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The Ralf Rangnick Era: Five players who could flourish and five who could leave

Manchester United started off the Ralf Rangnick era with a top performance against Crystal Palace last weekend, running out 1-0 winners in a game where United could have scored five. The instant impact of Rangnick’s arrival was evident from the first whistle, with United pressing high up the pitch and recovering the ball quickly. This type of pressing and control is a different style of playing in comparison to recent years, so in this article we’ll take a look at five players who could flourish and five who may be heading for the exit:

Five Who Could Flourish:

1. Fred

The first player in this list is almost an obvious pick after recent performances. The 28-year-old Brazilian has been hugely impressive in the last four games, sticking to his best attributes of breaking up play and providing energy in United’s midfield. 

If Fred was capable of doing this consistently then there’s no doubt around the fact that he’d be considered one of the top midfielders in the league, however this has not been the case during his time at United thus far. Fortunately, with Ralf Rangnick’s preference for fast and high pressing football, Fred may be better suited to perform to his best ability more consistently.

Already proving to be the matchwinner in his first game under Rangnick, Fred produced a brilliant performance- deservedly winning man of the match. With all of this being said, under Rangnick’s expert coaching and being well suited to United’s new system, Fred is one of the players who will look to improve the most over the next six months; and hopefully finally fulfil his full potential for United.

2. Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof is a player who may be surprised that he’s currently featured so frequently in the United starting eleven, however an injury to Raphael Varane has afforded the Swede an opportunity to stake a claim for a permanent spot. The 27-year-old has actually been one of United’s better performing defenders this season, although that’s not saying too much. 

Having just been promoted to Sweden captaincy it seems Lindelof has gained more maturity and this is showing in his performances. During Rangnick’s first game in charge, Lindelof was aggressive and tenacious when pressing further up the pitch. Additionally, he was able to pass out accurately and switch the play with ease, which was to the benefit of United’s charging fullbacks and forwards.

It’s likely that when Varane comes back from injury Lindelof will be delegated to the bench once more, however this isn’t certain as club captain Harry Maguire has had an awful season so far. Whether Lindelof manages to become a regular starter or not, there’s some good signs for a high level of performance from the Swedish captain, suited to Rangnick’s affinity for pressing high and aggressively.

3. Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood burst onto the scene at United as a teenage sensation, managing to bag a hugely impressive 19 goals in the 2019/2020 season. While not quite reaching those numbers last season, Greenwood has started this season well- scoring some brilliant goals already. 

Greenwood has already scored five goals in all competitions thus far and has the potential to surpass his impressive haul of 19 from a couple of seasons ago. The 20-year-old registered an assist in Rangnick’s first game in charge and scored a stunning goal in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys

The deadly forward was largely restricted to a role on the wing in recent years, but with Rangnick’s preferred 4-2-2-2 system Greenwood may be able to start as one of the two strikers more regularly, allowing him ample opportunity to score. 

Rangnick has already spoken about Greenwood’s talent and potential, having been impressed with his performances so far this season, which means Greenwood should mature into an even more deadly forward under Rangnick.

4. Diogo Dalot

United have relied on Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the right-back option heavily during his time at the club, while Portuguese Diogo Dalot has been second choice. Dalot, who joined from Porto, was touted as one of the most promising fullbacks in world football when he initially signed. 

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to the hype just yet, although there is still ample time for him to develop his game. Dalot moved to AC Milan in 2020 for a moderately successful loan spell, which many thought would lead to his permanent sale. 

This didn’t happen though, and it now looks likely that Dalot may be able to displace out of form Bissaka for the starting spot in the team. As mentioned previously, Rangnick likes proactive football with high pressing and attacking fullbacks- something more suited to Dalot’s natural game than Wan-Bissaka’s. 

In the game against Crystal Palace Dalot was a constant threat, overlapping and knocking balls into the box all game. In addition to this he came very close to scoring at the end of the first half after a nice run. Rangnick may well just prefer to use Dalot as his starting right-back, which could lead to the Portuguese’s best run of form yet.

5. Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s start to life at United has not quite been what he or the fans may have expected, however in the last week or so there are signs that he might start hitting form. Sancho struggled under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spending more time on the bench than he would have liked. 

However, it looks like Sancho may be granted a first team role under Rangnick, playing in one of the number 10 roles alongside Bruno Fernandes.  After scoring twice in one week under Michael Carrick, Sancho may start performing to his best ability under a new manager who actually tried to sign him several years ago.

Rangnick recognises the talent in the young English forward after presumably watching him intensely during his career at Borussia Dortmund. Playing in an inside 10 role may benefit Sancho, who can start linking up with the strikers and fullbacks more cohesively, which should ultimately lead to a flurry of goals and assists.

Five Who Could Leave:

1. Anthony Martial

After announcing himself in dramatic style against Liverpool in 2015, Anthony Martial has never fully reached that same height again. The Frenchman has had periods of good form but has never consistently impressed or shown enough to be a first choice Manchester United striker. 

Since the arrivals of the likes of Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho, Martial has been starved for game time or any kind of good form. News also broke this week from Martial’s agent Philippe Lamboley, stating the striker wishes to leave the club in January due to his lack of game time, which all but confirms the exit is looming for the once promising 26-year-old.

2. Eric Bailly

Eric Bailly is a player that has only recently signed a new deal with United, yet presently sits as fourth choice centre-back. The Ivorian has expressed his desire to play games and help the club, yet under Solskjaer this opportunity was not presented. Bailly has a high level of talent but his tendency to make rash decisions holds him back from being selected week in week out. 

