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The Keeper’s Game: Dean Henderson or David De Gea?

“For a goalkeeper, there is no hiding place.”

Brad Friedel, former Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa goalkeeper

A goalkeeper is a very unique profile in football, because while they may not require the technical ability of a winger or central striker, football being a very low scoring sport means that one mistake from a goalkeeper could be catastrophic and cost their team trophies, unlike a forward who gets multiple chances to score a goal. Psychologically, the pressure of playing as a goalkeeper is unique and different to an outfield player.

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reportedly considering Dean Henderson as his preferred keeper for the upcoming season, David De Gea is left to be the reserve goalkeeper for Manchester United, a position he’s never had to face before in his career. While it is a reasonable assumption that De Gea would have preferred to play first team football as much as he could have, in a bid to force himself back into contention for the Spanish national team, his wages are a major obstacle to any future move.

De Gea has been an excellent player for United for a decade now having been signed from Atlético Madrid in 2011 as the successor to Edwin van der Sar, except for a couple of early seasons of uncertainty aside when he was still adjusting to life at the club. After a potential transfer to Real Madrid collapsed in the final hours of the 2015 summer transfer window, De Gea scaled new heights over the next three years and with a shaky and inconsistent backline ahead of him, singlehandedly kept the club competitive in that time, especially in the league.

He has won every trophy at the club except the Champions League, including being the number one keeper of the last United team to win the league in 2013 and is a modern day hero at the club.

However, a couple of uncharacteristic errors in the 2018 World Cup seemed to dent his confidence, and while he is still capable of making truly spectacular saves on his day, the errors have crept up in his game more frequently over the past three years, especially in high profile games such as quarters and semi-finals, which have cost the club and put the spotlight squarely on his shoulders.

De Gea’s most outstanding attribute as a keeper is his shot stopping ability, whether it be from long range shots or shots within the penalty area. Counter intuitively, his best spell as a keeper for the club came when the defence was very brittle and conceded a lot of chances, especially from open play, and consequently he had to save a very volume of shots, which he very often did.

However, with the defensive unit as a whole becoming more secure over the past couple of years, chances conceded from open play are quite few, however when the defence does get exposed, De Gea has been found wanting, and tactically, seems to have a weakness against shots which are struck low and hard at his near post.

Another major issue with De Gea is his reluctance to come out and claim crosses near his penalty area, whether it be from open play or set pieces. What this does is put pressure on the central defenders to win the first defensive header and clear the ball away because a failure to do so could lead to a general sense of chaos in and around the penalty area. 

Dean Henderson, on the other hand has had a rather circuitous route to the top. Having had loan spells at Stockport County, Grimsby Town, Shrewsbury Town and Sheffield United, Henderson finally made his United debut in the 2020/21 season, and after De Gea took time off for paternity leave, Henderson was finally offered a regular run of games in the league, an opportunity he took with both hands.

At Sheffield United, he was a safe and reliable presence behind a five-man defensive unit, and his stop stopping was the attribute which stood out the most. However at Manchester United, at a team which plays a higher press and generally dominates possession a lot more, he has adapted well and always looks to come out and claim crosses, especially from set pieces thus eliminating a lot of chances for the opposition at the first phase itself.

While his shot stopping isn’t yet at an exceptional level, he did suffer from injuries at the end of last season, and is still only 24 years old, a very young age for a goalkeeper, and so has time to work on his weaknesses.

One area of their game where both Henderson and De Gea are roughly equal is their ball distribution, which is decent but not excellent. De Gea came from Atlético Madrid where he almost always kicked long and rarely played out from the back. While he has improved, he has never looked very comfortable playing it short especially when being closed down by the opposition striker. Similarly, Henderson played in the lower leagues where on the ball ability wasn’t very necessary, however he has looked reasonably secure when he’s played out from the back.

Additionally, Henderson can distribute well with his hands, especially seen in that Luke Shaw goal against Manchester City in the derby in March.

To summarize, having De Gea in goal means that the defence, especially the central defenders need to stay reasonably deep because De Gea doesn’t act as a sweeper keeper and thus the space between himself and the defenders needs to stay compact. Henderson allows the defenders, and thus the whole team, to play higher up the pitch because he is much more willing to leave his own box and clear the ball when his defenders are out of position, thus minimizing exposure to opposition counter attacks.

Consequently, De Gea by staying back invites more pressure on the defensive unit while Henderson allows the team to recycle possession quicker and sustain wave after wave of attack, which is especially useful when the team is trying to break down an opposition with a low block defensive structure.

While last season was unconventional, because there was a sort of transition, the goalkeeper is an essential part of the defensive unit, and thus, rotating them too frequently, especially two with such contrasting strengths and weaknesses is unsustainable in the long term because of the uncertainty it can create. To build a defensive fortress, familiarity is required and while Henderson is starting the season as first choice, Solskjaer has to quickly decide whether the Englishman is up to the task for the long term.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

Anthony Martial: A Make or Break Season Lies Ahead?

Since Anthony Martial’s arrival in 2015, he has been a key member of the squad rising from a promising talent to a star player. In his first season at the club, he started off as a striker scoring 11 goals and assisting four in the league. For a young French striker with immense pressure this was a good year but following this season he was forced out onto the wing due to the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The following season he managed only four goals and six assists in the league which is a slight drop off but to be expected due to his position change.

For the next three years Martial was predominantly played off the left wing but always wanted the centre forward spot back. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 2019/20 season, Martial was entrusted by to play as the lone centre forward. This saw the resurgence of Martial’s form scoring 17 goals and providing seven assists which was his best since signing from Monaco. However, this brilliant form didn’t become consistency and in the 2020/21 season Martial lost his place as the lone striker to the new signing Edinson Cavani and only managed to score four and assist six.

