“Tonight we turned up and the best team lost. Perhaps that bit of inexperience cost us – we shouldn’t have conceded that second goal.”Harry Maguire after Europa League semi-final Sevilla loss (August 16th, 2020)
The quote speaks volumes. Harry Maguire is convinced that the better side lost last night but the facts are plain to see. Sevilla converted two out of their three chances while Manchester United floundered with seven chances on target not including the penalty that Bruno Fernandes early doors.
The facts are plain. Manchester United at both ends of the pitch lacked the poise, leadership and quality to advance from this semi-final. Sevilla may have rode their luck at the start of the second half but they were the slicker side and their persistence in peppering Brandon William’s flank paid dividends with the late game winner. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on Manchester United.
It has been an improvement of sorts for Manchester United this past season. The fact that they advanced to three semi-finals for other clubs would be seen as a successful year, but this is Manchester United and the demand for success is all encompassing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be the first to admit that this current squad are far from the finished article and will look to the board to enhance it in the next few weeks. The match last night was a perfect summary of where United are at.
A fast start with the front three of Martial, Greenwood and Rashford looking dangerous. An early penalty award and another cool finish from Bruno Fernandes cemented the positive start but Sevilla refused to panic and identified Brandon Williams early doors as an area to probe given the lack of defensive support for the youngster.
Williams to his credit stuck to his task admirably but was sucked out of position for the Suso equalizer and then he was unable to stop the cross which found its way to De Jong for the game winner. A tough evening for Williams but the player is a prospect and hopefully learns from the experience.
One aspect of United’s play has been the sheer inability to put teams to the sword when on top. FC Copenhagen and Sevilla saw chance after chance spurned by United in the final third but this is not anything new from an United perspective. EPL season has seen such failings. The front three has massive potential. Martial has awoken from his United slumber and is playing in his ideal striker position. Greenwood is a player whose potential is untold and he will revel next season given these recent months of game time.
Rashford is suddenly lagging behind his two attacking players in development. His form has dropped off a cliff since the restart and his lack of confidence is starting to show. Just before half-time last night, Rashford was presented with the ball deep in his own half, his pace searing saw the forward advance into the Sevilla box but indecisive decision making saw him lose the ball cheaply. Yellow card a result of frustration of his lack of performance, trying too hard.
The lack of composure, lack of awareness to spot the right play is becoming more and more frustrating. A player who needs to reset, clear his head, work hard in preseason and improve. This front three is a superb prospect next season for the club and the last week is a reminder that they are not the finished article and the sheer ruthlessness to score goals is a work in progress.
The Sevilla goals were horrendous defensive efforts. Two young full backs exposed in both efforts. Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s tackling is sensational but the full back is guilty of switching off at the wrong time, not realizing danger in crosses or when an opposition player lines on the last defender.
The opening goal saw Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s flank opened right up which caused the rest of the defense to be sucked out of position in particular Brandon Williams. Aaron Wan-Bissaka to me is an incredible asset, his age profile means that United will see better performances from the player. The off season a time to reflect and address those concentration lapses and look to provide more of an attacking outlet for his side on the flank.
The central defensive partnership at Manchester United is utterly unconvincing at present. Harry Maguire arrived to much fanfare but his 80 million pound price tag remains expensive given his debut season. Maguire is a decent center-half but is he a Vincent Kompany who will marshal and organize his colleagues around him? The answer would be no but he is the best central defender at the club.
The question now for Ole and management is who should be his first choice partner? Eric Bailly has had an injury strewn season but his pace and power are undeniable. Victor Lindelof has had a mixed season. Good cameos with the ball out from the back but his defensive reads on crosses and being overpowered in 50/50 aerial battles has continued to happen throughout the season.
De Jong goal last night. Lindelof out of position, looking to leave the cross for someone else. United should be focusing on a central defensive signing to partner Maguire who can dominate in the air and provide leadership instead of dwelling on Sancho and other attacking options.
Central midfield. Who is the central midfield anchor? Fred has been given game time in the position. McTominay was supposed to be the chosen one in this position but very little game time and then there is Matic who appeared to be moving out of the club has now signed a long term deal. Who from this trio will control a game and provide the service for the likes of Pogba, Fernandes to unleash the front three? At the end of this current season, I honestly do not know that answer. Ole does not even know which is a concern.
What happens with Paul Pogba? The player has natural ability and talent but I sense Pogba would love to be in the pocket behind the front three. The signing of Bruno Fernandes means that ambition is dashed so not sure where Pogba fits in the grand scheme of things? Is it time to look for pastures new for the player and club? It is the end of season question in midfield here at United that Ole must address.
Joe Garner and other youth prospects may need to leave the club on loan to becomes established players. I would like to see more young blood in the midfield area from the academy ranks but it seems more and more remote with each passing season.
The goalkeeping position is the key talking point ahead of the new season. Dean Henderson has completed his Sheffield United sabbatical. He wants the number one jersey at the football club. How does David De Gea react to this new challenge? De Gea has had an inconsistent season marred by several marquee mistakes.
His form has dipped and Ole needs to evaluate the position. Henderson will not be keen to sit on the bench so it may push De Gea to a higher performance level but will De Gea perhaps eye a move back to La Liga? Real or Atletico Madrid are obvious destinations but given the humiliation of Barcelona last week, do Barcelona tempt De Gea with a move given Ter Stegen’s vulnerabilities in recent months? It is a fascinating point.
Sergio Romero for me has been treated appallingly badly this season. The decision of Ole to drop Romero for the semi-final was a harsh call. I question whether Romero would have saved that Suso opener? De Gea beaten on his near post again (despite a sharp strike from Suso).
Romero will be eyeing a new challenge and if you were the player, then I think you would want that given the treatment he has received from Ole this season. The backup keeper for Sevilla Yassine Bounou was afforded game time, consistent selection from management for this competition. He delivered. Ole panicked and dropped Romero like a hot pancake for this semi-final. Ole has shown a complete lack of confidence to a squad player who has played in this Europa League campaign up to that stage. Other players in the squad will have taken note and this may represent issues next season for Ole.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a player with Manchester United is beyond reproach. His legacy as a player will always be there but next season is where his managerial credentials will be ruthlessly analyzed and critiqued. I think Ole needs to reflect on this past season. His inability to make the hard calls during games seen to full effect last night, persisting with a misfiring Rashford who got impatient and frustrated getting booked.
His inability to make substitutions earlier in an extremely hot Portuguese night showed his complete lack of trust to his squad. The outfield lineup was pretty consistent in the closing weeks of the season, fatigue observed and Ole needs to be strong with the board to offload who he does not want and who he wants at the football club.
Where Juan Mata, Daniel James ply their trade next season is another story? Mata is a lovely technical player but will he be prepared to sit on a bench for minimal game minutes. Daniel James needs a loan move as soon as possible as his form and confidence have dipped alarmingly. The Welsh youngster is still a prospect but is he now a converted full back or a front three wide man? I am not sure Ole knows that either.
Whether Manchester United get their transfer targets is a big question. Their chase of Haaland, Bellingham and now Sancho look doomed to failure so Woodward and board must move swiftly to other alternatives. The defensive and midfield side of the squad needs to be upgraded but there does seem to be any urgency from United in these areas which is a concern if they are genuinely looking to win silverware next season.
The league points gap of thirty-three points to Liverpool does not lie. United’s current squad needs to improve and updated. The management team need to improve too. Jesse Lingard and co. should be on high alert. Ole needs to be ruthless in this window to both the board to secure player targets but also to get rid of the deadwood in the football club. Otherwise, United will continue to languish and Ole will be walking the plank pronto next season.