At the beginning of last football season,most pundits,journalists and football analysts predicted that the Barclays Premier league trophy would be a two horse-race between the two Manchester clubs.Their consensus opinion was predicated on these major reasons, viz the calibre of coaches both clubs had recruited, the array of stars already plying their trade in both clubs and the quality of players both clubs had recruited before the commencement of the league.
The last league season has since come and come; and the league trophy has been deservedly won by Chelsea.
Manchester United ended the season on a partially successful note, swelling their trophy cabinet with three more cups – a Community Shield , a Capital one Cup and the Europa League Cup.Disappointingly,United came sixth on the league table,and were only able to make the Champion’s league group stage by winning the Europa league, a commendable and a considerable feat in itself.
However, if truth must be told, the fans and management of United had set their sights on higher achievements last season.While it is true that some fans were not completely won over by the choice of Jose Mourinho as a replacement for Loius Van Gal, but none of them doubted that he had the managerial skills to make the club successful again. At the end of the season Mourinho, just like his last two predecessors, failed to win the coveted League trophy, which has eluded the club since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
The last football season exposed certain weaknesses in United’s games, and these weaknesses played significant roles in preventing the Red Devils from making a title challenge despite the fact that they had the personnel and squad depth to do the job.Winning the Europa league, a feat I had commended earlier, does not in anyway paper over the cracks in United’s team of last season.
I will at this juncture proffer remedial measures, which if implemented, would assuredly make United strong challengers for both domestic and continental trophies in the forth coming season.
A Tweak in the set up of the offensive play.
Last season majority of United’s goals were scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and it was a state of affairs that had its merits and demerits. Ibrahimovic, it must be admitted, is endowed with the qualities of a world-class striker and the number of goals he plundered last season readily attest to that assertion.However, the whole team was set up to play to his strength.This was the sole reason there was a dearth of goals from United’s wide men and attacking mid-fielders.Most of United’s play in the final third ended up as long balls floated to the towering Swede in the opponents’ six yard box.
United, as a matter of urgency, should recruit a word-class striker who can operate as a conventional centre forward and from both flanks.A striker of such quality would work effectively with two attackers operating from both flanks; such an attacking trident – depending on the nature of opposition, can inter-switch positions to the sure bemusement of opposing defenders. A fluid attacking front line, experience has shown, always gives room for any of the front men to score goals. Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid fits the bill for such striker.It is not as though a striker with such attributes is completely lacking in United’s current team; in fact Marcus Rashford answers the description of such a striker but he cannot go it all alone in the entire season.With Anthony Martial and Juan Mata flanking Rashford or a Morata at the middle – such and attacking trio would trouble any defense in the league or in Europe with their celerity of movement, resourcefulness of trickery and good positional sense.
Solving the Paul Pogba’s Conundrum
Last season Mourinho tried to bring the best of Pogba by shifting him from one position to another in different matches.None of his experimentation with his record signing worked.Pogba is without a doubt a talented player but the pace of the premiership has brought to light his limitations. After a full season, what is crystal clear about Pogba’s game is that the French man cannot function in United’s set up the way he did with so much success at Juventus. Playing him in an advance mid-field position would not bring the best out of him.
Pogba should be moved to the position of a holding mid-fielder where he can use his physicality to break up opponent’s moves; apply his dribbling skills to move the ball from the defence to his team mates upfront ;employ his wide range of passes to set up counter-attacking play from his deep-lying positions.In a word, he should screen the back line from the attacking forays of opponents.His aerial ability would also stand the team in good stead in defending and attacking set-pieces when he plays as a deep-lying central mid-fielder.
United should should shop for a box-to-box mid-fielder boasting a rare admixture of flair and grit to pair with Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the advance mid-field position.A player like RB Liepzig’s Naby Keita or Sebastian Rudy of Hoffenheim can perform effectively in that position.Currently, Ander Herrera and Maroaune Fellaini play that role for United, but in spite of their dedication and application: they both struggle to function effectively in that position, which is apparently not natural to them.
Creative use of Full backs.
Last season Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia played from the left and right back positions in majority of United’s games. Of the two full backs,only Valencia made attacking runs from the flank, but his efforts had very little end products. Naturally limited to the use of only the right foot, the Ecuadorian winger habitually drives the ball to the far right of the byline, from where he crosses into the opponent’s penalty box.For all the energy he expended down the right flank, his predictability made his threat easy to deal with by left full backs of the opposing teams. Darmian , in his position on the left, made little offensive contribution from that flank; handicapped a little from bombing forward along the left flank because his is a natural right footer, he was unable to influence the game from that position.To sum it up,United lacked creative play from their full backs last season, owning partly to the loss of form and injury to Luke Shaw and the deployment of Marcos Rojo to the central half position.The pair, it most be remembered,are adept at launching purposeful attacking play from the flanks.
Mourinho should redeploy Rojo to the left full back position, where he would have to fight for a starting shirt with the highly intelligent Danny Blind.Darmian should be shifted to right full back; he should be made to start ahead of Valencia whose crosses in the final third are usually horrendous.The task of making the full backs complement the attacking forays of United’s winger does not require going to the transfer market to sign new players;United have the personnel who can man the full back positions and make the positions sources of more productive play.
Initiating Attack from the Rear.
Last season, Manchester United conceded less goals than four of the five teams higher up on the league table, a piece of statistical information that connotes defensive solidity.And Mourinho, being a coach who set great store by defensive play, excelled in the way he sets his team to defend last season.However, United with its wealth of defenders seldom initiated play from the back line last season – as most teams that play possession football do. The relatively static movement of United’s back four played a contributory role to the Red Devils scoring very few goals last season.Normally, when the back four assume the task of building the attack from the rear: it draws the attackers of the opposing team towards them while their own mid-fielders are free to run into unmarked spaces to receive passes and continue the transition of play from the middle of the pitch to the opponent’s half.
Mourinho should start technically gifted defenders as his back four in the majority of games next season. We must not forget that the ability of the back four to initiate play as a unit has a direct correlation to their technical abilities.Of all United’s defenders,Eric Bailly, Rojo ,Blind and Darmian are the ones more comfortable with ball at their feet. So Mourinho should make this set of players starters .Defenders like Chris Smalling , Phil Jones and Anthonio Valencia, who exhibit more of brawn than brain when playing football , should be made squad players; they should come into games when the those in the starting eleven are fatigued or incapacitated by injury.I have deliberately left new signing Victor Lindelof out of the discussion because he is yet to prove his ability in the highly competitive and physically tasking games of the Premier League.
By the time the new season kicks off it is very likely that United would have signed new players, but what is self-evident is that United need just a few additions to their squad to make a title challenge and a significant impart in the champions league.It is now left to Mourinho to show to his employers and the teeming Manchester United’s fans that he has the tactical nous to take their iconic club to the dizzy summit of success akin to that achieved by the venerable Sir Alex Ferguson.