However, with United looking likely to bring in a striker next season, is this Martial’s make or break season to prove to Solskjaer that he’s worth keeping or will he be shipped out to make way for more promising talents like Amad Diallo, Facundo Pellistri, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Jadon Sancho. As a player, Martial is immensely talented; he is good with both feet, has good link up play which has helped him develop great chemistry with Marcus Rashford.

Furthermore, he has good speed and silky dribbling. His finishing was a key fundamental to his game, but last season he lost his way a bit. By learning to play on the wing it helped enhance attributes like agility and that improved his dribbling which once he was playing at centre-forward helped him wriggle out of tight spaces and turn defenders at ease. One major attribute Martial lacks is heading. In such a physical league as the Premier League, crossing is essential to breaking down teams, thus the need for the team’s striker to be able to head is incredibly high.

Martial isn’t the most effective in the air which limits United’s forward force as the wingers are less likely to cross the ball in due to the lack of ariel presence. This is a major reason as to why Cavani has taken Martial’s spot because he is excellent in the area broadening United’s attacking creativity. In addition, the biggest difference between Cavani and Martial as a centre forward is movement. Cavani’s movement is world class, he drifts between the centre half’s always looking to get ahead of his man, making all sorts of runs pulling the defenders out of their comfort zones at all times.

Martial is much more static, he tries to find gaps between the defenders but he won’t chase a cross like Cavani. This is a major aspect Martial must improve on if he is to succeed at United because his static nature makes him predictable in the box, which is easy to mark and subsequently making him less dangerous which in turn hinders the United attack as the defenders can easily cover him and the others in the box appropriately. Whereas, with Cavani, due to his dangerous runs, he drags multiple defenders with him which leaves space for the other forwards to take advantage of.

At his best, Martial has a great effect on this Manchester United team. He makes them incredibly fluid offensively with great interchangeability between the three forwards creating a dangerous linkup which can confuse opposition defences as they have to mark multiple forwards all interlinking providing different strengths. Furthermore, on form he’s also a lethal finisher and only needs one chance which can tip the balance of a game in United’s favour.

If Martial can restore this form he could score plenty of crucial goals for United next season, and also due to his linkup create lot of chances which quality players like Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho could score. Overall, I feel this is Martial’s make or break season as if he doesn’t perform, he will end up either being sold or being sat on the bench as a back up to a new forward. Martial must develop his game off Cavani, giving the forwards more versatility in attack in order to create more chances.

If Martial can do this, with all his talent he could have a bright future at United and potentially lead the line for a trophy winning United side.

Written by Ethan Bents

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

Eight Years of Disappointment: Why this season could be different…

When Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa in April 2013 to secure a 20th, record extending title for Manchester United, it would have taken a brave person to predict that eight years later, the club wouldn’t add to their tally. And yet, due to a variety of factors, both on the pitch and away from it, United have failed to reach the summit of the Premier League again.

The 2013 season marked the end of an era at Manchester United, with their most successful manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson calling time on a decorated management career, 27 of those years having been spent at The Theatre of Dreams.

Why then have United been so unsuccessful in scaling the heights they once regularly did under the Scotsman? To put it in broad terms, a few rushed managerial appointments lead to wildly varying styles of play as well as personnel. The transfer policy at the club was also quite erratic with no real direction, a mix of star names and unproven youngsters, the vast majority of whom could not handle the pressure of playing for a club the size of Manchester United. Some poor boardroom decisions including giving fringe players exorbitant salaries meant that while the club signed players for astronomical fees, they had to sell low, leading to a vicious cycle.

League form throughout the past eight years has been inconsistent, with only four top four finishes, two of which came in the last two seasons. The post Ferguson era can be broadly divided into four sections, one each for the managers United has appointed.

David Moyes, the first of them, took over a title winning team, but it was a team that was on its last legs and never quite reclaimed the glories of the 2012/13 season. With Ferguson gone, it seemed like the intimidatory aura around the club had also evaporated and psychologically, opponents took the game to United a lot more. In spite of being linked with various big names in the transfer market, especially Toni Kroos, the club only signed Belgian forward Marouane Fellaini from Everton on deadline day. United finished the 2013/14 season in seventh place, their lowest finish in almost a quarter of a century, with Moyes relieved of his duties after 34 games. 

Louis van Gaal took over as manager in the summer of 2014, and in an effort to revamp an aging squad, the club bought in a number of expensive signings including Angel Di Maria for a then British record fee of £60 million. The start to the season was promising however the team quickly became known for an extreme focus on safe, sideways, possession football without much effort to play progressively. Nevertheless, the club crawled over the line in fourth place, achieving the minimum requirement of securing Champions League qualification.

Two promising youngsters were signed in 2015, namely Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay, however there wasn’t significant improvement in how the team played, and although the FA Cup was won with a trademark comeback at Wembley, thus ending a three year trophy drought, a league finish of fifth place, just outside the Champions League places meant the curtains were drawn on Van Gaal’s reign.

The club then hired former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho as they tried desperately to claw their way back to the top of English football once again. Mourinho’s first transfer window was promising with former academy graduate Paul Pogba returning to the club after four years at Juventus. In a rare, shrewd bit of business, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was snapped up from Paris Saint-Germain on a free. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly were the other players who came in at the Theatre. 

League form remained erratic as the club finished in sixth place, however this was the most successful season of the post Ferguson era in terms of trophies with a 3-2 win against Southampton sealing the League Cup while the club completed its European trophy set with a 2-0 win against Ajax in May 2017 in the Europa League final thus returning back to Champions League football.

