There are two missing ingredients that Manchester United need to replace if they are going to be Premier League champions again, according to The Times’ Jonathan Northcroft.
The reporter notes that in the seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, the Red Devils have finished an average of 23 points behind the Premier League leaders and argues that that situation is unlikely to change until those two things are addressed.
The first problem, according to Northcroft, is the lack of a ‘Plan B’ to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics.
‘The trouble for Solskjaer is that Guardiola is as great a genius as the game has known, while being an underestimated leader of people,’ Northcroft says.
‘For Solskjaer to start making up real ground on City, he may need to become the full package too, by evolving his now-familiar B&B (breakaways and Bruno) game plan.
‘Hampering United this season has been not so much their four defeats (a reasonable number) but their nine draws — six of those 0-0s.
‘So more variation in how to break down opponents will be essential.’
The second area that has to change significantly – and that would arguably help Solskjaer to achieve those tactical improvements – is player investment. Northcroft argues that United’s transfer policy just about allows them to keep up with their rivals, but never to close the gap.
‘Given that Solskjaer has pushed Woodward to buy Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho, there seems little wrong with his ability to identify talent,’ the reporter observes.
‘The question — and it was one that drove Mourinho mad — is: how dynamic are United ever going to be with the cautious and profit-focused Glazer family at the very top?
‘As with Mourinho, Solskjaer has had five transfer windows but has spent only £279 million compared with the £420 million his predecessor did, a sum also less than Louis van Gaal’s £316 million outlay over a shorter period at United. Merely continuing the programme of steady spending is not going to cut it.’
Many observers, such as United Peoples TV’s Sam Peoples, have argued that the Glazer family’s policy is merely to qualify for the Champions League each season, that being the holy grail from a financial point of view. The club’s pattern has been to spend big when they finish outside the top four, but not to invest nearly as much to close the gap to the very top.
‘For United even to keep up they need a dynamic summer. To challenge, they may require a transformative one and that means being front of the conversation for Harry Kane, perhaps closing that deal for Sancho this time and finding recruits with the personality and quality of the latest England player Solskjaer is linked with, Declan Rice.
‘It also means doing something to move their defensive line higher … this could involve … recruiting a centre back with pace, or signing a different, more Ederson-style goalkeeper.’
Few United fans would argue with Northcroft’s assessment but the picture seems gloomy, with even fewer believing that the desire is there at board level to inject the required investment.