Columnists, Sports

A Fan’s Perspective: What is wrong with Manchester United?

In the period following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United has struggled, failing to reach the UEFA Champions League with a seventh place finish during the 2013-14 season. After the dismissal of Ferguson’s replacement, the “Chosen One,” David Moyes, United looked to turn the table on last season’s mishaps by adding Louis van Gaal as manager.

At the helm of the Netherlands national team, van Gaal led the “Flying Dutchmen” to a third place finish in the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a 3-0 victory over host country Brazil in the consolation game this summer.

In the wake of his World Cup campaign, van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford with a new prospect for the future of the Red Devils. The club broke the bank, signing Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind and landing a one-year loan deal for AS Monaco’s Radamel Falcao.

It was a new look for United, who went undefeated in the preseason and looked thoroughly impressive in victories against the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Madrid. However, the start of the Barclays Premier League season proved to be more of a struggle.

In a rematch of last year’s season opener with a change in venue, Manchester United hosted Swansea City on Aug. 16. Like last year, the visiting team came away victorious, only it wasn’t United this time. A 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Welsh powerhouse was a disappointing result to say the least, but the worst was yet to come. After four games, United finally notched one in the win column with a victory over the newly promoted Queens Park Rangers on Sept. 14.

A match the following Sunday against Leicester City looked to be the momentum-changer that was so desperately needed for United, with the Red Devils possessing a 3-1 lead with 30 minutes remaining. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as a lack of discipline and defense led to a four-goal swing and a 5-3 victory for Leicester City.

So what went wrong? Why, all of sudden, after such an amazing track record and a current all-star lineup, is Manchester United struggling so much?

Delving back into United’s summer transfer list, the players who they signed are talented, but none of them are defenders. Over the summer, Manchester United parted ways with defender and captain Patrice Evra. Evra was a natural left back, and with his speed on the perimeter, it was hard for opposing teams to cross the ball into the center.

Without Evra, all of United’s defenders are primarily center backs. While it is possible for a center back to play on the outside, they do not possess the stamina or the speed to get forward on the attack or to keep pace with strikers on defense. This is noticeable later in games when opposing strikers and midfielders easily press forward and get more opportunities on goal.

The defense is the primary problem this season, but it is not the only one. The other two major problems stem from defensive issues. First, there is the issue of formation. Due to an illegitimate defensive core, the Red Devils are forced to play a three-man backline with two defensive midfielders to keep pace up and down the perimeters.

This formation has been exploited in two ways. On offensive counter attacks, there are only five players who can get forward to generate any offense. Likewise on opposing counter attacks, when the defensive midfielders have pushed forward, there are only three men in the back, all center backs, making it easy for opposing teams to get crosses into the middle when they have more strikers in the penalty area.

Finally, the Red Devils lack discipline, signifying van Gaal’s greatest downfall. Defender Tyler Blackett has especially struggled with three cards and is set to miss United’s next match against West Ham United on Sept. 27. Due to a lack of bodies in the back, United defenders are forced to make overly ambitious tackles, which can result in the team conceding penalties. In the match against Leicester City, two penalties were conceded and converted, accounting for the scoring difference.

So will United break out of their slump and return to the form expected of them? Only time will tell. However, if no changes are made in the lineup, the problems will only increase and get worse. One thing’s for sure: this time, it is not the coaching staff that is the problem.

One Comment

  1. Great article, Dan!