In pictures: Man Utd v Villarreal
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Balance. Manchester United’s draw with Everton has shown, more than ever, just how topsy-turvy Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side can be. They have some of the best attacking players in the world. But, defensively, they’re in trouble.
On Saturday, Manchester United struggled again.
They’d had to rely on Cristiano Ronaldo digging them out of a hole against Villarreal in midweek, with the veteran scoring a dramatic late winner.
However, United were unable to build on that victory as Everton came to Old Trafford and left with a point to their name.
Yet again, it was a mixed performance. In attack, United looked equally as dangerous as the Toffees.
But, at the back, they looked vulnerable – with Victor Lindelof, in particular, enduring a chastening day at the office.
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The result means United have now failed to win three of their last five matches across all competitions, something that constitutes a mini-crisis.
So what’s the answer?
The problem for United is that their midfield simply isn’t good enough when compared to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Scott McTominay and Fred are both good players but neither has the qualities to run the midfield in the way the likes of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Roy Keane did back in the day.
Donny van de Beek may be a good asset but the Netherlands international has never convinced since moving from Ajax 12 months ago.
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Nemanja Matic is past it. The Serbian is a good presence to have around yet he’s a shadow of the player he used to be.
So that leaves Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes as the only two genuinely quality options Solskjaer has at his disposal.
Because of that, the best formation for the Red Devils to play would involve both being in the middle of the park.
Going back to a 4-4-2, on paper, makes sense. Put Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford on the wings, and Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo up top, and that’s formidable.
That would perhaps be the way to accommodate as many of their attacking players as possible, especially given how it’s their biggest strength.
However, it’s impossible. For several reasons.
One is that, by moving Fernandes to a No 8 position, they risk the Portugal international losing his mojo.
While he’s a tenacious presence, tackling isn’t his biggest strength. Instead, that’s scoring and creating goals.
Then there’s the fact that Pogba, too, doesn’t have the attributes to run the show.
United have tried the France international everywhere but it’s on the flanks where he’s really a threat.
In midfield, he’s a liability instead.
Pogba is too busy focusing on the offensive side to his game to do the defensive work. That infuriated Jose Mourinho and it’s a problem that has given Solskjaer a headache, too.
So United’s best formation, on paper, can’t be used in reality.
Attack is the way to go, certainly. Especially with the Red Devils keeping just one clean sheet from their last 18 matches.
But, by going full throttle, they risk more bad results. This team is too open and, as the international break looms, that’s something Solskjaer needs to sort.
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