Edinson Cavani, Martial may need to move position for the foreseeable to get the minutes he wants and needs as a player.

It is a position the fan base has seen him thrive in before and would leave room for Greenwood to flourish in the striker role after the summer signing of right winger Jadon Sancho, everything seemingly fits in place for Martial to make a comeback this season from the left-wing, staking his claim as a valuable attacking player for United. 

What this illustrates is that while the prospect of starting a new season without a talismanic figure like Rashford may be daunting for United fans, the squad is now deep enough that the team can not only survive the absence of Rashford, but perhaps even thrive due to the wealth of attacking ability now at the club. Pogba, James and Martial all have individual qualities that can fill the void left by Rashford, with Solskjaer even having the option of rotating these players in the left sided position to best fit the opposition.

It should also be noted that while Rashford will no doubt be missed, this forced break away from the game can only do the young star good after playing through injuries for the best part of a year and through Euro 2020, perhaps United fans will see an even better Marcus Rashford when he returns fully fit and ready to make his mark on the 2021/22 campaign.

Written by Jennifer McCord

Daniel James: Should he stay, be loaned out or be sold?

Daniel James has been at Manchester United football club for over two years now after his £16 million move from Swansea in the summer of 2019, but has failed to secure a guaranteed starting place on either of the wings. With the emergence of Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo, Anthony Elanga and the signing of Jadon Sancho, competition for places is at an all-time high for Daniel James and this season maybe his last to fully prove his worth to the club.

So, what does Daniel James bring to the team?

James main attribute is his speed, he has exhilarating pace which can prove deadly on the counter-attack instilling fear into the oppositions defence when he’s running at them with pace and power. This has been most effective in the bigger games when there’s more space to run into rather than the tighter affairs in which teams sit back and United must break them down. Some of his best performances have come against Manchester City as United have kept it tight supressing City’s forward force before breaking out and piercing through their open defence with the sheer speed of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and James. 

Another quality aspect of his game is his work rate. With some wingers they can be interested when they have the ball, but that hunger dies once the ball is lost, with James he’s the opposite. He chases and chases, running down dead passes attempting to do anything to win the ball back for his team. This can prove incredibly useful as with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attempt to press, a combination of his speed and work rate means he can put in crucial interceptions or blocks stopping the oppositional advance and potentially winning the ball high up the pitch posing a menacing threat to the opposition. 

With a poacher like Edinson Cavani, the ability to put in a good cross is invaluable and James can do so. He uses his speed to beat his man before picking out a cross in the middle, this was at it’s most effective for Wales in the euros as through their target man Kieffer Moore he could put some dangerous crosses in which Moore would meet. 

However, the reason James’ ability is highly questioned is his basic footballing brain and his ability in tight spaces. In the Premier League, you can’t expect broad open games all of the time, and James can be susceptible to becoming obsolete in a game as he lacks natural ability to play in tight spaces. This leaves an in-balance on the right flank as the ball often flows to the left as that’s where the team is more comfortable but thus making it easier to defend as the opposition place focus on those players. 

Furthermore, James’ footballing brain is quite weak. At times he can just look to always try beat a man for speed becoming quite predictable and then once the defender has matched this it shuts down the right flank further. As a creator, he has a good cross but his overall link up play is weak, and he can give the ball away frequently due to poor weight of pass. His overall effect on the team is mixed, at times he can be very useful whereas others he becomes a liability. 

Due to this, many have questioned whether others should take his spot in the team. He’s 23 turning 24 in November so is no spring chicken and with highly promising players like Elanga turning up in pre-season it starts to make you wonder whether these players should be given a chance. Recently in a press conference, Solskjaer stated his approval of Amad Diallo in training and the potential of him staying this season rather than going on loan. However, Solskjaer has been known to be deceiving to the media as previously he mentioned the importance of Alexis Sanchez to his squad, and he left that same transfer window. 