Theoretically Bailly fits in with Rangnick’s high intensity pressing football perfectly, but it looks like he will have to settle with being a squad player after the arrival of Raphael Varane and the good form of Victor Lindelof, plus the fact that it’s likely club captain Harry Maguire will be retained as a starter. All of this being said, Bailly will probably look to seek another club in order to gain more playing time.

3. Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson looked very likely to replace David de Gea as United’s number one goalkeeper towards the end of last season, however a De Gea resurgence has shut down any chance of that happening. 

Henderson possesses enormous amounts of talent for such a young goalkeeper, and certainly doesn’t lack the confidence necessary to be United’s first choice goalkeeper. Henderson played in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys, putting in a confident display complete with elements of a sweeper- keeper. 

This would be to Rangnick’s liking, however the United manager has made it clear that De Gea is number one, which could indicate rumours about a potential loan or permanent move away could become something more concrete.

4. Jesse Lingard

The longstanding saga surrounding Jesse Lingard and his United future should finally come to a close under Rangnick’s reign as manager. While there are no doubts surrounding the quality Lingard has, it’s clear the academy graduate wants to be starting games, deservedly so too. West Ham looked like a likely destination after an impressive loan spell there last season, although Newcastle United are starting to show interest as well. 

Lingard will suit Rangnick’s style of pressing, but it feels like it’s too late for the 28-year-old to revive his United career at this point.

5. Juan Mata

Juan Mata has been an excellent servant to United since joining back in David Moyes’s short spell as manager. Mata has always oozed class when playing but he finally seems to be at the stage where his body can no longer cope with the rhythm and intensity of the Premier League. 

The 33-year-old has only made three appearances so far this season and there have been suggestions Mata may prefer a return to Spain sooner than later. It’s distinctly obvious Mata is the wrong type of profile to carry out the intensive pressing style of play United are expected to develop over the next six months, meaning a January or summer exit is on the cards.

In addition to the players mentioned above there are still several futures that could pan out either way- including the likes of Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. Rangnick will be keen to trim the squad down and assemble a team more in his image over the next few months, and if successful United may finally compete for the Premier League title once more.

Written by Sam Wilson

Five key positives Manchester United can take from the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era

Saturday’s awful 4-1 loss to Watford sealed the fate of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the club announcing the managers departure early on Sunday morning. 

For most fans, this announcement was met with conflicting emotions; on the one hand Manchester United have been in obvious free-fall since the loss to Young Boys in the Champions League back in September and it was obvious that the managers tactics had taken the team as far as they could. 

On the other hand, Solskjaer is a legend of the club and has carried himself with class even when the results were bad on the pitch, he has been a model professional and has never hidden his love for the club. Solskjaer steadied the ship and more so besides, here are five key positives from Solskjaer’s reign that United can build upon in the future.

Clear out of ‘dead wood’

When Solskjaer became permanent manager of United one of the most obvious issues within the club was that it was overloaded with players on huge wages who were either not good enough or did not want to be there. 

During Solskjaer’s reign there was an obvious shift towards being more ruthless and selling players who did not fit the playing style and were not good enough. The sale of Alexis Sanchez to Inter Milan was the best example of this, firstly the winger, who was on a reported £560,000 a week, was sent on loan to Milan during the 2019/20 season, then it was announced in August of 2020 that a deal had been reached for the permanent transfer of Sanchez, as reported by Sky Sports.

The ruthlessness was apparent in the way that the deal included Sanchez and the club wavering the final two years of the players contract, saving the club a reported £40 million in wages, with the player receiving a ‘small pay off’ of between £5 million and £7 million, as reported by Sky Sports

During Solskjaer’s reign fans also saw players like Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian leave the club to relatively little fanfare, players who simply were no longer good enough to play for Manchester United. However, in all of these deals the players were treated with obvious respect and there was no media circus fuelled by the manager, the same thing could not be said of United’s previous manager Jose Mourinho. 

The departures of Sanchez, Darmian, Rojo, Chris Smalling and more recently Daniel James not only made room for other players in the squad to get playing time but also took wages off the wage bill to sign other players or give new contracts to players who deserved them. The way that Solskjaer handled this specific job should not be overlooked and it has undoubtedly been a positive for United and will continue to be after he leaves. 

Bruno Fernandes

It is not an over exaggeration to state that the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in January of 2020 changed the trajectory of the team. Before his arrival, Manchester United were lacking creativity with the manager relying on Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard for creative output, both of whom were not fulling this duty to a substantial level. 

United desperately needed a technically gifted creative midfielder who could contribute with goals and assists, and with Bruno Fernandes they found just that. 

When the signing was announced Solskjaer stated that his team had been ‘tracking Bruno for many months’ proving that this was a thought out signing and one that Solskjaer had personally pushed for, knowing the impact he would have on the team. 

Fernandes has not let the manager down, since signing for United the midfielder has made 97 appearances, scoring 44 goals and contributing 33 assists. These are freakish attacking numbers, and even they cannot fully portray just how important Fernandes has become to United, perhaps the fact he has won back to back Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards, in his only two seasons at the club, go a bit further in portraying his importance.  

In Fernandes, Solskjaer provided United with a player who will go on to achieve great things at the club, even in the managers absence. In years to come, Manchester United fans will look back and thank Solskjaer for being the man who fought to bring the Portuguese midfielder to the club.

A change in the culture

United fans know that before the appointment of Solskjaer the team was heading on a downwards spiral. Not only were the performances bad, but constant media talk surrounding the club created an extremely toxic atmosphere for the players, staff, and fans alike. 

