Can Ole Gunnar Solskjær turn around United’s ailing fortunes against runaway leaders’ Liverpool?
Manchester United have now gone 10 matches in all competitions without scoring twice in the same game and it’s the Red Devils worst start to a season in 30 years. They haven’t won away from home since that memorable night in Paris back in March and find themselves languishing in the bottom half of the table just two points above the drop zone.
Changes are clearly needed but will Ole Gunnar Solskjær be brave enough to implement them ahead of Sunday’s clash with league leaders’ Liverpool? The current gulf between the two sides is obvious for all to see but further salt was rubbed into the Red Devils’ wounds when Sky Sports pundit Danny Mills failed to include a single player from United in a Combined XI ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
So what changes can Solskjaer make to aid United’s ailing fortunes?
Lack of leadership
The lack of leaders and characters in the side seems to be hammered home by the Sky Sports pundits every time United feature, so a change of captain seems inevitable. However, potential candidates are somewhat thin on the ground. Harry Maguire looks the best pick on paper while Scott McTominay and David de Gea seem like the only other viable options. Ashley Young’s days are clearly numbered in this respect and it is a change that needs to be made as soon as possible.
Lack of creativity
Solskjær has stuck with a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the current campaign and this is somewhat surprising when you consider that he had enjoyed some success courting 4-3-3 during his honeymoon period prior to getting offered the job on a permanent basis.
Paul Pogba, who has been plagued by injuries, is really their main creative spark but he has been playing too deep to have much of an impact on games and looks set to miss out on Sunday, limiting Solskjær’s options even further.
Juan Mata has failed to have any real impact on games while Andreas Pereira gets played out of position on the right far too often. The team seems to be lacking ideas and it’s difficult to decipher exactly what playing pattern they are trying to achieve.
Injuries to Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw have not helped their cause while new signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka has also missed out through illness of late, meaning that the jury remains out on whether United’s two first choice full-backs can provide that much-needed width and thrust going forward that the side so desperately needs.
Lack of a set piece threat
United’s set pieces have been dire with a recent article on The Athletic highlighting just how bad they have been in this department.
A January move for James Maddison makes a lot of sense with his set piece pedigree but one has to ask the question of what exactly are they working on during training. Admittedly, the team is not as physically imposing as it was during José Mourinho’s tenure but aimless floated balls from Ashley Young and wild lashes from Marcus Rashford are clearly not cutting it.
The one bright spot on the horizon is United’s defensive metrics. Data from Understat reveals that they are topping the xGA (expected goals against) table ahead of both Liverpool and Manchester City.
However, David de Gea, who has played in every Manchester United – Liverpool clash since 2012, is set to miss out against their arch-rivals this weekend and none of United’s defenders have a goal or an assist to show for their efforts this season, making it very difficult to include any of them in those fantasy line-ups.
A fit-again Anthony Martial may offer some crumbs of comfort, especially if he is tasked with leading the line again. The Frenchman is classed as a midfielder and fantasy managers were falling over themselves to get hold of him when United dismantled Chelsea on Matchday 1.
United will do well to keep Liverpool out and in all likelihood they will need to find the net at least twice if they are to have any chance of beating the Reds on Sunday. The bookmakers only give them a 20% of winning this one but Ole has defied some big odds before. Can he find the winning formula on Sunday and crack that binary code? He might need to be brave and ring some big changes if he is to do so!