But with the potential of Amad staying, this would be yet another player competing with James in the team especially due to the enormous potential of Amad and the big fee that came with him, Solskjaer will likely look to implement him into the team in future. When United have a full squad, the likely wingers will be Rashford off the left, Sancho off the right with Martial as a backup for Rashford and then Mason Greenwood as a backup for Sancho. In addition, when Rashford isn’t available, Solskjaer is often keen to use Paul Pogba off the left, thus leaving less and less space for James to get into the team. However, James is quite versatile and so can play off either flank, which if injuries do plague the squad could become a useful asset to keep hold of.

Therefore, I feel Solskjaer should keep James with the team until January letting players like Amad and Shoretire continue to train with the first team before potentially giving them opportunities in the League Cup or FA Cup games in the future. With Rashford likely out till October, keeping James who is an experienced player now with the squad could prove handy squad depth and will give Solskjaer that versatility in selections to use James’ unique attributes in more open games catered to his abilities. 

Finally, in January, unless James has had a huge boost in form, with Rashford back and the youngsters more developed, Solskjaer should look to find James a loan to see if he can find his feet in the Premier League like Jesse Lingard did revitalising his career. If this loan is successful, United could ship him off for a profitable fee in the summer which would likely be the best for Manchester United and for James career individually. 

Overall, I feel this season is the make or break for James as if he doesn’t live up to Solskjaer’s expectations he will likely be transferred out in the summer, so if James wants to succeed at Manchester United he needs to have a big season ahead.

Written by Ethan Bents

February Review: Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes and Daniel James in the plaudits for their performances in February – Who do you choose?

Manchester United played eight matches in February which completed three busy months with saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer side play 26 matches in the three-month period. March will be an easier month with the first international break of 2021 coming at the end of the month with many of the cup competitions advancing in the latter knockout stages with the best club advancing. United won four times in February; Southampton 9-0, West Ham United 1-0, Real Sociedad 4-0 and Newcastle United 3-1. Solskjaer side drew four times also; Everton 3-3, West Bromwich Albion 1-1, Real Sociedad 0-0 and Chelsea 0-0. It was an unbeaten month for United but also a month which saw Manchester City rise to the summit of the Premier League.

February Statistics:

Eight matches played; four wins and four draws. Nine Premier League points won, a place in the quarter-final of the Emirates FA Cup and the round of 16 in the UEFA Europa League. 21 goals scored, five goals conceded and five clean sheets. Out of the 21 goals scored by United in February, Bruno Fernandes scored six, also getting three assists, Marcus Rashford got three goals and two assists, Daniel James got three goals and one assist, Scott McTominay scored three goals, Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani got two goals each and Aaron Wan-Bissaka scored one goal and one assist and there was one own goal. Luke Shaw got four assists with Mason Greenwood, Fred, Eric Bailly and Harry Maguire all getting one assist each.

2 February – Manchester United 9-0 Southampton – Premier League

Goals: Aaron Wan-Bissaka 18′, Marcus Rashford 25′, Jan Bednarek 34′ o/g, Edinson Cavani 39′, Anthony Martial 69’, 90′, Scott McTominay 71’, Bruno Fernandes 87′ penalty, Daniel James 90+3′

Assists: Luke Shaw 18′, 39′, Mason Greenwood 25′, Bruno Fernandes 69′, 90+3′

Manchester United destroyed Southampton 9-0 in the Premier League at Old Trafford. Alexandre Jankewitz was sent off for the challenge on Scott McTominay in the second minute of the match, putting the Saints down to the men. United opened the scoring through Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the 18th minute, doubling their lead through Marcus Rashford in the 25th. Jan Bednarek scored an own goal in the 34th before Edinson Cavani scored a fourth in the 39th. In the second half, United scored a fifth through Anthony Martial in the 69th before McTominay scored in the 71st. Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in the 87th with Martial completing his brace in the 90th before Daniel James struck in added time.