Everton striker Romelu Lukaku was the headline signing in 2017, while Nemanja Matic swapped the blue of Chelsea for the red of Manchester to come play for his former manager. Victor Lindelof, a Swedish centre back from Benfica, rounded off the club’s transfer business. After a promising start to the season, where it looked for a brief while that a challenge could be mounted against rivals Manchester City, a narrow derby defeat in early December meant that hopes for a title challenge faded away and the club solidified second place. A disappointing defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16 and an FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea was an inauspicious end to a season that had promised much at the beginning.

The wheels came off at the beginning of the 2018/19 with an inconsistent start to the league as well as reports of a fallout between Mourinho and some senior players. Consecutive 3-1 defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool in mid-December left the club in eighth place in the league table after 17 games and the board terminated Mourinho’s contract and appointed former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on an interim basis.

A run of victories in the league as well as a historic comeback victory against PSG secured Solskjaer the managerial post on a permanent basis, before another poor end to the season meant a sixth place finish.

Solskjaer’s two and half year reign has been characterized by runs of excellent form, an ability to go deep in almost every Cup competition the club plays in while staying reasonably competitive in the league. The one glaring weakness is his inability to guide the team across the line for a trophy, but on the whole, the club seems to be on an upward curve, a largely young squad which hasn’t yet hit its prime and could potentially stay together and dominate the league for years.

When it comes down to it, there are multiple reasons as to why the club hasn’t been genuine title contenders over the past eight years, but the primary one is probably the most obvious and boils down to a lack of genuine quality throughout the squad.

There has been a tendency to buy star names to fill in attacking positions in previous transfer windows, while the midfield and defence were largely ignored. It meant that while United did occasionally score in bursts, lack of creativity from midfield meant it was never a sustainable strategy. Additionally, the defence was never quite up to the standard required to sustain any sort of title challenge, with Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, two wingers by trade, filling in at right and left back respectively for close to four seasons between 2015-2019.

Why then is this season likely to be different? To begin with, two long standing squad deficiencies have been addressed, with Jadon Sancho the first world class right winger the club has had in over a decade. Secondly, the acquisition of Raphael Varane means that the club finally has two world class centre backs (the other being captain Harry Maguire) who will operate together for the first time since the halcyon days of the Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic partnership. That defensive base is crucial to launching any sort of potential title challenge.

In the forward positions, the club is blessed, with most of the attackers able to play on either wing especially Sancho and Marcus Rashford, while Edinson Cavani provides an old fashioned focal point up front in the penalty box. Bruno Fernandes remains the heartbeat of this team, able to conjure up goals and assists out of nowhere, while Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan Bissaka are adept both defensively as well as in building up attacks. 

The midfield needs to be sorted out, especially the Pogba contract situation, and potential replacements need to be bought in the eventual case of his departure and possibly another right back needs to arrive, with Kieran Trippier heavily linked.

On the whole, this has been the most balanced squad the club has had in years, oozing quality and depth in almost all positions. Certainly in the post-Ferguson era, the 2021/22 season represents the best chance for United to sustain a title challenge and put red and black ribbons on the Premier League trophy once again for the first time in almost a decade.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

Ratings: Elanga and Pereira score against Brentford; Pellistri and Lingard also showed promise in Old Trafford draw

Manchester United drew 2-2 with Brentford at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening. Jesse Lingard nearly scored in the opening few minutes but it was Anthony Elanga who opened the scoring in the 12th minute of the match after Aaron Wan-Bissaka played in the cross from the right. Shandon Baptiste equalised in the 20th minute of the match, which was a stunning strike on goal. Andreas Pereira restored United with the lead in the 50th minute, similarly to Baptiste’s goal in the first half, which was great to see. United then fell foul of some poor defending in the 78th minute as Bryan Mbeumo found an equaliser. Preston North End is the next test for United this pre-season, playing away from home on Saturday afternoon.

United started well in their first pre-season match at Old Trafford. Jesse Lingard started in fine form too, just like he did against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend. The United academy graduate launched a shot on goal, which did not open the scoring but was very close. United eventually took the lead in the 12th minute of the match with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, on the day he was criticised by Charlie Austin as not being good enough for United, crossed the ball into the box for Anthony Elanga to find the back of the net to see United take the lead in this match. It was a great finish. It was short-lived though as Shandon Baptiste found an equaliser from a shot just outside the box eight minutes later.

It was a good first half for both teams with many players looking positive on the pitch. There was no breakthrough despite chances for both teams. Solskjaer will be happy with what he has seen but will be getting ready for a few changes at the start of the second half, with more around the 60 minute mark. Elanga, Wan-Bissaka and Lingard all played well and I would like to see more of them in the second half. For Brentford, Shandon Baptiste, Ivan Toney and Tariq Fosu were three of the names that I feel did well against this young United side. The trio could do very well in the Premier League next season, which would be good to see. United will need to do more in this match to get a win, otherwise the likes of Jonny will be moaning again, bless them.

At the start of the second half, after many thought there would be many changes for United, Solskjaer made just one change with Diogo Dalot replacing Brandon Williams, who received a knock in the first half. The last time he played at Old Trafford, he was playing for AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League. The match soon got going again with United on the attack. The ball was played into the box but Brentford cleared the danger by Andreas Pereira latched onto the ball just on the outside of the box, playing in a shot over the top, which hit the inside of the crossbar and hit the back of the net, similar to that of Baptiste from the first half of the match. United were back in front and seeking to get a win at Old Trafford this evening.

Solskjaer made a triple substitution in the 62nd minute of the match with James Garner, Daniel James and Facundo Pellistri replacing Pereira, Elanga and Juan Mata. United were doing well after the changes were made but did not seem to want to advance their score, not that it matters much in pre-season matches, unless you are Jonny! Solskjaer then made another triple substitution with Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Donny van de Beek replacing Lingard, Mason Greenwood and Nemanja Matic. Shortly after the change, Brentford equalised for the second time in the match with Bryan Mbeumo beating Dalot on the left flank, cutting in and beating Tom Heaton from an angle. It was a shame that other goal was conceded but it happens in pre-season.