Mourinho’s managerial style meant he had fallen out with players he felt did not give their all for the club, players such as Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw felt particularly hard done by. 

Solskjaer came in and put his arm around the players, made them excited to play football again and constantly backed them in press conferences and interviews, even when they had put in bad performances. This ingrained a more positive culture into the club, and one that replicated the days of Sir Alex Ferguson who often fiercely protected his players. 

It is certain that this change in atmosphere was part of the reason for United’s stellar form in the early period of Solskjaer’s reign, but it also means that now, even with Solskjaer gone, there is no longer a toxic atmosphere at the club and the team, even with horrendous results and performances recently, appear as together as ever, something that arguably would not have been the case under previous managers.

The evolution of Mason Greenwood

In contrast to Mourinho, Solskjaer consistently promoted youth during his time at the club, promoting players such as Brandon Williams and Dean Henderson to the first team. However, Solskjaer’s handling of young talent Mason Greenwood is something that Manchester United fans will always be grateful to the Norwegian for. 

Solskjaer did not throw Greenwood into the first team, even when it was clear from his numbers in the youth team that he was an immense talent. Instead he adopted a ease in approach giving the youngster minutes as a substitute in the 2018/19 season, with the striker scoring his first senior goal in a win against Astana early in the 2019/20 season, as reported by Sky Sports.

This approach meant that the then 17 year old was not overwhelmed by the pressure and could instead get a feel for the level the would be playing at. 

This approach has worked wonders and Greenwood is now a solidified player in the first team squad, even at the still very young age of 20. Under Solskjaer the Academy graduate made 119 appearances for the club, scoring 33 and assisting 11, these numbers are fantastic for a player still so young and playing in a team with expectations as high as United’s. 

Greenwood is a part of the legacy Solskjaer leaves behind, without him, who knows how the development of the youngster would have been handled. It is very likely that without his management fans would not be witnessing the great player we see today, it was Solskjaer who gave him his chance.

He leaves behind a better squad than the one he inherited 

Finally, the signings he made as a manager will leave a lasting positive impact on the team, with some of United’s best signings since Ferguson’s retirement occurring under the Norwegian. 

Solskjaer signed a mix of experienced players who can fit in straight away and make an impact such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Raphael Varane as well as young, exciting players who could go on to be some of the best in the world in their positions if handled correctly, including Amad Diallo and Jadon Sancho. 

There is no doubt that the squad of players Solskjaer leaves behind have the ability to win trophies, if the right manager comes in, the same could not be said of the team Solskjaer inherited in 2018. In three years, the additions Solskjaer has made to the squad, on paper, make United genuine title challengers, it is now down to whoever is next to take this squad to the next level, one Solskjaer unfortunately could not reach. 

While Solskjaer’s reign ends in misery, the manager did all he could to get the club back to where it belongs, he promoted youth, believed in his players, and brought in world class talent to take the team to the next level. 

He will always be a legend for his days as a player, and now, he will be fondly remembered as the man who steadied the ship and made Manchester United fans dream again. The group of players he leaves behind can bring trophies back to United, that is a legacy to be proud of. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

A crucial international break in Manchester United’s season

The past few weeks have been some of the hardest for Manchester United and its fans in recent memory. After defeat to Leicester City, a complete embarrassment of a 5-0 defeat against rivals Liverpool, and a poor display and loss in the Manchester derby, the club feels as unstable at present as it ever has since Sir Alex Fergusons retirement. 

However, players now have the international break, two weeks away from club football, this piece will examine just why this period may be the most crucial yet in United’s season. 

Most crucially, international breaks give players the opportunity to find form they may have been missing at club level, of course this only concerns players who have been called up to play for their national team. 

A player this may well apply to is United captain and England centre back Harry Maguire; since seemingly being rushed back from injury for the Leicester game, as reported by the Mail Online, Maguire has been a shadow of the player fans know he can be, at fault for goals against Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as looking generally off the pace. 

For England, however, Maguire often plays some of his best football, being a crucial player is England’s deep run in the Euros in the summer of 2021, United fans will be hoping the captain can find his form on international duty and bring it back to Old Trafford to help a seemingly shaky defence.

Other players that will hopefully find form while away include Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes, and Fred. All of whom are regular starters at United and have been criticised heavily by pundits and fans for their performances in the past few weeks. 

The international break also gives the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the opportunity to re-group and decide the best way to move forward with this Manchester United squad. It gives him the opportunity to plan which formations, tactics and starting line-ups will give Manchester United the best chance at bouncing back after the international break, something they desperately need to do to save their season. 

However, it must be noted, as reported by the Mail Online, that the manager was spotted flying back to Norway for a holiday with his family, this does not fill fans with hope that United players who were not called up to international duty such as Donny van de Beek and Mason Greenwood are receiving the correct training and tactical assurances after such woeful performances. 

Of course, while this international break is crucial, it also brings its own set of issues, including players picking up injuries while on international duty. Unfortunately for United fans, this has already happened as it was reported by ESPN that within the first couple of days of training for France, Paul Pogba sustained an injury that could keep the midfielder out for two months. 

Pogba is a player United fans would want to improve on international duty and return to the club at his best, instead, due to the international break, United will be without one of their most talented players, and highest paid players, for a critical point of the season. 

While most football English football fans are not huge supporters of regular international breaks, there can be no doubt that for Manchester United, a break came at the right time. Fans will be hoping that fitness and form can be improved for both players away with their country, and players who are training in Manchester, ready to attack the crucial set of games ahead of them. 