6 February – Manchester United 3-3 Everton – Premier League

Goals: Edinson Cavani 24′, Bruno Fernandes 45′, Scott McTominay 70′; Abdoulaye Doucoure 49’, James Rodriguez 52’, Dominic Calvert-Lewin 90+5

Assists: Marcus Rashford 24′, Aaron Wan-Bissaka 45’, Luke Shaw 70′; Abdoulaye Doucoure 52’, Michael Keane 90+5

Manchester United drew 3-3 with Everton at Old Trafford in the Premier League. It was a game of two halves for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. Edinson Cavani put United ahead in the 24th minute of the match with Bruno Fernandes doubling the lead with a sublime goal in the 45th minute. Everton got back into the game four minutes into the second half with Abdoulaye Doucoure getting a goal but three minutes later James Rodriguez had levelled United’s early lead. Scott McTominay scored what seemed to be a winner for United in the 70th minute of the match but in the last minute of added time, Dominic Calvert-Lewin levelled the score for Everton with David De Gea making two costly errors; Doucoure’s goal and Calvert-Lewin’s goal.

9 February – Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United – Emirates FA Cup

Goals: Scott McTominay 97′

Assists: Marcus Rashford 97′

Manchester United beat West Ham United 1-0 in the Emirates FA Cup on Tuesday evening. It took extra time for United to find the after the Hammers seemingly played for a point in a game that would never see it happen. To play this defensive in a cup match was poor. Victor Lindelof had the best chance of normal time seeing Lukasz Fabianski save his effort in the first half. Mason Greenwood played well and Marcus Rashford missed an easy effort once again, seemingly needing to make things simple again. Scott McTominay opened the scoring seven minutes into the first half of extra time. United will find out who they face in the quarter-final draw which will take place on Thursday evening.

14 February – West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Mbaye Diagne 2′; Bruno Fernandes 44′

Assists: Conor Gallagher 2′; Luke Shaw 44′

Manchester United drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns in the Premier League. It was a poor start by United as Victor Lindelof seemed t be fouled by Mbaye Diagne, who then beat David De Gea in just over 80 seconds of the match being played. United seemed to lack urgency for a period and failed to break into the match. In the 44th minute though, Bruno Fernandes found the equaliser to get United back into the game but despite Manny attempts to, did not find a winning goal. The Baggies almost scored two more times with Diagne on the break and De Gea managing to get most of his effort on the ball to change its direction. It will be seen as a poor result for United, but a worse one for the Baggies who are 12 points adrift of safety.

18 February – Real Sociedad 0-4 Manchester United – UEFA Europa League

Goals: Bruno Fernandes 27′, 57′, Marcus Rashford 65′, Daniel James 90′

Assists: Daniel James 57′, Fred 65′, Eric Bailly 90′

Manchester United beat Real Sociedad 4-0 in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg at the Juventus Stadium in Turin ons Thursday evening. United opened the scoring through Bruno Fernandes in the 27th minute of the match with the Portuguese midfielder scoring his second goal of the match in the 57th minute. Marcus Rashford scored United’s third goal in the 65th minute of the match with Daniel James finding the back of the net minutes later, but he was offside. The Welshman did get another chance, getting the fourth goal of the match in the 90th minute to complete the scoring for United, giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side a great chance to make it to the round of 16 stage of the competition.

21 February – Manchester United 3-1 Newcastle United – Premier League

Goals: Marcus Rashford 30′, Daniel James 57′, Bruno Fernandes 75′ penalty; Allan Saint-Maximin 36′

Assists: Harry Maguire 30′, Bruno Fernandes 57′

Manchester United beat Newcastle United 3-1 in the Premier League at Old Trafford. Marcus Rashford put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side 1-0 up in the 30th minute of the match but the lead was short-lived as Allan Saint-Maximin found the equaliser for the Magpies just six minutes later. In the second half, United found themselves needing to do more to get back in front and that came in the 57th minute after Bruno Fernandes fed the ball to Daniel James, who scored his second goal of the week and his fifth goal of the season. Fernandes sealed the victory for United in the 75th minute after Rashford was fouled in the box, scoring the penalty to secure all three points with a 3-1 victory. Real Sociedad up next for United to confirm a last 16 place in the Europa League.