It was not a win at the Theatre of Dreams but there was many positives from this match. Elanga looks like a player who has what it takes to succeed at this club. Lingard seems to be ready to give something, if he remains at the club this season. Pereira did what he has done during most pre-season campaigns – scored great goal. Pellistri looks like a great talent and in a year’s time, he could be some player. Heaton seems to be ready to give something, which could ruffle a few feathers. It was a good game and fitness was the aim of it. United will take on Preston North End on Saturday away from home, then Everton at Old Trafford the following week. Leeds United are on the horizon now and United are getting ready for that match.

Manchester United

22 Tom Heaton

Conceded twice at Old Trafford, which was unfortunate - had no chance to saves Baptiste's strike. He played a good game, competing 90 minute for his club. Some will moan that United did not win, but it is pre-season, not the Champions League.

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29 Aaron Wan-Bissaka

On the day that Charlie Austin said he was not good enough to play for United, he found Elanga who found the back of the net with a great finish. Tut tut Mr Austin.

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38 Axel Tuanzebe

Seemed low on confidence in this match and did not take the game by the skin of the neck and push United to get a result. His future seems to be on loan, which should be beneficial for him, especially if it is in the Premier League.

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43 Teden Mengi

The better of the two centre-halves in this match. Mengi has so much potential and promise. His loan spell this season should be good for him, whether he ends up back at Derby or elsewhere. He seemed

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33 Brandon Williams

Had a good first half at left-back and could well start the season in this position. Seemed to get a knock in the first half and was replaced by Dalot at the start of the second half.

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15 Andreas Pereira

Scored a stunning goal in the 50th minute of the match after Brentford cleared the box with the ball find Pereira just outside. He shot towards goal with the ball coming off the inside of the crossbar. Pereira does these things in pre-season but fails to reach the same level. in the season proper. Replaced by Garner in the 62nd minute of the match.

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31 Nemanja Matic

Played well in the centre of midfield doing the defensive work. If he was 10 years younger he would be exactly what United need going into this season. He did all he needed to do and was replaced by Van de Beek in the 76th minute.

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11 Mason Greenwood

Started on the right-wing and does look happier there than as the main striker. Time could change that though with Sancho signing for the club this summer. Had a good performance though.

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8 Juan Mata

Played well against Brentford and offered his experience and his footballing brain. He had little inpact in the match though. He was replaced by Pellistri in the 62nd minute of the match.

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14 Jesse Lingard

Started brightly and could have scored early doors. Had a chance either side of the break with the second leading to Pereira's strike which put United back in the lead. He was replaced by Shoretire in the 76th minute of the match.

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36 Anthony Elanga

Scored with a great finish in the 12th minute of the match after being played the ball from a Wan-Bissaka cross. Did well for the remainder of the first half too, which was great to see. Solskjaer should keep him at United this season as I think he could do some magical things. He started the second half but was replaced by James in the 62nd minute of the match.

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Substitutes

20 Diogo Dalot

Replaced Williams 46'. Seemed eager to get on the pitch but also gave me the impression that he did not want to be there. Made a mistake which cost United with Brentford scoring. He's not a defensive left-back and it not an offensive one either.

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21 Daniel James

Replaced Elanga 62'. Seemed weak and his thinking is not where it should be. Has pace but needs to have the decision making to go with it. A season on loan could be good for him, if he is not sold this summer.

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37 James Garner

Replaced Pereira 62'. Got more minutes on the pitch with Old Trafford having many scouts in presence, which could see him head away on loan with first team players coming back to training. Did what he needed to do on the pitch.

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28 Facundo Pellistri

Replaced Mata 62'. Seems to be a great talent and good thinking from United to sign him last summer. He seemed determined and wanted to get forward, whether direct or going around the houses. iN a year or too he could be some player.

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47 Shola Shoretire

Replaced Lingard 76'. Came on for 14 minutes. Played out of his regular position and did well.

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46 Hannibal Mejbri

Replaced Greenwood 76'. Seems to be fouled more often that any other player, whether in U23 football or in pre-season. Looked lively though.

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34 Donny van de Beek

Replaced Matic 76'. Good to see him back. He could be the replacement for Pogba, should he leave this summer. Should be given more minutes this season. Good to see hm fit and ready to go.

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Goals: Anthony Elanga 12’, Andreas Pereira 50′; Shandon Baptiste 20’, Bryan Mbeumo 78′

Assists: Aaron Wan-Bissaka 12’; Ivan Toney 20’, Finley Stevens 78′

Manchester United: Heaton; Wan-Bissaka, Tuanzebe, Mengi, Williams (Dalot 46′); Matic (Van de Beek 76′), Andreas (Garner 62′); Lingard (Shoretire 76′), Mata (Pellistri 62′), Elanga (James 62′); Greenwood (Hannibal 76′)

Substitutes Not Used: Grant, Kovar; Fish; Levitt, Galbraith; Hugill

Bookings: N/A

Written by John Walker

Confirmed XI: Greenwood, Elanga, Lingard, Matic and Heaton start against Brentford

Manchester United will welcome Premier League new boys Brentford to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening for their third pre-season match of the summer – the first played at the Theatre of Dreams. United were defeated by Queens Park Rangers on Saturday afternoon, slipping to a 4-2 defeat with Jesse Lingard opening the scoring inside the first three minutes and Anthony Elanga scoring a consolation goal in the 74th minute of the match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not upset with the result as it was a training match which means nothing but the Ole Out brigade decided that they had seen enough of a team with few first choice senior players in the squad, which is typical of the muppets that seem to think they control the club.

