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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United defence exposed

by Scott Eckersley

Eagle-eyed observers might have noticed that defending has not been one of Manchester United’s strong suits lately.

The current campaign’s goals against record of 15 conceded leaves them joint worst among the Premier League’s top 12 clubs, with 9 conceded in the last two games alone.

And the club’s defensive fragility hasn’t been limited to this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sides have kept just one clean sheet in their last 20 games, in all competitions.

The Athletic has taken a detailed look at the manner in which United are leaking goals, to pinpoint what exactly is making them such a soft touch to play against.

Shockingly, that record of 34 against – with just one clean sheet recorded – in the past 20 games, puts them dead last among Premier League competitors.

source: The Athletic

Although the results are slightly skewed by the promoted sides’ records carrying over from the Championship, it’s still a terrible look for a club of United’s standing.

The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo has been seen in some quarters as the reason for the side’s failure to press in the attacking third.

Perhaps surprisingly then, The Athletic notes that the Red Devils’ 23.7% of presses come from attacking areas, which is about average for Premier League teams.

The article observes that almost half of United’s overall presses come from midfield which, again, is broadly comparable with their rivals.

However, it’s the uncoordinated manner of the press that is seen as the main issue.

Prior to the Liverpool game, Solskjaer made a point of saying that he expected his side to play on the front foot to “stamp our authority on the game”.

This hint at a high-press failed to materialise in spectacular fashion. So much so, that attacking presses dropped from the seasonal average of 23.7% to just 11%.

Liverpool’s opening goal could be used in training grounds up and down the country as an example of how to botch every single element of a functional pressing game.

Let’s have a look at what went wrong…

First Mason Greenwood runs towards ‘Pool centre-back Virgil Van Dyke without cutting off the passing lanes:

source: The Athletic

Then Aaron Wan-Bissaka is too slow to spot the danger and close down Andy Robertson:

source: The Athletic

With Wan-Bissaka caught in no man’s land, Victor Lindelof is pulled out of position to cover the right side. The midfield is too advanced, so an easy pass inside finds Roberto Firmino in acres of space.

source: The Athletic

A simple ball to Mohammed Salah – played onside by Luke Shaw – leaves the United left-back in serious trouble. United’s midfield cannot get back quickly enough to offer any protection.

source: The Athletic

Without doing anything radical, the visitors have three against one. Salah slips in Naby Keita to open the scoring.

source: The Athletic

It’s worth noting that Solskjaer’s side were guilty of similar lapses during the home draw with Everton and thumping at Leicester City.

Looking at the Red Devils’ pressing over a ten-game spell shows that the intensity has been plummeting since the final third of last season.

source: The Athletic

Far from being an aberration, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the current set up that coincides with the side’s botched transition from a counter-attacking to pressing team.

With defensive lynchpin Harry Maguire woefully out of form and the temperature rising daily, Reds’ coaches are now under intense pressure to fix their broken system.

Starting with Spurs on Saturday, it will soon become clear if they’re up to the task.

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