However, they will be wary that if any more players end up on the side-lines due to injury, those games become a much tougher task than they already are. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Solskjaer’s Tactical Tweak: A New System For Manchester United?

After a week of intensive pressure, Manchester United managed to respond to the shocking 5-0 defeat against Liverpool with an impressive, albeit, comfortable 3-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Many had suspected United would have had a different manager in charge this past weekend, however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retained confidence from the club despite a large outcry from certain fans against him. 

Solskjaer made a good decision to adjust United’s formation into a 3-5-2, making the team look far more comfortable defensively. With the impressive display against Tottenham, it seems this setup could be the way forward for United.

It’s not the first time United have effectively deployed the 3-5-2, Solskjaer’s side recorded a very impressive 2-1 victory against Paris Saint-Germain last season using the same system. Aside from this game there have been victories against both Manchester City and Chelsea in the past using the 3-5-2, which cements it as a formation that can be used to thwart the higher quality teams. 

Across his tenure at United Solskjaer has largely played more of a counter attacking game, although this season it looked as if Solskjaer had shifted away from that slightly. Games against Leicester and Liverpool recently highlighted Solskjaer’s desire to use a 4-2-4, a formation that saw United played off the park in both games, conceding nine in total across the two games. 

It may be that the addition of high-quality players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane has fooled Solskjaer into thinking he can get away with playing a more offensive game with less focus on defensive structure, however, it just doesn’t work like that. 

The issue with the United team is a large contingent of attacking minded players who when deployed in more offensive formations leave the defence totally exposed. United have looked like trying to deploy more of a press in recent weeks, however, it’s not the same as the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, who have perfected their systems over the last few years to work flawlessly

Additionally, Solskjaer doesn’t possess the right set of players to deploy aggressive presses like some teams, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood may be exceptional finishers, however they aren’t players who will press effectively.

In the game against Tottenham, the inclusion of three centre-backs with two wing-backs meant United had a much more secure shape and were less susceptible to being played through in the middle. Ronaldo also had a strike partner in the form of veteran striker Edinson Cavani, who scored a wonderful goal in the second half set up by partner Ronaldo. 

In recent weeks Ronaldo has had the tendency to look a little isolated at times, so the change of formation could be hugely beneficial for the Portuguese forward, allowing more direct link up play to occur. Another facet of the change meant United looked like they were a lot more compact and closer together, Bruno Fernandes occupying a slightly deeper role than he usually does. 

There were no more gaping holes in midfield and both Scott McTominay and Fred looked far more comfortable marauding the midfield with three defenders securely behind them.

One of the issues that arises from switching to a formation with three at the back is in regard to the reduced roles it affords to United’s more offensive players. The club secured Jadon Sancho in the summer for a hefty fee of £73 million, but unfortunately the young winger has had limited opportunities to impress thus far. 

Sancho is still finding his feet and worryingly a formation change could mean he has even less of a chance of breaking into the team this season. The drawback of 3-5-2 is the lack of out and out attacking wingers, which for United is problematic considering the depth and quality available in that position. Marcus Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho are just three of the several wingers who possess top level quality at the club, meaning there’s no chance all of them get into the team at the same time. 

While both Rashford and Greenwood could occupy the striker role next to Ronaldo, it’s unlikely Sancho would play in such a role considering his ability as a natural winger; giving Solskjaer something to think about in regard to accommodating all of his players.

United face two difficult upcoming games in the next week, one against Atalanta in the Champions League and a derby against city rivals Manchester City. It’s very likely that Solskjaer will stick with the 3-5-2, or some variation of it, and the Norwegian will hope United can pick up further clean sheets against two difficult sides. 

Despite the comfortable win against Tottenham, United will have to work to perfect a new system if Solskjaer chooses to stick with it, but further wins in the next week could gift Solskjaer a new lease of life on his team and more importantly, offer a new way to play going forward.

Written by Sam Wilson

Mason Greenwood: The Teenage Sensation

On the 1 October 2021 Manchester United’s official website announced that ‘record breaking Mason celebrates 20th birthday’, for United fans the fact Greenwood is only now turning 20 and is unbelievable. This is because since Operation Restart, Greenwood has been consistently in and amongst the first team for United and has put up attacking numbers that have already made him a fan favourite. But how special is United’s Golden Boy? 

The best place to start is to take a look at some of the records Greenwood has already managed to break in his short career; the most impressive record is the fact that before he turned 20, Greenwood had scored 32 goals for United, this ranked him third behind club legends George Best (37) and Norman Whiteside (39), as reported by the club.

To be mentioned alongside players such as Whiteside and Best shows the talent of Greenwood and proves just how high a ceiling he may have as he develops, as both Whiteside and Best went on to have extremely successful careers. 

It has also been reported by United that Greenwood is the fifth teenager to reach 100 appearances for United before their 20th birthday, only behind Best, Whiteside, Duncan Edwards and Ryan Giggs. The official number of appearances he made before turning 20 is 113, as his appearance against Everton at the weekend was his first game played for United as a 20 year old. 

Again, the ability to reach this number of appearances for club as big as United indicates a lot about Greenwood; it not only shows he has great ability to be able to hold his own and preform on the big stage in competitions such as the Premier League and the Champions League, but it also shows great mental strength, he has not shied away from the pressure or expectations and has instead embraced it.

It must be noted that club legends such as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville all fall behind Greenwood in this record, proving just how bright a talent he is. 