Not only that, the QPR supporters seemed to think they had won the Champions League with their mocking of United all because they beat a team with the average age of 21.8. I mean, that shows the levels between the Premier League and the Championship clubs like QPR who will brag about beating United in the same circumstances. Small time. The same could be said about the so-called supporters that want the manager sacked because United lost a pre-season match against a Championship club with no main starters from last season in the squad because of international tournaments. I mean, imagine getting giddy about your team beating a youthful United team, or even moaning about the result? It just seems clueless to me.

Manchester United:

Heaton;

Wan-Bissaka, Tuanzebe, Mengi, Williams;

Matic, Andreas;

Lingard, Mata, Elanga;

Greenwood

Substitutes:

Grant, Kovar; Dalot, Fish; James, Pellistri, Van de Beek, Levitt, Garner, Hannibal, Galbraith; Shoretire, Hugill

Brentford:

Raya;

Rasmussen, Goode, Pinnock;

Haygarth, Janelt, Baptiste, Fosu, Thompson;

Canos, Toney

Substitutes:

Gunnarsson, Forss, Peart-Harris, Valencia, Mbeumo, Sorensen, Dervisoglu, Racic, Stevens, Gordon, Onyeka

United and Brentford have met a total of 13 times in the history of both clubs. The first match between the two clubs came in the FA Cup on the 14 January 1928 with United winning 7-1. In total, United have beaten Brentford six times, drawing twice with Brentford winning five times. Just looking at this information, the moaning section of supporters who want to find anything to make them right, will probably suggest that United are not good enough to beat Brentford because of this information. They won’t look further than that. The last match between the two club was played on the 10 September 1975 with United winning 2-1 in the League Cup with goals scored by Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari.

United are undefeated in their last five matches against Brentford, winning four and drawing once between the 17 December 1928 and the last match played in 1975. Former United academy players Ben Hockenhull and Max Haygarth both play for Brentford B, which is the only current link between the two clubs. In 2016, United signed Joshua Bohui to join the academy with the player staying at United for three years before leaving for NAC Breda and he is now playing for Colchester United. This will be a good test for United, especially as they are expected to have the same squad as they did against QPR at the weekend. Brentford will be looking forward to it too, getting a trip to the Theatre of Dreams before their first competitive match at the stadium in April 2022.

Written by John Walker

Predicted XI: Heaton, Garner, McTominay, Pellistri and Elanga start against Brentford?

Manchester United will welcome Premier League new boys Brentford to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening for their third pre-season match of the summer – the first played at the Theatre of Dreams. United were defeated by Queens Park Rangers on Saturday afternoon, slipping to a 4-2 defeat with Jesse Lingard opening the scoring inside the first three minutes and Anthony Elanga scoring a consolation goal in the 74th minute of the match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not upset with the result as it was a training match which means nothing but the Ole Out brigade decided that they had seen enough of a team with few first choice senior players in the squad, which is typical of the muppets that seem to think they control the club.

Not only that, the QPR supporters seemed to think they had won the Champions League with their mocking of United all because they beat a team with the average age of 21.8. I mean, that shows the levels between the Premier League and the Championship clubs like QPR who will brag about beating United in the same circumstances. Small time. The same could be said about the so-called supporters that want the manager sacked because United lost a pre-season match against a Championship club with no main starters from last season in the squad because of international tournaments. I mean, imagine getting giddy about your team beating a youthful United team, or even moaning about the result? It just seems clueless to me.

Anthony Elanga, Hannibal Mejbri, Teden Mengi, Juan Mata, Brandon Williams and Dylan Levitt in training.

Previous meetings with Brentford and their connections with Manchester United.

United and Brentford have met a total of 13 times in the history of both clubs. The first match between the two clubs came in the FA Cup on the 14 January 1928 with United winning 7-1. In total, United have beaten Brentford six times, drawing twice with Brentford winning five times. Just looking at this information, the moaning section of supporters who want to find anything to make them right, will probably suggest that United are not good enough to beat Brentford because of this information. They won’t look further than that. The last match between the two club was played on the 10 September 1975 with United winning 2-1 in the League Cup with goals scored by Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari.

United are undefeated in their last five matches against Brentford, winning four and drawing once between the 17 December 1928 and the last match played in 1975. Former United academy players Ben Hockenhull and Max Haygarth both play for Brentford B, which is the only current link between the two clubs. In 2016, United signed Joshua Bohui to join the academy with the player staying at United for three years before leaving for NAC Breda and he is now playing for Colchester United. This will be a good test for United, especially as they are expected to have the same squad as they did against QPR at the weekend. Brentford will be looking forward to it too, getting a trip to the Theatre of Dreams before their first competitive match at the stadium in April 2022.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Brentford in their pre-season friendly at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening…

Goalkeeper: Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton has started both matches against Derby County and Queens Park Rangers and will start this one against Brentford, playing at the Theatre of Dreams for the first time in a United shirt, which will be good for him. He could well start the season in goal for United with both David De Gea and Dean Henderson still yet to feature in pre-season, which could come against Preston North End or Everton in the final two matches. United will need a fit goalkeeper in their opening Premier League encounter against Leeds United at Old Trafford next month. Heaton played well against both Derby and QPR, making a few good saves and conceding his first goal against QPR after Charlie Austin equalised in the six minute of the match.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Teden Mengi, Brandon Williams

United’s defence is not the strongest ahead of this match, even after the deal which will bring Raphaël Varane to the Theatre of Dreams was announced on Tuesday evening, which is subject to personal terms and a medical being finalised – which according to rumour, will happen next week after a period of isolation in the UK for the Frenchman. Alex Telles is injured and will miss the stat of the season, so Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams will play in the fullback roles with both Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi playing in the centre of defence once again. United will be waiting for Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw to return from holiday before the defence will be assured and when Varane is involved, it will be even better.

Midfield: Scott McTominay, James Garner

The midfield is the area where there are many different players to choose from in this pre-season squad. We have seen Andreas Pereira, James Garner, Nemanja Matic and Dylan Levitt play in these positions over the last two matches and this match should see the return of Scott McTominay, who has been training for the last week, so should have the kind of fitness to get 45 minutes out of this match. He should partner Garner in the centre of midfield, who could do the defensive work, leaving McTominay to playa more advanced role, pushing the ball up the pitch. When Brentford are on the attack, the pair could combine to limit the damage. I think this would be a good match for the pair to play as being back at Old Trafford, with supporters behind them, could inspire them to achieve something, which would be beneficial for Garner ahead of the new season.

Attacking Midfield: Facundo Pellistri, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Elanga

With the likes of Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford not yet available, even though Fernandes returned to training on Tuesday, it will be a youthful three behind the striker against Brentford, which will be good to see once again. Facundo Pellistri has played 90 minutes (45 minutes each match) against both Derby County and Queens Park Rangers so should get at least 60 minutes against Brentford. He has scored one goal, assisting another. Jesse Lingard should also start after scoring against QPR at the weekend and nearly scoring against Derby the weekend before. Anthony Elanga also found the back of the net against QPR and should start in this match, which could be the start of something special for the teenager this season.

Forwards: Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not got himself on the scoresheet in pre-season so far and will be seeking to do that at some point before the start of the season. It is a shame he has not scored yet but the lack of creativity behind him in the main role was there to se seen against both Derby County and Queens Park Rangers. Greenwood is a great talent and this season he will learn a lot more with Edinson Cavani around him. It would be good if United could sign a striker that can also take a role at the club, but that could possibly wait until next summer if Anthony Martial ends up staying at United, which at this time is up in the air according to many rumours. Greenwood should have more experience around him in the team at the Theatre of Dreams, which should be a good mixture against the Premier League new boys.

Substitutes: Lee Grant, Nathan Bishop; Diogo Dalot, Will Fish, Di’Shon Bernard; Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek, Dylan Levitt, Hannibal Mejbri, Ethan Galbraith; Shola Shoretire, Joe Hugill

There have been 12 substitutes on the bench in the last two pre-season matches and I think that will continue against Brentford at Old Trafford. However, I have kept all the players that have been training this week, who could play a part in the fixture. In goal, both Lee Grant and Nathan Bishop could be available, the latter has not featured in pre-season yet. In defence, Diogo Dalot, Will Fish and Di’Shon Bernard could be available. In midfield, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James, Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek, Dylan Levitt, Hannibal Mejbri and Ethan Galbraith could play a part, although he’s played at right-back. In attack, both Shola Shoretire and Joe Hugill could come off the bench against the Premier League new boys.

Written by John Walker

Preview: United to overcome QPR defeat at Old Trafford against Brentford?

Manchester United -v- Brentford

Pre-Season 2021/22

Old Trafford, Manchester

Wednesday 28 July 2021, KO 20:00 BST

Manchester United will welcome Premier League new boys Brentford to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening for their third pre-season match of the summer – the first played at the Theatre of Dreams. United were defeated by Queens Park Rangers on Saturday afternoon, slipping to a 4-2 defeat with Jesse Lingard opening the scoring inside the first three minutes and Anthony Elanga scoring a consolation goal in the 74th minute of the match. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not upset with the result as it was a training match which means nothing but the Ole Out brigade decided that they had seen enough of a team with few first choice senior players in the squad, which is typical of the muppets that seem to think they control the club.

Not only that, the QPR supporters seemed to think they had won the Champions League with their mocking of United all because they beat a team with the average age of 21.8. I mean, that shows the levels between the Premier League and the Championship clubs like QPR who will brag about beating United in the same circumstances. Small time. The same could be said about the so-called supporters that want the manager sacked because United lost a pre-season match against a Championship club with no main starters from last season in the squad because of international tournaments. I mean, imagine getting giddy about your team beating a youthful United team, or even moaning about the result? It just seems clueless to me.

Experienced players are starting to return but probably not in time to feature against Brentford.

Solskjaer will still have the same youthful squad for this match minus Tahith Chong, who has joined Birmingham City on loan and in the not too distant future, Nathan Bishop and Will Fish will leave the pre-season to join up with Mansfield Town and Stockport County respectively. Diogo Dalot and Donny van de Beek have both been in training on Monday, so could find themselves getting some minutes under their belts against Brentford on Wednesday evening, but that all depends on how well they do in training. The Dutchman has been in training at Carrington all last week, not part of the training squad which travelled to Pennyhill Park last week ahead of the QPR fixture. It might be that he can be given 30 or even 45 minutes against Brentford.

Dalot played in the UEFA U21 European Championships during the summer, reaching the final with Portugal but losing to Germany. He was then added to Portugal’s squad for the UEFA European Championships to cover for Joao Cancelo, who tested positive for coronavirus during the tournament. Dalot played against both France and Belgium in the tournament before being knocked out. The fact that he has not played a lot of football over the past year could suggest why he is back in training already and the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and even Edinson Cavani are not. Solskjaer did suggest that many first team players will be back in training this week but they will probably not feature against Brentford but may feature against Preston North End.

Previous meetings with Brentford and their connections with Manchester United…

United and Brentford have met a total of 13 times in the history of both clubs. The first match between the two clubs came in the FA Cup on the 14 January 1928 with United winning 7-1. In total, United have beaten Brentford six times, drawing twice with Brentford winning five times. Just looking at this information, the moaning section of supporters who want to find anything to make them right, will probably suggest that United are not good enough to beat Brentford because of this information. They won’t look further than that. The last match between the two club was played on the 10 September 1975 with United winning 2-1 in the League Cup with goals scored by Sammy McIlroy and Lou Macari.

