Manchester United continued their unwanted record of failing to score in six consecutive matches against the big six at Chelsea at the weekend – adding further fuel to the fire for changing the one-trick pony mentality running through the club.
With Edinson Cavani out injured and Anthony Martial out of sorts, United have become an easier mission for teams to play against especially with their one-trick pony mentality. The number of times a moment of brilliance from one player has helped turn a defeat into a win is unparallel but to win titles, the whole collective needs to chime in.
Bruno Fernandes’ penalty in the dismantling 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the season is the only goal United have scored against the top-six, which has now seen former United players and fans call out for an injection of attacking quality.
Manchester United Need to Get Rid of One Trick Pony Mentality
United Lacking Attacking Quality up Front Due to Defence
Manchester United’s defence is a huge factor in their recent poor performances against the top-six. Since the battering at Old Trafford at the hands of Spurs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has decided to instate a rather defensive construction to games against the top sides. They have conceded the same amount of goals (33) as Brighton & Hove Albion and Everton.
The partnership between Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire has long been the discussion of pundits and fans as both players do not compliment each other. It comes after the manager was put under increasing pressure after the draw against West Bromwich Albion saw United drop further behind runaway leaders Manchester City. Captain, Maguire leads the club with aerial duels (139), blocks (17) but his 75 tackles are considerably less with Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba a few of those above him. Despite the England international playing almost every game for the Red Devils the sloppiness and mistake bounding to happen energy from the defensive pairing have Solskjaer in a constant state of defence.
Because of this, United’s midfield has to become a shield sitting in-front to minimise any errors. This may work against weaker teams but it fundamentally disseminates the whole structure of the team. It makes the team sit deeper and the counter-attacking aspect also becomes a one-trick pony as the likes of Fernandes have to make passes on the turn or from a quarter-back like position.
Despite being injury-prone, in games against the top-six, Eric Bailly is a more solid option with his excellent recovery rate and defensive intelligence. Yet he has not played since the win over Fulham in game week 18. Since his return from injury, the Ivory Coast international looked to be back at his best including a man of the match performance against Burnley.
But the continued trial and error of the partnership will continue to lead United downhill unless Bailly can remain fit. He has missed over 200 days with injury since joining in the summer of 2016. Manchester United are linked with numerous defenders every day but Eric Bailly is a complete fit and needs to be given his chance.
Luke Shaw has shone spectacularly this season chipping in with five assists – the most in his entire career. His excellent form since the arrival of Alex Telles has helped United score the most goals in the entire league.
The England left-back has struggled during his United career with injury but with regular consistency this season he has produced. His attacking component to the game is a key highlight with Shaw now on corner duties also.
His England counterpart on the other side, however, is a defensive wizard but his attacking input continues to be non-threatening. It reminds you of a lion in defence and a cub in the attack. Admittedly it is not entirely Aaron Wan Bissaka‘s fault but the Red Devils have not had a right-side of midfield since the days of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The swapping and changing have led to United become a one-trick pony. Wan-Bissaka is improving but when you have competition like Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold your every attacking move is even more highlighted. As adequate competition has seen to get the best out of Shaw, maybe the same could be seen of Wan-Bissaka.
A recent clip of the England international’s attitude to attack is in the game against Chelsea in fact. Late in the game, United had countered and it got to Fernandes on the edge of the box, but you could not see Wan-Bissaka overlapping. He wasn’t even in the picture. The attacking input allows teams to high block United very easily and counter-press due to this.
Achraf Hakimi moved to Inter Milan in the summer but United should have taken a leaf out of their book. Hakimi shone at Borussia Dortmund scoring five and assisting ten and has continued his excellent form. Six goals and four assists so far this season is a big help for a team that sat six points clear at the top of Serie A.
The defensive approach at the club is costing them titles and a road back to the top. You can only blame the board, look at the managers they have hired. Jose Mourinho, Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes are all defensive minders of the game. The teams that are doing well in all competitions are those who are fearless in attack and sustain attacks. Manchester United are now a one-trick pony and something must be done to change this.