Now that we have reached the midpoint of the season, we can sit and assess how teams are doing in the table. Manchester City are running away with it, sitting 13 points ahead of second-place Chelsea, whilst Liverpool and West Ham United complete the top 4. Arsenal are not so far behind, along with Tottenham who have two games in hand. One of the teams struggling the most this season seems to be Manchester United. Sure, they are not alone; Spurs have already seen a managerial change, Harry Kane isn’t scoring as much as expected of a top-tier striker, Arsenal can’t seem to beat a top 6 side while Leicester have been in abysmal form and sit at 10th, 12 points from 4th place. The topic of conversation here is Manchester United however, and we will assess what is going wrong at Old Trafford.
Expectations were high on the back of a second-placed finish last season. Not only had United risen up the table in successive seasons, but they were active in the Summer transfer window, bringing in world-class players Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. On paper, United’s side was the best in the league. Even since Ferran Torres’ transfer to Barcelona at the end of December, United officially have the most expensive squad in the league. However, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Poor form, tactics and a lack of unity saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer relieved of his duties after a dismal 4-1 defeat to relegation-strugglers Watford. An interim manager in Ralph Rangnick was appointed and initially the ship seemed to have steadied. However, goals don’t seem to come easy for this talented side, while must-wins have seen points dropped. Recently it has been made public that the players don’t feel unified, does Rangnick simply need more time?
The Donny Problem
This is Donny Van de Beek’s second season at Manchester United, the second season he seems to have struggled to break into the team. On the back of a £38 million transfer from Ajax, people were rightfully excited by an exciting new talent at the club. However, he just simply hasn’t played. Many began to question the signing; why bring a player to the club if you’re not going to play them? Especially when the midfield is struggling and clearly the area where most change is needed. Halfway through his second season, and having made 50 appearances for the club, Donny still can’t get any game time. The player often comes on for the last 5 or so minutes, where it is very difficult to make an impact. Despite this, he has only looked positive whenever he has come on. Reports from training indicate he is working hard, so why can’t he get a game?
Harry Maguire actually had a decent season last year. He showed signs of being a good leader, he was great for England at the Euros and put in some solid defensive performances as United finished second. However, this season he has looked an entirely different player. Maguire has made many high-profile errors, has been silent on the field and has somehow retained his spot in the side despite playing poorly. Many feel that Maguire doesn’t deserve the armband right now, and a player with a winning mentality and stronger leadership, like Cristiano Ronaldo or David De Gea, should be captain. It says a lot when fans demand that their £80 million center back should be dropped in favor of Phil Jones, a player who has played one game in the last two years but ultimately showed far more drive and desire on the pitch.
United’s midfield has surely been the biggest issue this season. Matic is a little too slow and erratic to be in serious contention for regular starts, whilst the McTominay-Fred pivot has been very inconsistent. This is really it. Donny can’t get a game and United are crying out for a solid defensive midfielder. If the correct player comes in, they would actually work well alongside either McTominay or Fred. The pair are talented midfielders, but United just don’t have that “Kante” player, who will sit back, control and let the other join the attack.
United signed a serial winner in Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer and fans were rightfully ecstatic. However, despite the fact Ronaldo already has a decent goal-scoring record this season and has scored some key goals (such as sending United into the knockout rounds of the Champions League), many have said that his arrival has caused unrest at United. Rashford has been a shadow of himself, Sancho hasn’t started consistently, Martial wants to leave and Greenwood looks to have been overplayed somewhat. Cavani has been in and out of the side and Bruno Fernandes has been poor this season. When you have a player of Cristiano Ronaldo’s caliber in your squad, you need to be dominating.
There is still time to turn things around, but if United don’t go on a winning streak, top 4 will be harder and harder to come by.