In the League, Greenwood has managed 20 goals and three assists in 72 appearances, these numbers are extremely impressive for a teenager. For example, Bukayo Saka of Arsenal is a player often compared against Greenwood and is a forward with immense talent, turning 20 last month Saka has managed seven goals and nine assists in the league with 66 appearances

This shows that when it comes to goals, Greenwood is already a step above his peers. He is also one of only four players to score 20 goals in the Premier League as a teenager, with Wayne Rooney, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen being the other three players to hit this milestone. Again, these are all players who went on to achieve great things in football, the company Greenwood keeps is elite. 

As well as all these records, Greenwood became the youngest player to score in European competition for United, scoring his first senior goal against Astana in the Europa League and the age of 17 years and 353 days, beating the likes of Marcus Rashford and George Best. This goal was his first of the 2019/20 season, he ended the campaign with 17 goals and four assists in 49 appearances for the first team across all competitions, many of these appearances coming off the bench. 

For a breakout season in a team with a lot of attacking quality and competition for spaces, these numbers were the evidence that Manchester United fans needed to believe that Mason Greenwood was the clubs next golden boy, and he has not slowed down since. 

This season, Greenwood started off strong, scoring three goals in his first three gamesthe transfer of Daniel James to Leeds United meant that there were more opportunities for Greenwood to start for United. 

However, with the signing of Ronaldo, Greenwood’s opportunities have mostly been on the wing this season, while Greenwood has managed to be productive from this position it is not his preferred position. With Marcus Rashford back in training and Jadon Sancho still to hit his best form at his new club, there is not doubt that competition for places amongst United front line will be tough.

However, Greenwood clearly has the trust of the manager, and his numbers as a teenager show that he is a player that deserves regular football at United, his numbers are frankly ridiculous for a player so young. If there is one thing United fans can be sure of, it’s that there is still so much more to come from the club’s golden boy. Where Greenwood is concerned, the potential he has is limitless. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Ranking Manchester United’s best front three

With the homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani opting to stay another year at the club, Manchester United have a plethora of options offensively. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a crucial job in identifying what his best front three will be to go into the rest of this season and how to keep the squad well rotated as well as maintaining the high quality throughout the team.

In previous seasons, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood/Daniel James has been the main attacking trio. But with the departure of James, the injury to Rashford and the loss of form of Martial, United’s current attack could look far different. Solskjaer has many options to choose from as especially last season with Martial’s inconsistency and Cavani’s superb form, Solskjaer looked to play Paul Pogba off the left wing so he could have more effect offensively. 

Thus, Solskjaer has even more versatility upfront especially with the signing of Jadon Sancho to add to the mix. The key thing for Solskjaer and his coaches is finding the right balance. On paper an attack can look strong but without balance and chemistry it won’t work. Since Bruno Fernandes’ signing, United have heavily relied on individual brilliance to get over the line, and in some games that is important but the constant need for the result to be secured as a result of a moment of magic is unsustainable. 

Therefore, Solskjaer must make sure the front three he opts with will have the right blend to create the right rhythm and impetus in their attacking play. With all the options Solskjaer has and the varying attributes each player has, it’s likely he will look to use different front threes in different games suited to the opposition. 

Against the big teams, Solskjaer has opted to use a pacey front three that could expose the oppositions defence on the counter-attack. The best front three fitted to that would be Rashford, Ronaldo and either Sancho or Greenwood. With Rashford’s successful surgery, he’ll be looking to get back into the first team by October and with his blistering speed he can humiliate defences especially if he has space to run into. 

Despite Ronaldo’s age, he still has some good speed in him and with Martial losing a couple yards of pace recently, and Cavani not being renowned for his pace, Ronaldo would provide the best balance to sustain this counter-attack. Off the right wing it’s a trickier decision as both Sancho and Greenwood are fast. Greenwood brings lethal finishing as he cuts in off the right whereas Sancho provides a more creative option with his silky dribbling and precise vision. 

As Ronaldo is a pure finisher and Rashford is more of a shooter rather than a creator, Sancho may fit this front three better as he provides the balance of finishing with that creative aspect, whereas Greenwood would make that front three quite predictable as they all would look to shoot and thus Rashford, Ronaldo and Sancho would be the best front three for a counter attacking game.

In games when the opposition sit back, it will need a mix of creativity but also the right finishers to take the few chances they get. With Fernandes’ unique ability to score lots of goals from midfield, Solskjaer could look to give him license to shoot with Ronaldo in-front of him creating the Portuguese linkup and then have Pogba off the left and Sancho off the right. 

Often when playing against the defensive teams, United struggle to create many chances but with Sancho, Pogba and Fernandes’ creativity it would be more effective at breaking down the ‘low block’ and with a lethal goalscorer in Ronaldo he will take the chances that are provided.

In some games its neither pure counter-attack or pure offense against low block, it has elements of both. Often, we’ve seen this against teams like Southampton, Wolves, Aston Villa and Brighton. These teams won’t go fully at you but will press high and won’t sit back. To combat this, Solskjaer should implement that pace on the counter-attack but also that high technical ability and thus should use Rashford off the left, Ronaldo through the middle and Sancho off the right. 

In all these teams, form is important and currently Greenwood is un-droppable, but due to his unbelievable finishing, this can be exploited late in a game off the bench when the opposition is more penned in.  The balance between Rashford’s direct running and speed with Sancho’s quality weight of pass and dribbling should provide a solid counter-attack but also enough if the game adapts to a low block and United will be able to break it down.

