How the draw at West Brom showed why Man United won't catch City
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire are STILL making mistakes, Anthony Martial’s goal record isn’t enough and Bruno Fernandes is always left to save the day… how the West Brom draw summed up Man United’s problems – and showed why they won’t catch City
- Manchester United faltered again in their challenge for the Premier League title
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men’s 1-1 draw at West Brom highlighted familiar issues
- The United boss still believes they can push City in the race to win the league
- But Martial needs to score more and they can’t keep making errors in defence
Manchester United’s title bid suffered a huge dent at the weekend as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side limped to a 1-1 draw at relegation-threatened West Brom.
The disappointing result has left United seven points behind league leaders and rivals City, who also have got a game in hand.
Despite seeing United’s challenge falter again, Solskjaer has refused to accept that that the title is now a one-horse race.
‘I said with 15 games to go we shouldn’t be talked about at this stage,’ the United boss said. ‘It’s a compliment for the boys that we got into the position we are now.
Manchester United were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened West Brom
Solskjaer insisted they’re still in the title race but United keep getting stung by the same issues
‘We won’t let them (City) run away with it. We’re playing them soon, and we’re not giving it away early. This season is so unpredictable, of course we aren’t going to settle for second.
‘It’s disappointing. We are in desperate need of three points and we’ve come away with two points less than we wanted. We need to move up the table and you don’t do that by getting one point.’
It was familiar problems which cost United at the Hawthorns, and regardless of Solskjaer’s optimism, they cannot continue to keep repeating the same mistakes and expect to catch City.
Here, Sportsmail outline the main issues plaguing United’s title challenge.
Defensive errors have been a constant thorn in United’s side this season.
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire have been guilty more so than other United defenders for making costly mistakes.
Maguire is supposed to be United’s leader at the back and someone who they can depend on, but too often this season he has looked vulnerable.
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is the perfect example of what a reliable presence in defence can do for a team’s confidence, and while the England centre-half has mostly performed well, there is still a lack of conviction in his game, which has allowed errors to creep in.
It was his partner Lindelof who was far too easily bullied by Mbaye Diagne for West Brom’s opener. Maguire, whose positioning for the goal was questionable as well, cried foul after the match but Solskjaer, a prolific striker in his day, admitted there was nothing wrong with the header.
Although the United boss has vowed to not let City get too comfortable in the title race, the fact he has made signing a new centre back in the summer his priority is more or less admission that his current pair are not good enough for his ambitions.
Harry Maguire (left) watches on as Mbaye Diagne brushed aside Victor Lindelof to head in
Is four goals in 19 Premier League games a good enough return for a forward of Anthony Martial’s capabilities?
You would have thought that Solskjaer has asked himself that exact question and answered no. Apparently not though, because he still continues to pick him.
Mason Greenwood would be a natural replacement. The youngster has not had the best of seasons, and there have been stories about his application in training and antics off the pitch, but there are no doubts about his talent and sooner or later Solskjaer will have to consider dropping Martial and giving someone else an opportunity.
The Frenchman offered little on the weekend at West Brom and has been wasteful in front of goal all too often.
Anthony Martial’s goal record in the Premier League this season has not been good enough
It may be time to give Mason Greenwood more opportunities to start in Martial’s place
The problem United have created for themselves is they’ve got too many forwards and not enough natural wide players.
Solskjaer doesn’t seem to trust Daniel James while £37million January recruit Amad Diallo is perhaps still 12 months away from playing regular first-team football at United.
It’s been widely debated what Martial and Marcus Rashford’s best positions are. Both like to play from the left, but seem better suited to play down the middle. But Edinson Cavani is rightly first choice at the moment, so how does Solskjaer solve that predicament?
Does he play Rashford on the left and bring in Greenwood to operate from the right? Or does he change formation and play without wingers? It’s something that has to be on Solskjaer’s mind because Martial is not posing a big enough threat from the attacking left position at this moment in time.
Over-reliance on Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes seems to have broad shoulders and enjoy playing the leading role, but he cannot continue to carry the load on his own for much longer.
Every team needs a talisman, a star player who can bail you out of trouble and provide that moment of magic when it’s needed.
But it’s becoming a bit of burden on poor old Fernandes.
Whenever United need to dig themselves out of hole, it’s always break glass for Fernandes. There never seems to be any plan B.
United rely on Bruno Fernandes too heavily – and that was evident once again at West Brom
City are without Kevin De Bruyne right now and have barely had Sergio Aguero available all season, and yet have still looked unbeatable.
Pep Guardiola has had the luxury of relying on players from all over the pitch for goals while Ilkay Gundogan has stepped up in the absence of key players. Can you imagine United reacting in the same way if they lost Fernandes to injury?
While he’s fit, they have a remote possibility of making it a title race of sorts. But if he is ruled out, even for a handful of games, United can kiss that title goodbye.
Solskjaer needs to stop tinkering in midfield
Chopping and changing too much suggests a manager doesn’t know his best XI. You still get that sense with Solskjaer, particularity with his central midfielders.
In the past six Premier League games alone, Solskjaer has played Paul Pogba with Nemanja Matic, Pogba and Fred, Pogba and Scott McTominay and McTominay with Fred.
He can’t seem to settle on his favourite midfield pairing. You can understand that Solskjaer is trying to strike the right balance in midfield, but there is never any benefit to tinkering as much as he is.
United need to find some regularity and consistency in the position.
Solskjaer has tinkered with his midfield and played Scott McTominay and Fred on Sunday
Paul Pogba will likely be first choice in central midfield when he returns from his latest injury
The crux of the issue is the uncertainty over whether to play Pogba further forward, which Solskjaer has done on several occasions this season.
There were doubts that the Frenchman could ever play in the same team as Fernandes, but he has disproved that theory and shown he has the temperament and discipline to operate from a deeper role.
On Sunday, Solskjaer played McTominay alongside Fred with Pogba out injured, but there is a feeling the pair are too defence-minded to start together and isolate Fernandes as United’s only creative player.
Fred was the man who gave way when United needed to push for a winner at West Brom, and they looked more of an attacking threat when they had a more forward-thinking player in the middle in Donny van de Beek.
When Pogba returns, you assume he’ll be back in the first-team and start in centre-midfield but it’s time for Solskjaer to be tough and decisive and stick with either McTominay or Fred to partner him.
Solskjaer needs to make up his mind as to who he wants to pair Pogba with and stick with it
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