5 Talking Points from a Difficult Week 28 Feb 2019 20:43
A look at some of the Manchester United talking points from the last two matches.
By Philip Meese
It’s been quite an eventful week for Manchester United, and one which has come at a price. The goalless draw with Liverpool cost the Red Devils three players, and seriously compromised the fitness of another. Last night’s win over Crystal Palace will have also given Ole Gunnar Solskjær serious food for thought, as he attempts to navigate United’s path to a top four finish, which would surely guarantee him the job on a permanent basis.
Sánchez is Clearly way down the Pecking Order
Alexis Sánchez is in danger of becoming one of the biggest transfer flops in United’s history. While they may not have paid a transfer fee for the Chilean, he is the highest paid player at the club on a reported £500,000 per week. It’s fair to say that in the thirteen months he has been at Old Trafford, he has done very little to justify that salary.
Make no mistake, the Sánchez of three years ago would be a fantastic asset to the current United setup. Unfortunately, he has lost at least a yard of pace since then and looks a shadow of the player that had a ratio of a goal every two games for Arsenal. At United this has declined to one in every eight, hitting just five goals from 40 appearances.
When Juan Mata had to come off injured after 25 minutes against Liverpool, Solskjær selected Jesse Lingard to replace him. The is the same Jesse Lingard who was deemed not fit enough to play 90 minutes at the start of the game due to concerns that he hadn’t fully recovered from the hamstring injury sustained against Paris-Saint Germain. Lingard didn’t even last half an hour and Solskjær was forced to bring on Sánchez for him. He probably should have just done this to start with, one of the very few mistakes he has made since taking charge.
Andreas Pereira was the first substitution of the game, replacing Ander Herrera after 21 minutes. The fact that he would rather have a half-fit player and a bit-part squad member on the pitch than United’s highest earner tells its own story. Sánchez was probably only selected at Selhurst Park last night due to lack of alternatives.
McTominay and other Academy Players Have Hope for the Future
While no official decision has been announced about Mourinho’s permanent replacement, it seems to be generally accepted that Ed Woodward would be foolish to give the job to anyone but Solskjær. The fans and media are both expecting the announcement, although it’s unlikely to come before the end of the season.
Scott McTominay was definite favourite of Mourinho’s but has been more or less side-lined since the Norwegian took charge. It seemed that Solskjær just didn’t rate the academy product but was forced to play him in the last two games following an injury to Nemanja Mati?. To McTominay’s credit he performed impressively, especially against Liverpool. While nobody expects him to keep the Serbian out of the team once he is fit again, similar performances in the future may give him a selection headache when that happens.
Solskjær is a big believer in promoting youth prospects, and knows that it is expected of any United manager. He has been true to this philosophy since returning to Old Trafford, having handed first team debuts to Dutch youngster Tahith Chong, and giving James Garner his first appearance against Palace last night. He also gave Angel Gomes a run out in his first home game against Huddersfield Town in December.
If he is given the job full time in the summer, it will be interesting to see whether he integrates some of the players United have loaned out this season, such as Axel Tuanzebe, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Demetri Mitchell.
Lindelof could be a future Captain
This has been something of a breakthrough season for Victor Lindelöf. Twelve months ago, he was being talked about as another expensive flop who United were going to be forced to cut their losses on. He was also being linked with moves to other clubs throughout the summer.
Even before José Mourinho was sacked Lindelöf seemed to have settled down to become an integral part of the team this season, and this has continued under Solskjær. Even from his first appearance in 2017, it was quite clear that the Swedish international was the type of defender who was very adept at playing the ball out from back. The questions that were being asked were in relation to his lack of pace, stamina and positioning.
Unlike his team mate Eric Bailly, Lindelöf will never be the quickest of players, but he seems to have adapted the other areas of his game to ensure that he is not fazed by the demands of the Premier League any more. He has been United’s standout centre-back in the last three months, and seemingly one of the first names on the team sheet.
If he keeps up this level of performance, or even improves further, he would surely be a fantastic candidate for a future captain. Centre-backs usually make great skippers and given that he is still only 24 years old, and has his best years ahead of him, this must be in Solskjær’s thinking should he be given the manager’s job full time.
Possible solution to United’s right-wing problem
Over the last few years, United have had a variety of wingers who have come and gone. The likes of Memphis Depay, Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj have all long since departed the club. Alexis Sánchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are all forwards who are still at the club that are more than capable of playing out wide. The problem is that all these players are more comfortable on the left but only Zaha, who was never given much of a chance at Old Trafford, is at ease with playing on the right flank. The only regular first teamer on United’s payroll who has excelled in that problem position is the currently injured Jesse Lingard, and occasionally Juan Mata has too. Neither of them would consider it their natural position, however.
Against Palace last night, Solskjær was forced to once again juggle the squad and tried something which could be very effective in the future. Portuguese right-back Diogo Dalot, who played on the wing in his youth days at Porto, and Ashley Young were put on the right together, interchanging positions at various points in the game. As a result, the team looked more balanced down that side than it has done in years.
Young’s advancing years mean that this is clearly not a long-term solution, but with the treatment room at Carrington full to bursting at the moment, it could be a viable option for the remainder of this season.
Time for Fred to be Red or Dead
Fred started his first United game since the F.A. Cup tie with Reading last night, and his lack of match fitness showed. This was especially apparent in the first ten minutes when he wildly misplaced two passes. As the game wore on the Brazilian seemed to settle down, keeping it simple rather than attempting anything spectacular. For the first time in months, he didn’t look out of place in a United shirt. Many United fans weren’t convinced, however, with to say he ought to sold.
Like Sánchez, Fred hasn’t had the best of times since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk last summer. He has looked lost at times, seemingly struggling to adjust to the pace of the Premier League. There is also the added pressure that he was United’s biggest signing of the summer, but he looks far removed from the player that Pep Guardiola was reportedly interested in taking to Manchester City last year. There’s a theory that the Blues are just pretending to be interested in certain players just so that United will step in and take them.
Victor Lindelof has proved that a bad start doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not fit to be a United player. Given how many injuries the club have right now, especially in midfield, Fred will never get a better chance to stake his claim for a regular place in the first team. If he doesn’t, the fans who voiced their displeasure last night may well get their wish.