Ultimately, I think the front three is very dependent on the opposition as each forward has different qualities. Although Cavani doesn’t start in any of these, he like Greenwood could be very impactful off the bench and provide those trademark runs to find space and take a game and win it individually. 

Ronaldo’s signing provides proven quality in the box which will be influential throughout and then the alternation between Pogba, Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho on the wings will create pivotal squad depth and tactical flexibility for Solskjaer to ensure he has the right options to win the game to take United back to winning silverware.

Written by Ethan Bents

Mason Greenwood: A future Manchester United legend?

At Manchester United, the club is built on breeding youngsters through the academy and giving them a chance in the first team to see if they can become a star, with Mason Greenwood it’s not different. Greenwood is a 19-year-old ambidextrous prodigy, with remarkable finishing prowess for someone of his age. He’s been at the club since 2018, progressing significantly since then. He made his debut for United in that famous night in Paris in 2019, and has made 104 appearances since then.

He’s scored 29 goals with a remarkable debut Premier League season in which he scored 10 goals, ranking him the joint second highest ever scorer in one league campaign for an U18 in Premier League history. In addition, recently after scoring in a 3-1 win against Aston Villa, Greenwood became the highest scoring teenager in Manchester United’s history which is incredibly impressive due to the names that he has surpassed like Cristiano Ronaldo. Greenwood has predominantly played off the right wing despite being a more natural striker, but the lack of natural wingers at the club especially off the right has meant Greenwood has had to adapt to being a winger to get into the team.

Private Life

There is undoubted talent easy to see with Greenwood, but with highly rated youngsters like Ravel Morrison unable to maintain the right mentality for Premier League football there is always a doubt that the pressure could get to them to young and with the brutal English media against you there can sometimes be no way back. In Autumn of 2020, Greenwood was called up to England’s international team, but out there he was involved in an irresponsible scandal resulting in him losing his place in the England team. In the meantime, Greenwood lost a close friend to suicide and all this led to him being out of the United reckoning for a couple months. 

Furthermore, in October and November he picked up knocks reducing his gametime further. The start to the 2020/21 season was troubled for Greenwood but to those who doubted his resilience after a bad period, Greenwood in the latter stages of the season came back firing. In the league, he managed to score six goals and one assist in six games. The defining factor to if Greenwood makes it far in his career is his mentality, if he loses his hunger to improve, he won’t become the player he could, but this spark in form in the latter ends of the season could be the evidence of him proving his critics wrong.

His Rise

When Greenwood joined in 2018, he was immediately placed in the U18’s where he scored 31 goals and nine assists in 30 games. As a result of this brilliant form, Greenwood was then placed in the U23’s where he scored four and assisted two in seven games. His first team debut came in a thrilling night in Paris with an injury dampened United looking to overturn a heavy deficit away in Paris. United did just this and Greenwood even get some minutes to show for it. He gained three Premier League appearances in the 2018/19 season with ten minutes against Arsenal, fifteen against West Ham and then he was given his first start against Cardiff on the final day of the season.

Greenwood didn’t manage to score that day but he came close and his talent was clear to be seen. In the 19/20 season he became a much more solidified member of the first team as he featured in most Premier League games either off the bench or starting. His post lockdown form was electric scoring five goals and assisting one, heavily contributing to United’s comeback for top four and eventual securing of third position. This late form fully established Greenwood as not only a fan favourite but also as a first teamer for sure.

Similarly, Greenwood’s 2020/21 season started off slowly but gradually improved towards the end. This inconsistency could prove to be an issue for Greenwood, but he’s only 19 years old and has had as mentioned various troubles behind the scene which limit his ability to play with a free mindset. Therefore, his first two seasons in the first team have undoubtedly been a success as he’s played a lot of first team football for a man of his age edging out Daniel James who is a more experienced option.

As a player Greenwood has many strengths but also weaknesses. He’s got a unique ability to strike the ball with either foot leaving defenders unsure as to which foot Greenwood will shoot off making him unpredictable. He’s got great pace, and silky dribbling helping him get out of tight and difficult scenarios. Greenwood’s hold up play has seen a significant improvement in the 2020/21 season so despite not scoring as many his all-round play has improved.

Another aspect of Greenwood’s game that has improved is his crossing; due to Solskjaer’s need for him to play in the right-wing position and the introduction of Edinson Cavani upfront, Greenwood has been expected to put more crosses into the box for Cavani rather then just looking to shoot as he often does. As a result, Greenwood has clearly been putting practice in on the training ground, as although he hasn’t got many assists its clear in his game, he’s looking more eager to cross and putting some lovely balls into the box for Cavani to meet.

Another strength of Greenwood’s is his work rate, some wingers can be susceptible to not tracking back and helping the team but Greenwood always gives it his all and tracks back to provide extra support. However, as a young 19-year-old should he does have weaknesses. One major weakness can be decision making. Decision making is a pivotal aspect of a winger’s game as they must analyse whether its better to cross or shoot, often Greenwood can be susceptible to shooting as that’s what he’s comfortable doing rather then looking for the pass in which a teammate might be in a better position to shoot or continue building up the play.

This can hinder his game as he can make the wrong decisions, so Greenwood must work on the training ground on his decision making as he has a good footballing brain so adding that to his locker will make him even better. Linked to this is selfishness, as he is so good at shooting, he can be selfish and look to score himself often which as the winger in the team he needs to lower the frequency of this in his game. Another area of weakness in Greenwood’s game is impact.