United are undefeated in their last five matches against Brentford, winning four and drawing once between the 17 December 1928 and the last match played in 1975. Former United academy players Ben Hockenhull and Max Haygarth both play for Brentford B, which is the only current link between the two clubs. In 2016, United signed Joshua Bohui to join the academy with the player staying at United for three years before leaving for NAC Breda and he is now playing for Colchester United. This will be a good test for United, especially as they are expected to have the same squad as they did against QPR at the weekend. Brentford will be looking forward to it too, getting a trip to the Theatre of Dreams before their first competitive match at the stadium in April 2022.

Predicted Starting XI: Tom Heaton, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay, James Garner, Facundo Pellistri, Anthony Elanga and Mason Greenwood to start against Brentford?

Solskjaer has a similar squad to the one which faced QPR at the weekend which might include the likes of Scott McTominay, who was missing from the weekend squad, Donny van de Beek and Diogo Dalot, who both training with the first team at Carrington on Monday. I don’t think there will be many changes other than McTominay starting ahead of Nemanja Matic. Mason Greenwood could lead the line again as he will be looking to impress ahead of the new season, but he’s not exactly done all that great at this time, which is not a major problem and more about a lack of creativity rather than anything else. When more first team players join the squad, things will start to change for the better. I hope the moaning supporters realise that but I suspect they do not.

Many of the players will get 45 or 60 minutes in this match. Hopefully Tom Heaton will play 60 minutes as without both David De Gea and Dean Henderson thus far, he might start the opening Premier League match of the season against Leeds United in a few weeks time. Diogo Dalot could come off the bench to replaced either Brandon Williams or Aaron Wan-Bissaka with the likes of Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic, Shola Shoretire, Juan Mata, Daniel James, Ethan Galbraith and Hannibal Mejbri all getting suitable chances to show the manager what they can do ahead of the new season. This might be the last match with a predominate youth team in the squad as first team players start to return ahead of the new season, so they will want to shine.

Match Prediction: United will be looking to bounce back from the defeat against QPR under the lights at Old Trafford. Brentford and United last met competitively 46 years ago.

This United squad is not the best but there is a massive array of talent in the squad. The likes of Facundo Pellistri, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Elanga and James Garner will benefit from a lot of time on the pitch in this match. It is likely that at least three of them will not be at United come the start of the season with Pellistri and Garner both linked with loan spells away from the club and Lingard tipped to end his time at United with a permanent move away from the club after a good half-season loan with West Ham United last season. United will be able to make many changes, but this could be another defeat for United easily, especially as Brentford will be seeking to get a good result at Old Trafford. It is all about fitness though and most should see that.

The defeat to QPR was something that many of the players will be seeking to overcome as their fates at United could be at risk if Solskjaer feels that individual players made the mistakes which cost United. However, with a squad lacking first team football experience, many will have expected something like this. I feel that the experienced players in the team will look to do better in this match, otherwise people of the same mind as Jonny will be moaning and calling for the club to get rid of the manager after yet another pre-season match. I really do not get why these people are so affixed in something they do not control. The YouTube generation really do need to learn that no matter the size of the platform, the control over the club is the same – none.

Manchester United 2-1 Brentford

Written by John Walker

Formation Change: Stick or Twist?

The 2020/21 season when viewed through a positive lens was the season of comebacks for Manchester United, with a record 31 points gained from losing positions. But even though they only suffered 6 defeats throughout the league campaign, the same number as champions Manchester City, the eventual table showed a 12 point difference between the two clubs.

A criticism that was labelled at United last season was their overtly cautious approach in certain games, especially against the other teams in the so called big six. While the team maintained their defensive shape in and out of possession, they were unable to have any sort of attacking fluency with most of the attempts at goal coming in short bursts. This led to a number of goalless draws as title aspirations eventually slipped away.

Throughout his time as United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used a variety of formations often changing it from one game to another based on opposition. The 3-5-2 with Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka as wingbacks and Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial and Daniel James as split strikers was very effective in big games in the 2019/20 season where the team ceded possession in midfield, held a low block and counter attacked at pace.

However, the two most frequent formations that have been used has been the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. When he first came in as interim manager, Solskjaer used a 4-3-3 with Paul Pogba playing as an advanced playmaker, Ander Herrera as a box to box player and Nemanja Matic as a defensive midfielder threading passes for the forwards to chase.

This was replicated in the short period of games post the restart in the 2019/20 season where Bruno Fernandes was the playmaker, Pogba played as a box to box player and Matic at the base of midfield.

While what constitutes enjoyable football is, of course, quite subjective, there is a reasonable argument to be made that United played their most fluent attacking football in these two phases of games. That initial run from Christmas 2018 to March 2019, culminating in that improbable victory against Paris Saint-Germain secured Solskjaer the managerial post on a permanent basis while the 14 game unbeaten run from February to July 2020 catapulted United from sixth to third and secured Champions League football for the 2020/21 season.

The 4-2-3-1 was first used at the beginning of the 2019/20 season and it was initially out of necessity with Pogba getting injured and Matic in inconsistent form which left Solskjaer with only Fred and Scott McTominay as midfielders he could rely on to play every week. While the defensive shape of the team improved, the offensive play suffered and until the arrival of Bruno Fernandes midway through the season, goals and chance creation was at a premium.

The fundamental structural difference between the two formations is obviously the role of the midfielders in each system. The 4-3-3 requires all the midfielders to be exceptionally good on the ball, very press resistant and able to pick out passes even through narrow spaces on the field. Additionally, to make it truly work, it requires a defensive midfielder who has exceptional positional sense and can cover the midfield by himself when the other two midfielders go high up the pitch to assist in the offensive phase of play.