25 February – Manchester United 0-0 Real Sociedad – UEFA Europa League

Goals: N/A

Assists: N/A

Manchester United drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad at Old Trafford in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg. United’s four goals in the first leg saw them through to the round of 16 in the competition. Bruno Fernandes almost scored in the first half and Axel Tuanzebe found the back of the net with a thundering header in the 63rd minute of the match but because of a Victor Lindelof foul, VAR and the referee ruled out the goal, which was a shame for the defender. Amad Diallo made his home debut with Shola Shoretire becoming the youngest United player to feature in European competition, which will be something for him to be proud of. United will find out their fate in the competition on Friday as the round of 16 draw is made.

28 February – Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: N/A

Assists: N/A

Manchester United drew 0-0 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. Both teams matched each other evenly with United the team to be disappointed from the match which now sees Manchester City 12 points clear at the top of the table with United a point better off than third placed Leicester City, who lost to Arsenal earlier in the day. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be happy with the point but not with the fact that they failed to score, which is starting to become a worry at this stage of the season. United will face Crystal Palace on Wednesday evening before the Manchester derby at the Etihad next Sunday, which will see Pep Guardiola rubbing his hands with joy based on United’s current goalscoring form.

Luke Shaw – six appearances, 435 minutes, four assists

Luke Shaw had an impressive month for United during February. Out of the eight matches United played, Shaw played six times, spending 435 minutes on the pitch. He got himself four assist throughout the month with two against Southampton in the 9-0 thrashing, one against Everton in the 3-3 draw and one against West Bromwich Albion in the 1-1 draw. Shaw has made the left-back position his own this season and he has risen in stature, which is great to see. Shaw was impressive in many of the matches he played and more recently against Chelsea, he was one of the standout performers, despite United failing to score a single goal. March is going to be a much more difficult month and hopefully Shaw continue his February form into the new month.

Bruno Fernandes – eight appearances, 625 minutes, six goals, three assists and three MOTM awards.

A month without Bruno Fernandes being mentioned here will be a bad month for United. The Portuguese magnifico made eight appearances throughout February, playing 625 minutes on the pitch for the Red Devils. He scored six goals and three assists (nine goal contributions) which is a great achievement from the midfielder. Fernandes started with a goal and an assist against Southampton, scoring his second goal of the month against Everton. He scored his third goal against West Bromwich Albion, getting numbers four and five against Real Sociedad. Goal number six and assist number three both came against Newcastle United. He won three Man of the Match awards for performances against Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Real Sociedad.

Daniel James – five appearances, 357 minutes, three goals, one assist and one MOTM award.

Daniel James really started to prove himself during February after getting himself back on the pitch for United. He made five appearances in the eight matches United played, scoring three goals and one assist throughout the month. The Welshman’s first goal came against Southampton in added time. He then got a goal and an assist against Real Sociedad in Turin, which was good performance from him. His third goal came against Newcastle United, scoring in two successive matches, which helped grow his confidence. James won the Man of the Match award for his performance against Newcastle, which will help him on his way at the club. He performed well in the second leg against Real Sociedad and against Chelsea, two matches in which United failed to score.

Notable Mentions: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford

Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a total of eight appearances in March, playing 675 minutes of football, which was good to see. He scored one goal and one assist, the goal coming against Southampton and the assist against Everton. The right-back won the Man of the Match award for his performance against Southampton. Scott McTominay also played well in February, making six appearances and playing 435 minutes of football. He scored three goals; Southampton, Everton and West Ham United, winning the Man of the Match award in that match. Marcus Rashford played eight times, spending 652 minutes on the pitch. He scored three goals; Southampton, Real Sociedad and Newcastle United and two assists; Everton and West Ham United.