Some games can pass Greenwood by as if he doesn’t get himself in a shooting position, he can become wasted and with his inexperience as a winger the linkup with Aaron Wan Bissaka can be ineffective leaving the right-hand side as obsolete and meaning United rely heavily off the left which becomes predictable and easy to defend against. Therefore, for Greenwood to improve and take his game to the next level, he must focus on improving his decision making so in the crucial moments he isn’t selfish and shoots for himself but looks to see if teammates are in a better position and then make a judgement.

Furthermore, Greenwood must improve his linkup play with Wan Bissaka if he is to become a successful winger. This is because he plays with a striker’s instincts, always looking to cut in and Wan Bissaka’s strengths do not lye in attack which can make the right side weak and easily defended leaving the team in-balanced which fundamentally hinders the team as oppositional teams can approach the games heavily marking our left and stronger side neutralising that and ultimately neutralising the whole attack.

Then finally, I feel Greenwood needs to learn to score the scrappy goals and also work on his heading. If he becomes a centre forward or a winger, I feel Greenwood needs to work on scoring the scrappy goals as anticipation as striker is pivotal to picking up the high goal tallies. Then, heading is a fundamental part of a striker’s game and if Greenwood develops a strong heading game, he can use this to his advantage and pick up many more goals. 

The last big asking point about Greenwood is his position. He is a natural striker but is playing most of his football as a right winger. Manchester United, have just brought in Jadon Sancho who is an established winger comfortable of playing on both sides, and with Marcus Rashford as United’s left winger it could leave Greenwood struggling to get into the team. However, competition for places will mean Greenwood works harder and with a long season ahead his minutes played shouldn’t be an issue.

The question is where does Solskjaer see Greenwood’s future? Cavani isn’t getting any younger and will most likely be gone by 2022, and so with Martials inconsistency a first-choice striker could become needed at United. Could Solskjaer look to use Cavani this season to develop him as striker before giving him the chance to be the starting striker in Solskjaer’s team in the 2022/23 season? If he does this, and it is successful it would leave United in a much-strengthened position not needing to spend big on a striker in the transfer window, reserving finances for other positions deemed necessary.

But if Solskjaer sees him as a right winger, then United may look to bring in a striker and then look to gradually ease out players like Daniel James and Juan Mata who aren’t on the same level as the more talented wingers at the club. Therefore, I feel Solskjaer has a big decision to make this year in the development of the talented Greenwood as the position he uptakes could drastically change the outlook at United in 12 months’ time.

Overall, I feel Greenwood is incredibly talented but he cannot let his talent go to waste and thus needs to work very hard over the next twelve months to develop himself further potentially cementing himself as one of the first names on the team sheet.

Written by Ethan Bents

Former Manchester United striker makes ‘very scary’ prediction about Mason Greenwood

Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha has warned Premier League rivals that Mason Greenwood will develop into a ‘very scary player’. The 18-year-old arrived on the scene earlier this season as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave him the opportunity to show his worth at the Old Trafford club. The player had already scored 12 goals for United at the time the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic and returned to training with a lot more muscle, which has led to his developing a bit more.

In total during the 2019/20 season, Greenwood made a total of 49 appearances for United’s first team, scoring 17 goals and five assists – playing two more matches at U23 level, scoring two goals. The academy graduate quickly established himself in the clubs first team and fought for his place in the team, which was a battle he won towards the end of the season, despite fatigue setting in due to so many matches being played in a short space of time.

Saha has stated that Greenwood had ‘frightening potential’ which will be something the teenager will be proud of as he relaxes after United’s season ended on Sunday, albeit with a defeat to Sevilla in the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League. United are set to find out how their 2020/21 Premier League season will pan out on Thursday as the provisional fixture are released with the first team getting ready to take holidays of relax ahead of the new season that is set to start next month.

Greenwood is obviously at the start of his career, which could be a bright now at the Old Trafford club. He has bags of potential and is a player that wants to fight for the spoils and win trophies with the club, which is what all of the other players will want too. This season, despite ending in disappointment, has led to many positives ahead of a new era at the club, led by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Saha, speaking to the Football Index podcast and reported by The Mirror, said:

“Mason Greenwood has frightening potential. He is already a very good player and his finishing is incredible. If he continues to improve, wow.

“The biggest improvement of his game has been on the physical side. Greenwood is only going to become tougher and fitter as he gets older, it’s incredible to think what he is capable of as just a teenager.

“I can only see Greenwood’s finishing continuing to get better and he is going to be a very scary player in the Premier League.

“He’s very self-confident and doesn’t hesitate about shooting again if he has missed a chance, he has all the attributes to be a big success story for Manchester United.

“The only question mark is about consistency and whether he will be able to perform at a similar level next season, but I’m very confident that he will.”

Greenwood has played 53 times for United now, with four appearances added at the end of the 2018/19 season at the club, scoring 17 goals and five assists, which is a good rate for the rookie, especially in his first full season at the club. If Greenwood can aim for 20 goals during the 2020/21 season, aiming to score at least five in the UEFA Champions League, which will be the first time he has played in the competition, his progress will keep heading in the right direction. Solskjaer would obviously like to see all of his forwards score goals in the double figures, which will contribute greatly to get United back on the trail to success.

Written by John Walker

Robin van Persie heaps praise on Mason Greenwood, who has been likened to the Dutchman

Former Manchester United striker Robin van Persie has heaped praise on forward Mason Greenwood after his great start to his career at the club this season. The Dutchman has stated that Greenwood, 18, is playing better than he did at the same age. That is some confidence boosting comment from a player in which the teenager has been likened to in the past year or so. Greenwood and Van Persie share the same style of play with Greenwood able to hit with both feet, something he has shown this season.

