Manchester United’s 2019/20 Premier League campaign finally restarted yesterday with a battling 1-1 draw against Spurs in London. A point away from home against a strong side is not a bad result after a three month layoff, but fans were left with the feeling that things could have been a lot better for the Red Devils.
One fan tweeted four simple messages for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which neatly summed up the issues that most supporters, journalists and pundits were discussing after the game.
1. Hope Ole knows his starting midfield is Bruno-Pogba-Matic
The moment Paul Pogba came on as substitute yesterday, United looked a different side. Pogba must play if fit alongside Fernandes. The issue, clearly, is who sits behind them. We all love Fred and McTominay and the Scotsman had a good game against Spurs. Yet do they play well together? Fred’s improved form this season largely coincided with McTominay’s injury layoff. Matic is not a fan favourite but of the three he is the only specialist holding midfielder and yesterday he also improved United considerably when he came on as substitute.
2. Hope Ole knows Greenwood is now ahead of Dan James on the right
Another player whose impact was immediate and obvious was Mason Greenwood. The 18-year-old has bulked up during lockdown and looks stronger and sturdier. It is surely now time for Solskjaer to take off the kid gloves and let Mason start some more Premier League games. The fact that he has only started four this season – versus James’ 28 – is increasingly hard to justify.
For James’ part, lockdown probably came at precisely the wrong time. After a long lean spell he scored against Lask in the Europa League in March and you could see the confidence pouring back into him. That confidence was notable by its absence again yesterday. United cannot afford to wait for him to find it again at this stage of the season. Back to the bench, impact sub and then rebuild again for next term.
3. Hope Ole knows Martial is not an automatic starter in an MUFC team chasing trophies
Anthony Martial is another player who was on fire before lockdown but who looked badly off the pace yesterday. He seemed unwilling or unable to make those instinctive striker’s runs to the near or far post, to get on the end of crosses. Far too often he lurked around the edge of the box, looking slow and ponderous.
Odion Ighalo did not have too long to affect the game when he came on but he looked livelier, more committed and more aggressive than Martial. The Frenchman may be much more talented, but we are hitting the ground running now at the climax of the season. We need warriors.
As @OvieO suggests, it should not be a case of dropping Martial for Ighalo at this stage, but with Rashford and Greenwood as well there are plenty of options at centre forward and relentlessly picking Martial in that role may not be in United’s best interests for the run-in.
4. Hope Ole knows he has a big De Gea – Henderson decision to make
Four times winner of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, David de Gea has been one of the finest keepers in Manchester United’s history but what seemed like a run of poor form from the Spaniard is now approaching two years in duration. Meanwhile Henderson is tearing it up on loan at Sheffield United.
What seemed unthinkable now must be given serious consideration: moving the Spaniard on and giving youth a chance. Nobody knows whether Henderson will cope with the extra pressure of playing for the biggest club in the world nor whether De Gea can put the errors behind him and find the form that made him one of the world’s best keepers. It is a huge decision as @OvieO rightly says.
Hope Ole knows his starting midfield is Bruno-Pogba-Matic.
Hope Ole knows Greenwood is now ahead of Dan James on the right.
Hope Ole knows Martial is not an automatic starter in a #MUFC team chasing trophies.
Hope Ole knows he has a big De Gea – Henderson decision to make.
— Ovie (@OvieO) June 19, 2020
There is one other lesson that yesterday’s draw perhaps taught us that @OvieO didn’t mention. In his post-match report on United Peoples TV, pundit Sam Peoples spoke about the centre back situation:
5. Should Eric Bailly replace Victor Lindelof as Harry Maguire’s defensive partner?
It does seem harsh on Lindelof, who was not responsible for the Spurs goal yesterday and who statistically has been one of United’s top defenders this season. But Peoples is right: despite a number of clean sheets this season, the Lindelof-Maguire partnership is too languid and lacking in pace. United need the contrast of a firebrand alongside the calm commander – as Vidic was to Ferdinand or as Bruce was to Pallister.
Rash is back! As United restart their season and do battle on three fronts, top scorer Marcus Rashford is fit and back to take his place in the side. But how much do you know about the United star? Take our quiz below to test yourself.