Tap For Menu  
Single word yields best result

Football News: What does the Manchester United team need to improve

What does the Manchester United team need to improve

What a weird season we have had, yesterday's good result (in context of the season) felt slightly disappointing, which is surprising as many had us down for a pasting.

I've seen many times people have asked what EtH's style or plan is, and I admit it is not the easiest to decern due to him both being pragmatic at times and due to the injuries/ unbalanced makeup of this squad of players. So, I thought I'd try and break things down here.

His preferred approach is to play a vertical game, he wants to play out from the back quickly and move up the pitch with quick short and vertical passes to retain possession and to unsettle the opposition. He wants to play with a higher defensive line and use a high press to win the ball and create high quality chances. It's a style that requires both technical quality and physical ability.

His in-possession shape to achieve this is a 3-1-3-3, this gives lots of forward (vertical) passing options and means that if we lose the ball, we are compact in the middle, forcing teams to go wide. This acts as a pressing trigger, where the wide players and midfielders can press using the touchline to win the ball back. With the aim to then play one or two quick passes to create a shooting opportunity before the opposition can settle into their defensive shape.

While EtH is known for his time at Bayern with Pep, his style of play is closer to Klopp's than it is Pep's as he predominately looks to use a high press to create chances and plays with more energy than composure. Although his build up play from the back (albeit it very vertical) does share more with Pep's philosophy than Klopp's. It's a style that when done well can be very exciting and entertaining to watch as well as being successful.

So, what has happened at United and why are we struggling to see this. Going back to the very start of EtH's time at United you could see he immediately tried to implement this style. But after defeats to Brighton and Brentford he resigned himself to the understanding that the squad he had didn't have either the technical quality of the physicality to play that style.

DDG in goal couldn't be relied upon to play out from the back, while we lacked the technical ability beyond Martinez and Shaw to play out from the back, only had Eriksen who could progress the ball through midfield and lacked the forwards to press high, make off the ball runs and create chances. The whole team also lacked the physicality to play this style, especially in the EPL where the general level of physicality and fitness is much higher than in the Eredivisie.

Meaning his players weren't physically superior to the opposition, like they were at Ajax. This was compounded by a few missed transfer targets and alternative options not really being the right type of players (Casemiro instead of FdJ), along with the club being held up and forced to pay over the odds for several signings.

He made the decision to become more pragmatic and looked to try and get the best out of the players he had that season. He looked to play a slightly deeper defence, had Eriksen play deeper in midfield to play those longer passes forward and looked to make the best of players like Rashford whose pace in behind was key.

To be fair, a top three finish and two cup finals, winning one showed that he did a pretty good job. However, long term it would be impossible for him to be successful at a club like Manchester United by being a pragmatist, he knew he would need to move the team towards the way he wanted to play.

That leads us to this season where with a few more signings (Onana, Mount and Hojlund) along with a plan to increase the intensity of training to increase the players physical ability meant that EtH could start to move towards playing his preferred style of play.

However, again this was met with a few key issues. Firstly, most if not all of his key players to play this style have suffered with injuries this season. For some like Shaw it might be the case that his body just can't cope with the increased intensity in training, for others it has just been bad luck. Yet for the most part the key players from last season as well as his key summer signings have spent large spells out of the team.

Meaning EtH had that familiar choice to make again, either continue with his plan to try and implement his new style of play or revert to pragmatism and waste another season of not moving the team closer to his vision. This time he chose to stick to his plan and try and ride out the rough. So, what has been the problems.

Starting at the back, without players like Shaw and Martinez we have lacked the on the ball quality when playing out from the back. While several of the players who could come in to replace them lack pace or mobility. This has led to the defensive line dropping slightly deeper. While EtH's style/ shape is demanding that the defence be able to defend bigger spaces, particularly behind and slightly wider.

Players like Maguire, Lindelof and Evans struggle to play this way and have had to drop deeper to cover their weaknesses. This has led to more space opening up in midfield, demanding the CDM to cover more ground. Which leads on to Casemiro's decline being exasperated by having more space to cover just as his mobility starts to decline.

This has led to an increase in the number of shots the opposition are having. Yet it hasn't seen us concede many more goals. For the most part the defence has been good at limiting where these shots have come from with many being low conversion rate chances. The defence isn't letting the opposition have high quality chances. While Onana has actually had a better season than most give him credit for. Only two keepers in the league have prevented more goals by the post shot xG model. According to that model he has prevented more goals this season than DDG did last season. Which suggests that his shot stopping isn't as big a weakness as many would assume.

