Rewind 10 years and there were few clubs more feared than Manchester United. Serial winners both domestically and in Europe, they were often regarded as the biggest club in the world.
United’s unrivalled dominance led them to a record 13 Premier League titles in just 21 years between its inception in 1993 and 2013. This includes an incredible three back-to-back between 2006 and 2009, a feat yet to be matched. Many have claimed this is down to Alex Ferguson’s insanely effective management style and tireless work ethic. Ferguson expected unquestioned loyalty and 100% commitment. In return he helped to build the confidence and skill set of some of the last generations best players, Ronaldo being amongst them.
This begs the question- why are they currently sitting in 6th place without having won a title in 8 years? Many say that Ferguson was the glue that held it all together, however Manchester United have seen quite the fall from grace.
Premier League odds have United at 125/1 to win this year’s title, according to the odds at 888sport.com. To get to the bottom of why this is, let’s start by dissecting Manchester United’s current season.
The 2021/2022 Season
Man United’s 2021/22 season couldn’t have started much better, and Red Devil’s fans had plenty to be optimistic about.
It began with the signings of two world class players in Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane. These were topped only by the return of United legend and one of the world’s best Cristiano Ronaldo.
An opening day 5-1 stomping of Leeds indicated patience with the manager had paid off and that this could be United’s year. However, lacklustre performances soon became the weekly regular for Ole’s men before the embarrassing results quickly confounded Red’s fans.
Starting with a 4-2 loss against a Leicester side who had been poor all season, United then suffered a heavy 5-0 loss to rivals Liverpool. However, most painful of all was the embarrassing 2-0 loss to fierce local rivals Manchester City when United were dire.
Losing to the other team in a city they have dominated for years signified perhaps there was a changing of the guard. Goalkeeper David De Gea is having his best season in a while which is testament to how poorly United have been playing.
Eventually, club legend Ole’s reign came to an end, and he was replaced with interim Ralf Rangnick. Since then, there has been a slight improvement in results and performances, but United still bear little resemblance to the team of old.
So, how can Manchester United once again reach the top of the English game?
Ever since the departure of Sir Alex, Manchester United have been crying out for some consistency. The best teams have a cohesive vision recognised by the club, manager and players, something which is missing at United.
This is reflected in the differing managerial hiring seen in recent times. Van Haal was possession based, leading to some of the most boring football ever seen at Old Trafford.
Mourinho was a more defensively minded coach, preferring to sit back and counterattack. Current manager Ralf Rangnick prefers a high intensity, pressing style of play.
Without a clear vision and desired style of play, each manager has vastly different plans for the team. As a result, players are only compatible with one manager which has led to frequent short-term signings.
It’s no surprise that, over the last 5 years, Man United have a net spend £100 million, higher than City. Also, even the current manager is only on a temporary six-month deal, showing the lack of a long-term plan.
Manchester United instead need to decide how they want to play and bring in managers and players that suit only that specific style. With Chief Executive Ed Woodward set to step down, a competent replacement could start to resolve some of these problems.
A New Midfielder
After such a successful summer transfer window, it seemed as though little could be done to further improve the squad. Yet despite big name acquisitions, it seems as though the team are even worse off than last year.
McTominay and Fred have been mainstays in the United midfield despite frequent heavy criticism for making mistakes. Matic seems equally as error prone as he enters the latter stage of his career at 33.
Man United need to spend to bring in a midfielder who brings quality, energy, and intensity to the side. Amadou Haidara, with his technical prowess, seems the perfect fit, having already worked previously with United’s current gaffer.
Whilst having a team full of superstars looks good on paper, it’s always said that humility breeds hard work. Working hard for the team and tracking back is absolutely necessary by almost every player on the field.
As a collective, United don’t work hard enough off the ball by closing down and tracking back. The simple fact is that they must improve their work rate and willingness to run in order to defend better.
Had De Gea not been in such fine form, Manchester United’s defensive record would look much poorer.
Manchester United Must Improve
During the height of Sir Alex Ferguson’s success, the prospect of United not being successful seemed unfathomable. Manchester United need to bring back the cohesiveness and direction seen under Sir Alex to fix today’s disjointed performances.
The talented squad they have must be drilled to work as hard as possible. Finally, a new signing in the midfield appears to be the last missing piece of the puzzle.