Who is your Player of the Month for February 2021?

A look at what lies ahead in March…

United will play six matches in March which will give them a bit of a break after the busy months of December, January and February, which saw United play a total of 26 matches. United start the month away in the Premier League as they take on Crystal Palace and then the second Manchester derby of the league season at the Etihad. United’s only home match of the month comes against AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg with another trip to London on the cards with a. visit to West Ham United three days later. United then travel to the San Siro to face AC Milan in the second leg match of the round of 16 stage in the Europa League before ending the month at the King Power Stadium facing Leicester City in the Emirates FA Cup.

3 March – Crystal Palace, Selhurst Park – Premier League

7 March – Manchester City, Etihad Stadium – Premier League

11 March – AC Milan, Old Trafford – UEFA Europa League

14 March – West Ham United, London Stadium – Premier League

18 March – AC Milan, San Siro – UEFA Europa League

21 March – Leicester City, King Power Stadium – Emirates FA Cup

Written by John Walker

Daniel James is a major part of Manchester United squad and will not be loaned out next season – reports

Manchester United winger Daniel James is seen as a major part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad at the Theatre of Dreams and therefore rumours of the players impending departure, albeit on loan, have been ended prematurely. The Welsh winger made the move from Swansea City, rising from the Champions to the Premier League last summer.

Just £15 million was the fee for the player, which may rise in the future if add-ons have been met by the player, but he will still be seen as a bargain, despite some supporters throwing him in the shade of late based on their high expectations. The player’s agent, Jonathan Barnett has seemingly ruled out the player leaving on loan this summer.

The 22-year-old had a great start to the season and despite making a total of 41 appearances this season, he has scored four goals, assisting a further seven, which is a good figure for his first season at the club. Personally, I feel the so-called supporters of the club are being harsh on him, like they were when he did not sign immediately last summer, which was for a good reason.

James scored his last goal for United in the 5-0 thrashing of Austrian club LASK in the UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg and you could tell it was a big occasion for the player after a long drought. It seemed a relief for the player, who was pushing hard to continue his good season for the club. The emergence of Mason Greenwood will pose new threats though.

Greenwood has scored 15 goals and five assists this season, more than James has achieved but with his rise from the Championship, coming in as a first choice player for much of the season, it was never going to be a season whereby he banged in the goals and assists – he needs a season, at least, to find his feet at the club and set some goals for himself.

It is good that the player’s agent is not going to allow the player to be loaned out and is shows that James will be happy to fight for his place, even if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signs Jadon Sancho or another wide player this summer. United will need options to get them through another tough season, which could see them compete at the highest level once more.

Daniel James to get a new contract and be loaned away from Manchester United next season – reports

Manchester United could offer Daniel James a new contract at the Old Trafford club, a year after signing him from Swansea City, then loan him out for the 2020/21 season, according to reports. The 22-year-old has done well for United this season, making a total of 37 appearances so far this season, scoring four goals and seven assists, which is nearly as good as what Alexis Sanchez did at the club for 18 months.

James, 22, signed for United for £15 million last summer, settling in at the club during the pre-season tour and starting the season in style with a debut goal against Chelsea in the 4-0 victory at Old Trafford. Granted, the season has not been perfect for the player and he does need to learn things to become the best he can be, however, he is an improvement.

It is suggested that with United offering the player a new contract, which will result in a pay rise at the Theatre of Dreams, there could be am option to allow the player to leave on loan for the new season, if United bring in a new winger this summer, rumoured to be Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund.

James scored his last goal for United in the 5-0 demolition of LASK in the round of 16 first leg match in the UEFA Europa League just before the coronavirus pandemic suspended world football in mid-March, the goal before that came at the end of August 2019, so he does need to find a better way to learn to find the back of the net.

His creativity was not a problem though, neither is his pace. He has assisted seven goals this season, so far, which has kept United going in the right direction. If a player like Sancho arrived at the club this summer, it would impact the playing time of the Welsh winger, which could hamper his development. I am sure he knows what could happen.

If the player wants to play regular first team football, should a new signing impact that, I am sure the the player will be given a choice of leaving the club temporarily, or fighting for his place, which would be admirable if he chose to do that. He could keep fit whilst playing U23 football, when the new season starts. Onwards and upwards.

The Championship is a market that Manchester United should not ignore

When Manchester United signed young Welsh international Daniel James from Swansea in June 2019, many opposition fans took the chance to laugh at United for being so bad they were now looking into the championship for players. 

Some United fans probably will have felt somewhat embarrassed too, the club had just ended the season with a run of just two wins in 12 games and now were signing a relative nobody when most wanted a big name statement to kick off a key summer of recruitment. 

However, those that knew James, like Ryan Giggs, knew he had both blistering pace and more importantly, a desire to progress his career, a desire not commonly seen in some of United’s more recent big name statement signings. Halfway through his first season, many of the Old Trafford faithful now adorn him with the same song they serenaded Giggs with for years.

Before James, the last player to be signed permanently from a lower league club was Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing as manager. Although Zaha’s United career never really got started, he has formed a career as a very successful Premier League player back at Palace and there are often reports linking him with a move back to the club.

Ferguson would often put his trust in players from the lower leagues, think Lee Sharpe from Torquay United and Denis Irwin from Oldham Athletic. Ferguson would also take players from clubs just relegated from the top flight like Alan Smith from Leeds United and Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest.

Many United fans laughed when Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp signed Georginio Wijnaldum from relegated Newcastle United, Andy Robertson from relegated Hull City, or when Joe Gomez was signed from Charlton Athletic in 2015. All three have now become permanent fixtures in a side racing away with the title.

Nowadays most people judge a player instantly by what club they are at, including Ed Woodward. Zaha’s transfer wasn’t an indication that this policy of signing players from the lower leagues needed ripping up, but for some reason Woodward and subsequent managers spent years chasing Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich players to get fans excited. 

However talented those players may have been, they were never seriously going to want to make the step down from winning multiple European cups to playing in the Europa League. In the time since Zaha, plenty of talent from the lower leagues has passed the club by, with the likes of Dele Alli springing to mind, who shined in United’s 4-0 defeat at MK Dons a year before he signed for Tottenham Hotspur.

Ironically, these are now the same players the club are now chasing. James Maddison had just finished an impressive season with Norwich City, registering 14 goals and eight assists before Leicester City picked him up for £20 million in 2018. Jack Grealish was almost forced of Aston Villa, in the same summer, at a time when he was gettable for around £30 million. It will cost at least double that figure to secure his services now.

Woodward will have witnessed first-hand the difficulty in prizing players away from Premier League clubs in the last summer window. Leicester City wanted £80 million for Harry Maguire at the start of the transfer window and wouldn’t budge like United thought they would. The same went for Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Palace and Newcastle United even tried to bully United by wanting the same figure the Reds payed for Wan-Bissaka for Sean Longstaff.

There’s so much money now in the Premier League, even to the point that finishing in the bottom half will get you over £100 million. Therefore, if Aston Villa stay up and especially if Leicester finish in a Champions League place, then the pursuit of Maddison and Grealish will be an expensive one. Maybe the club could dip back into the championship in 2020 and find another cheap gem like James.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

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).

August Review: Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James star in mixed month for Manchester United

Manchester United played four matches in the Premier League during August, winning once, drawing once and losing once. United scored six goals, conceded three goals, kept one clean sheet, won four Premier League points, and found out their fate in the Carabao Cup and the group stages of the UEFA Europa League. August gave United time between matches but September, with the international break, will be busy.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw the season start in style with a 4-0 victory over Frank Lampard’s Chelsea at Old Trafford seeing Marcus Rashford score a brace (one from the spot), Anthony Martial and Daniel James score a debut goal in front of the Stretford End. This was followed by a 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Molineux with Anthony Martial on the scoresheet once again.

Crystal Palace defeated United 2-1 at Old Trafford. Daniel James scored a consolation goal for United, in front of the Stretford End once again. It was a poor result for United. Against Southampton, a team United needed to hit back against, it was another 1-1 draw after Daniel James opened the scoring with United having many chances, unable to cause the home side many problems.

United also found out their fate in the Carabao Cup, where they will face Rochdale at Old Trafford in the third round of the tournament, and in the UEFA Europa League, where they will face FC Astana of Kazakhstan, Partizan Belgrade of Serbia and AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands in the group stages of the competition.

Marcus Rashford – four appearances, 355 minutes played, two goals scored and one assist.

Marcus Rashford started the new Premier League season well with two goals, one from the spot, against Chelsea in a 4-0 victory at Old Trafford. Rashford also got an assist against Wolves in the second match of the season, which ended his contribution, at least for goals and assists for the month. Rashford has a lot to learn and time to grow. Can he become a player that is capable of leading the line for United? We shall see.

Anthony Martial – three appearances, 270 minutes played, two goals scored and one assist.

The Frenchman was reunited with his number nine shirt after Romelu Lukaku was sold to Inter Milan this summer. It seemed to be a good thing as Martial scored the second goal against Chelsea at Old Trafford. He then continued that with a goal against Wolves. Against Crystal Palace, Martial was not a goalscorer but he got the assist before suffering an injury at the end of the match, missing the 1-1 draw with Southampton.

Daniel James – four appearances, 285 minutes played, three goals scored.

It was a great start to the Welshman’s United career. Scoring the fourth goal against Chelsea less than ten minutes after he made his debut, scoring in front of the Stretford End, Daniel James made his first start in the second match of the season, the draw with Wolves. He was not on the scoresheet in that game. Against Palace, he scored again, in front of the Stretford End, scoring the third goal of his career against Southampton. What a start for the 21-year-old who can now build on that confidence in international duty with Wales.

Notable Mentions: Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Andreas Pereira.

During the first month of the season, there have been a few players whose performances need to be mentioned. Andreas Pereira got an assist against Chelsea, Paul Pogba has two assists to his name, both against Chelsea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has played four times for United, putting in great performances each time and Harry Maguire, who has largely been a rock at the back for the Old Trafford club. September will be a tougher month for this squad in their bid on the road to improvement.

Who is your Player of the Month for August 2019?

A look at what lies ahead in September…

In September, United will play five matches. After the first international break of the season, United start at home to Leicester City (14/9). The first Europa League match, at home to FC Astana follows (19/9), followed by West Ham United away (22/9). Then Rochdale at home in the Carabao Cup (25/9), ending the month with Arsenal at home (30/9).

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

Manchester United has some of the fastest attacking players in the Premier League this season. The departure of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan and the rumoured departure of Alexis Sanchez is going to create more chances for youth to shine at the club, which is something that is clear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is about.

Anthony Martial has been given his old number nine shirt back, a number he wore when he had his best season at the club to date. Perhaps he can now kick on and put the last two years behind him and find the route to success with the club. Marcus Rashford is a player who has risen in stature and was chosen to play ahead of Lukaku last season.

A player who is now getting the same finishing training that Cristiano Ronaldo received at the club, with Solskjaer clearly looking to get Rashford firing in the goals. After his brace against Chelsea last week; one from the penalty spot, he’s certainly heading in the right direction to increase his goals this season, scoring 13 in all competitions last season.

Attacking midfield depth; five players able to play here, four of them likely to be rotated here during the season.

This is an area which some would include in the midfield, however, with the 4-2-3-1 formation which Solskjaer predominantly uses, this is considered part of the attack, which is why it has been included in this part of the series of squad depth articles. In this area, which in the 4-2-3-1 formation, focuses on the number ten position, or the second striker role.

There are five players that could play in this position; Jesse Lingard, Angel Gomes, Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, and Alexis Sanchez, providing he remains at the club, which may not be the case with the links to Inter. Of course, Solskjaer could draft in more youth if this position becomes problematic. Lingard seems the clear starter, based on the Chelsea match.

If Pogba was played in this position, the midfield would struggle, unless the trusted players performed to the best of their abilities and found a way to deal with their roles, leaving Pogba to play a more creative role. However, with Gomes, Mata and to a point, Sanchez, Pogba may not need to play in this position.

Winger depth; seven players able to play in these position but two of those may not be suited.

Since Daniel James arrived from Swansea City for £15 million in the summer, there was a clear problem on the wing for United. The right-wing position was literally none existent with the likes of Mata, Lingard, Rashford, Martial and even Lukaku playing there. Since James arrived, there are more options with United able to utilise the pace of players.

There are seven players able to play on the wing; Martial, Rashford, James, Mata, Sanchez, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood. Five of the seven offer pace, ability, determination and hunger. Mata offers the ability to read the game, although a central position, when he plays, would be better for the squad.

James made his Premier League debut a week ago, coming on in the second half against Chelsea, scoring less than ten minutes later. His pace was problematic for Chelsea and he used his own mistake in the box to carve his name into the history books at the club. Greenwood, Chong, Martial and Rashford also have the pace, although one of the latter two will play a different role. The depth is alright here.

Striker depth; four players are able to play in this area but two of them are destined to lead the line

This is the area which despite Lukaku leaving the club this summer, could well be problematic for Solskjaer. He never replaced the Belgian and unless he has a plan to sign a free agent, will probably stick to what he has in the squad. Martial has led the line against Chelsea and Rashford is also capable of playing here.

Looking at the depth, there are other options which include Greenwood, Sanchez (if he stays), and Lingard (to a point). It may look a bit weak if you look past Martial and Rashford but for one position in the team, there are four options, with more if you look to the academy. D’Mani Bughail-Mellor has scored a few goals for the U23s already this season.

I am not suggesting that he’s ready to play for the first team, however, was Rashford ready before he scored the brace against Midtjylland back in February 2016, then following suit against Arsenal in the Premier League days later? Solskjaer has a few different options and if he tries other players out in this position, he might find that he has more.

I would suggest that this is going to be between both Rashford and Martial for the large part of the season. If Rashford leads the line, Martial could be rested with James playing on the left-wing. If Martial starts, Rashford could play on the left, or James could play there, giving Rashford a rest. It is obviously not the best but could work.

If Sanchez stays this season, I am not saying he will be a starter, but he will be an option, but if rumours are true, he has asked to leave the club and could be on his way out. Could Solskjaer sign a free agent to bolster his side? There are options, although not great ones. I think he would prefer to utilise the talented youth players in the mix.

With Rashford working on his finishing and Martial looking to overcome a turbulent time at United, it could be the winner that everyone is hoping for. There are good players in both of these two and it is about time that they showed themselves and stood up to be counted. If Solskjaer manages to turn the tide with this squad, he can do anything.

The formation above shows the depth in all four of the attacking positions in the 4-2-3-1 formation. If different formations are played, the depth will still be there but it will obviously increase/decrease in various positions. Solskjaer will have a plan of what he is aiming to achieve this season. He also has an idea of the players he will need to target either in January or next summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said that ‘attack wins you matches but defence wins you titles’. The defence is the strongest part of United’s squad with the attack being the second strongest area in the squad. The midfield has weaknesses which need to be strengthened but that could be done without money, giving youth players opportunities over time.

Obviously, supporters of the club expected major changes this summer, which was never going to happen. Every summer you see supporters demanding that players are sold etc but in most cases, it does not happen as it is not an easy thing to do. Then, toxicity comes into the fan base and people moan incessantly, which is boring.

copyright: JW