EtH could look to solve this defensive fragility by altering his shape from a 3-1-3-3 to a 3-2-2-3, dropping an extra player deeper into midfield to help with both the build up play and shielding the defence. Much like he did last season by playing Eriksen there. However, while his would lead to us conceding less shots, it would also reduce our ability to press successfully high (we are currently the third best team in the league for winning possession in the final third) .

Which would again lead to less chances for us to score. While ultimately the issue this season isn't the number of goals we have conceded, but out struggle to score them ourselves. So, while it seems like a good idea to add that extra midfielder deeper, it won't massively decrease the number of goals we concede but will have a big impact on the number we score. Again, it's also moving away from what he wants the team to do and means another season of not developing the skills and understanding required to play how he wants us to play.

The real issue we have had playing this way this season is actually in attack. Where we have struggled to make the right decisions. This way of playing puts a high focus of countering after winning the ball back high to create good quality chances. Now we are winning the ball back high often enough. But our decision making once we win it has been really poor.

Too many of our wide players naturally look to cut inside and shoot when they have the ball in the final third. Which makes us very predictable and easy to defend against. By the time our players realise they can't shoot themselves the opposition are back in shape, and we lack the ability to create a good chance. Leading to us either playing the ball backwards to midfield or having a low probability shot. Bruno despite his weaknesses is key to this team as he is one of the very few who will look to pass and create rather than shoot.

He seems to have accepted this responsibility and has looked to shoot less and pass more. Which has seen him give the ball away more and score less, leading to many people questioning his ability or impact in the team. While actually in a team that aims to create chances by winning the ball high up, losing possession in the final third isn't as big a problem as it gives us a chance to win it again and take advantage of the opposition being out of defensive shape.

We saw this season that we had the biggest upturn in form when Garnacho switched to the right, as he was no longer looking to shoot every time he got on the ball, suddenly we had another player looking to create when we won the ball back. Leading to us scoring more goals and Hojlund having a hot streak. This is probably why EtH is reluctant to drop Rashford as it would mean putting Garnacho back on the left and Antony on the right and suddenly we have two wide players looking to cut in and shoot rather than create.

So, what does this team need to improve if we are to see EtH's style succeed?
In defence we need more physically mobile and quick players capable of playing a high line, defend in the channels, restrict defensive errors, and have the technical ability to avoid a press and play good forward passes.

We need a No. 6 midfielder to come in and be a physically able wall, someone who has the mobility, strength, and stamina to shield the defence, along with the reading of the game not to get pulled out of position. While ideally also having the passing range to switch play and progress the ball.

We also need forwards who can cover for Hojlund as he can't be expected to play every minute, while also being creators, players who look to play in a team mate rather than play with their head down looking to shoot. The also need to be hard workers, willing and able to press successfully.

Finally a new LB is needed to provide top class competition for Shaw, someone who can physically meet the demands of the game and won't be perpetually injured. Probably someone who can go on to be Shaw's replacement.

The interesting thing for me is that the players we need to make EtH's system work are the types of players and the same positions we would need to bring in whoever was our manager. Which means we can in theory look to bring in summer signings without having to make a decision on the manager.

If the club decide to replace the manager, then I'd personally be looking for a manager who plays more of pressing game rather than a slow possession game as I feel that is more suited to our club. Which if we do replace EtH these sort of players/ signings are the kind any manager who would look towards pressing, entertaining, attack oriented style.

That is the kind of style EtH is looking to implement, and he is running into the same problems any manager looking to play this way will likely encounter. This is all part of the growing pains we will have to endure over the next few season's if we are to get back to where we want to be. Over a decade of poor decisions and being lost in the footballing wilderness cannot to fixed over night and will take years. EtH seems to be looking to play a style that is suitable and has done a decent job in difficult circumstances. Maybe he's the right guy, maybe he isn't.

But if the club are going down a route of bringing in players to suit a style the club wants to play, and EtH's style is similar then there really is no danger in keeping him for another season. If it doesn't work, then the signings made this summer are still the right signings for where the club want to go. While it gives the new people at the club more time to settle in and assess what they need to do and who they might hire to help get them there.

Written by Shappy April 08 2024 14:44:17


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Manchester United rumours web page


Discuss rumours and transfers on our NBA rumours web page