Briefly speaking, the 4-3-3 system requires a world class defensive midfielder to be fully functional, in the mould of a Sergio Busquets or a Claude Makelele, or to use a more recent example, a Kante. In terms of build-up play, this is a very direct and vertical system, with the fullbacks passing to the defensive midfielder who then either plays it short to the attacking midfielders or plays a diagonal ball into the flanks for the wingers to run into.

The 4-2-3-1 uses a pivot system, two midfielders at the base instead of one, which consequently places a greater burden to create chances on the single attacking midfielder. In order for this system to operate to its full potential, a world class attacking midfielder is required, a Kevin De Bruyne, Mesut Ozil or a Fernandes archetype.

The build-up play in this system is a lot more intricate, relying on little triangles and off the ball movement to receive the ball in space. While the technical ability of the pivot players does not need to be of the same level as a defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3, it is crucial that they are press resistant because losing the ball deep in midfield can often lead to opposition counter attacks where the centre back pairing gets exposed.

As far as the suitability of the systems go, the 4-3-3 is ideal for teams that expect to dominate possession and have very technically proficient midfielders. The 4-2-3-1 is possibly the more versatile formation in terms of trying to create attacking chances and is the most widely used formation in modern day football, with almost all clubs using it in some of their matches.

There have been recent reports that Solskjaer wants to switch to a 4-3-3 from the 4-2-3-1 that was used last season. In terms of personnel, this would indicate that one out of Scott McTominay or Fred becomes a bench player. However, the club currently lacks a defensive midfielder who can play week in week out, with Matic’s minutes needing to be managed carefully. It is essential that for this formation change to properly work, a midfielder is acquired, who is reasonably press resistant and can play vertical, line breaking passes. A defensive midfielder would also enable McTominay and Fred to play closer to the box in their more favoured role and free them of defensive responsibility to an extent.

The club have been linked with multiple midfielders over the past month including Eduardo Camavinga, Declan Rice as well as more recently Leon Goretzka although there isn’t likely to be much clarity regarding the midfield until the Raphaël Varane deal is completed.

To summarize, while the current set of midfield options at the club is most conducive to a 4-2-3-1, there is no reason to think that a shift to a 4-3-3 would not work as long as the club manage to sign the right profile of midfielder who can provide the defensive base for the likes of Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho to thrive going further forward in matches.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

Jadon Sancho: The final piece of the puzzle?

The key to a successful team is balance, without balance the team can become one sided and heavily dependent on certain positions rather than consistency throughout the field. Manchester United have had this issue in recent years lacking a natural quality right winger since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009. Players have come and go, with the likes of Antonio Valencia, Luis Nani and Angel Di Maria but none solidifying the right wing for very long. In recent years, United have craved a natural right winger who could beat a man but also has good technical quality and can pick out a pass but also score goals. The key question is, can Jadon Sancho be this player?

Sancho is an intelligent winger, who is press resistant and has great ability to be direct and beat a man; he’s also got some good speed on him making him tricky to mark. What makes Sancho stand out in Europe is his superb goal and assists numbers. Over the past three seasons he’s managed 38 goals and 51 assists in 108 games in the Bundesliga. In the Champions League he’s created six goals and scored five in 21 games. Furthermore, when compared to England’s other wingers, Sancho tops the assists in 2020/21 with 11; he’s also got the lowest minutes to goal or assist ratio with 108 mins. Therefore, this implies Sancho is often involved in the final third but there’s other key elements to his game that will improve United offensively. 

As mentioned, Sancho has a knack for beating a man and this is seen through his 3.3 successful dribbles per game bettering Jack Grealish who is renowned for his ability to dribble past players and win fouls. This dribbling could be crucial for United as it’ll provide directness and impetus into the attack which sometimes has lacked on the right side as Mason Greenwood preferred to cut in and Aaron Wan-Bissaka favours passing to dribbling, thus, giving the fullback far more issues as Sancho has the ability to create with 2.9 chances created per 90 mins second only to Jack Grealish. Subsequently, this should open up opportunities for Wan-Bissaka, as the oppositional fullback will be caught in two minds whether to let Sancho cut in or to let him dribble outside him which ultimately will make United far dangerous on the right flank.

Furthermore, as seen with his high chance creation, Sancho could become a crucial part of United’s creativity. As a team, this will help players like Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba as the creative role is often forced upon them and with the added help of Sancho it releases some of the pressure upon them making it harder to supress United’s creativity as previously teams have been able to man mark Pogba or focus on Fernandes which can neutralise United’s attacking force, but with Sancho it adds another element to deal with as if they mark Bruno out of the game it could leave Sancho with more space to cause problems. In addition, the centre forward, likely to be Edinson Cavani will be helped immensely as Sancho won’t be afraid to put a ball into the box and with his ability to pick a pass, he could deliver Cavani more chances which will enhance United’s likelihood of scoring.  

In the last decade since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United’s style has been scrutinised as in the roots of the club quick fast flowing football is expected. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking to bring this back after the slow boring football under Mourinho and the side to side possession football under Louis van Gaal. Sancho could be key to this, as he’ll play with the confidence seen with past wingers like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo. His confidence and directness could help improve the players around him as well as creating a proper link up with winger and fullback which has been missing since Wan-Bissaka signed. 

If the pairing can create a real chemistry in their game, it can build a strong right flank which will provide the balance that is needed to ensure fast fluid football which is demanded at Manchester United. Overall, I feel Sancho will have a vastly positive effect on Manchester United, especially with regards to the overall fluidity of the team, the creativity, and the linkup on the right side. With Sancho leading the right flank, United will be hoping he can take them back to the top and becoming the final piece in the puzzle.

Written by Ethan Bents

copyright: JW