The blow of Manchester United’s loss to Chelsea in yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final was softened by Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-0 crushing of Leicester City, which puts the Red Devils in with a great chance of finishing in the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
A win against West Ham on Wednesday will leave United needing only a draw against Leicester – or possibly even being able to lose if the winning margin against West Ham is greater than Leicester’s winning margin against United.
United may of course also win this season’s Europa League.
If either or especially both of those things happen, it will be a fantastic end to the season and everyone will go home happy. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must not let that paper over the cracks that were there for all to see at Wembley yesterday and that will keep appearing if not properly addressed.
There are five major areas of concern.
1) The future of David de Gea
The Peoples Person has covered the fallout of the Spaniard’s horror show yesterday in more detail elsewhere, but the bottom line is that Solskjaer cannot afford to give him any more chances. Luckily for United, there is a fantastic pretender waiting in the wings in Dean Henderson, but unluckily for United, De Gea will be hard to move on after being given a bizarrely long and lucrative contract this time last year.
2) Central defence
It seems ridiculous to criticise a defence that has kept no less than 25 clean sheets in all competitions this season – five more than Liverpool – but frankly, it is hard to explain how such a chaotic back line has managed to achieve that figure. The fact is that Harry Maguire does not in any way, shape or form look like an £85 million centre-back and his partnership with Victor Lindelof is simply not convincing. They are, perhaps, too similar: stylish, but slow; calm and languid but not fiery and commanding.
Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly could both arguably offer that different element but both seem to be cursed with one bad injury after another, exemplified by Bailly’s unfortunate head wound yesterday. With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all heading for the exit, Solskjaer desperately needs to strengthen in this area.
3) Left Back
Earlier in the season the left back position would perhaps have been the last of Solskjaer’s concerns, with Luke Shaw having been voted last season’s player of the year and his position being threatened by the electric young Brandon Williams. Diogo Dalot was also waiting for a chance to impress on either flank. But Shaw’s performances of late have been average, Williams has not kicked on as had been hoped (yesterday’s outing was very weak) and Dalot seems to have completely fallen out of favour with the boss.
If United want to get back to the top of world football, they need better. It’s not easy to find a Puyol, Marcelo or Alexander-Arnold, but there are plenty of players around who would be an upgrade on current options.
4) Daniel James
What started like a fairy tale has turned very sour for Dan James at Manchester United. He cannot be counted on as a squad player right now. Whilst his agent has stated recently that there is no way he will be loaned out next season, that probably is the logical thing for Solskjaer to do. He will either find his form and confidence and come back stronger, or continue to fizzle out elsewhere.
5) Squad depth
If there is one thing that this concentrated period of matches must have taught those in charge at Old Trafford, it is that there is insufficient backup for the starting XI. As soon as the likes of Fernandes, Pogba, Martial, Rashford and now perhaps Greenwood are missing, the standard goes down not just one level, but three or four.
In addition to those mentioned above, Lingard, Pereira, Mata, Chong – and arguably perhaps even Ighalo, McTominay and Fred as well – are just not good enough backups.
Solskjaer has more or less said outright that he expects a maximum of three new faces this summer. However, as things stand, this squad is arguably six or seven new faces away from reaching the kind of level needed to challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League. They do not all have to be world beaters, but they do have to be an upgrade on the options the boss has sitting on the bench right now.
18-year-old Mason Greenwood has been setting the world on fire for Manchester United this season. But how much do you know about other teenage stars that have played for the Red Devils over the years? Take our quiz below to find out.