The worst start to a season since 1989. It does not make good reading for Manchester United. Manager Erik ten Hag said after Saturday’s defeat “I can give you reasons but you will [interpret them] as an excuse.”
There are reasons, of course, and they are not excuses. An unprecedented injury crisis, three wingers unavailable for off-pitch reasons and a lack of support from the club in the transfer market. But there are also areas where the boss himself has to hold his hands up and admit he got it wrong. Here are three we think are clear.
1. Amrabat must play in midfield.
Obviously the full back injury crisis at United leaves few options and Amrabat at left back is arguably better than any other option right now. But it comes at the expense of not having him in midfield, where he can be most effective and ease the burden on Casemiro, who has been struggling this season.
He is inverting from left back to create an extra man in midfield but it is not an ideal solution. Diogo Dalot is a competent left back and Victor Lindelof can play right back, so a Varane-Maguire or Varane-Evans centre-back partnership, while not ideal, could be a solution.
Another possibility is to play Casemiro at centre back, which in one sense defeats the object but in another allows for Amrabat’s extra energy and mobility to invigorate the midfield.
A third option would be to switch to three at the back and employ, say, Antony or Mount and Dalot as wing backs. Casemiro and Amrabat could then partner up in midfield with Bruno Fernandes ahead of them and Rashford, Hojlund and one other would form the cutting edge. Which brings us to …
2. Fernandes must play at number 8/10
Ten Hag’s efforts to adjust the side due to the injuries and accommodating the likes of Mount have sometimes resulted this season in Bruno being pushed out wide right. Again, as in the case of Amrabat at left back, he may have been the best option in the position at the time but it has come at the expense of not having him in the 8/10 where he is lethal.
There is sometimes a case for Bruno playing deeper but rarely for playing him wider. He needs to be the heartbeat of the United side and dictate play, which no-one can do from the wing.
3. Hannibal and Pellistri are not the answer
Social media is full of calls today for Hannibal to be brought back into the side because of the energy he brings. But as we reported here recently, despite those commendable and record-breaking displays of energy, there has been very little in terms of creative product from the Tunisian. As stated above, Bruno Fernandes is one of the best CAM’s in the world, he needs to be there. If he is unavailable, arguably it would even be worth giving Donny van de Beek another chance to reproduce the form he showed in that position at Ajax that left him a whisker away from joining Real Madrid.
Pellistri is a neat and tidy player but unfortunately, unless he develops late, his slight physique is going to make it very difficult for him to succeed in the Premier League. Now that Antony is back, he is likely to make way and frankly he could be going the Anthony Elanga route now after failing to seize his chance in the first team.
Energy and enthusiasm are in short supply right now so it is natural that the manager looks to young hopefuls who have bags of both. But if the quality is not there, ultimately this will be a hollow pursuit. Ten Hag must instead focus on instilling the same enthusiasm in his world class players rather than trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.