Back in 2004, Van Persie signed for Arsenal as an 18-year-old, scoring 10 goals in his first season, seeing limited time on the pitch during that season. Soon though, the Dutchman was showing glimpses of the player that he was going to become, which is what Greenwood is doing now. Greenwood has scored 10 goals in the Premier League alone this season, scoring seven more in other competitions; five in the UEFA Europa League and one in each of the Emirates FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. At youth level, Greenwood also has two goals in two appearances at U23 level.

It is good for the 18-year-old to be praised by players who have literally done what he has at the same age as it will raise his confidence, even though that seems to be high at this moment in time. The player will know that he is heading in the right direction and could see reward for all of his hard work in the very near future. United earned a UEFA Europa League semi-final against Sevilla by beating FC Copenhagen on Monday evening, which could see United earn a final place, if they beat the Spanish side.

The Dutchman left United in the summer of 2012 and despite rumours at the time suggesting that Arsenal wanted to keep the player, he confirmed recently that he was not offered a new contract so decided to sign for United and play under Sir Alex Ferguson in what was his final season in charge of the club, promptly announcing his retirement before the final match of the season, which shocked everyone. Van Persie made a total of 105 appearances for United, scoring 58 goals and 21 assists. Speaking to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and reported by The Mirror, Van Persie said:

“When I watch him play, it just brings a big smile to my face. He’s deadly with his finishing. The way he finishes is very unique. He’s 18 years old! As a young kid, I didn’t score many goals when I was 18 so Mason Greenwood is definitely doing better at 18 than me.”

The Dutchman also underlined the work of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the rise of Greenwood this season, which is something that many will miss. Some supporters seem to have an agenda against Solskjaer and no matter what he does, they will always want serial winner, Mauricio Pochettino – who has won nothing as he is the better manager, apparently. With United facing Sevilla on Sunday, Van Persie has also talked up his former clubs chances of success in the competition, the same competition the club won in the 2016/17 season only this season, they have already guaranteed their place in the UEFA Champions League. Van Persie said:

“Solskjaer makes Greenwood one of the main guys and that is what you want. You want that coming from the coach.

“And Solskjaer gives that to Bruno Fernandes, to Paul Pogba, to Mason Greenwood, to Marcus Rashford, to Anthony Martial and you can see these guys blossom with that, they love it.

“They have more control, they’re more bossing games and everyone knows that you have to be consistent if you want to be competing for trophies.

“They are more consistent now and if they keep doing that they are definitely contenders.”

Written by John Walker

Mason Greenwood looking for Europa League glory after watching 2017 final

Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood was just 15 when Jose Mourinho guided the club to lifting the UEFA Europa League at the end of the 2016/17 season, which was the first time the club had won the trophy, completing the haul of trophies that the club had competed for in the history of it’s existence. The teenager was sat on his parents’ sofa watching his team beat Ajax 2-0 in Sweden, a game which Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both missed due to knee injuries.

Fast forward three years and the teenager is now starting regularly for United, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now and they have reached the quarter-final stage of the competition, facing FC Copenhagen in Cologne on Monday evening, for a place in the semi-final, which will be played in the same stadium, as will the final. The season, Greenwood has risen highly, scoring 17 goals and five assists in his first full season in the first team, showing his class and ability as a forward for the club.

Greenwood has reflected on what he saw three years ago, which was United’s opportunity to earn a UEFA Champions League place the following season, after finishing sixth in the Premier League. At the time it was seen as the club stepping forward after they had won the Emirates FA Cup in the previous season, under Louis van Gaal, then winning the FA Community Shield at the start of Mourinho’s debut season, also lifting the Carabao Cup before finishing the season on a high. Greenwood, reported by The Mirror, spoke about the Europa League final, saying:

“Yeah, I remember. It was a good game. I was at home watching it with my parents and obviously we celebrated when we won.

“To have the chance to play in it myself and win it myself, I can make that dream come true.”

When United won the Europa League back in 2017, it was only a year after Marcus Rashford made his debut in the first team, replacing an injured Anthony Martial in the competition, the prior season, against FC Midtjylland. United lost 2-1 in the first leg of the round of 32 and needed a win to avoid embarrassment. Rashford announced himself on the world stage with a brace in the 5-1 victory, doing the same against Arsenal in the Premier League days later. Greenwood will be seeking to follow his teammates footsteps by lifting the trophy, but will need to help his team bean another Danish side first. Greenwood stated:

“When you see the other players doing it, you’re thinking in the academy ‘Why can’t I do it?’

“That’s every young boy’s dream in the academy: to get to the first team and be a regular at United.

“It’s the best thing you can do at this club. I’m doing it now and I’ve just got to keep staying level-headed and carry on working hard because I’ve got a long way to go yet.

“You can always get better, you can always go the extra mile. There’s no stopping, you can always be a better player.

“At this club, you’ve got some of the best players in the world, so that speaks for itself.”

Greenwood is such a good finisher, with Solskjaer suggesting that he is the best finisher of the club. But the player was asked what he would like to improve and his response will leave people thirsty for more – not his opposition though. The player has been compared to Robin van Persie in the recent past and if he can finish goals like the Dutch legend, especially with his head, he will be an awesome player in the years to come. Greenwood confirmed:

“I think in headed goals. I’ve not scored a headed goal in the first team this season. It would be nice to get one of them.”

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW