David De Gea: the one player whose performances post Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure have enhanced his reputation and who has been Manchester United’s knight in shining armour when the rest of the cavalry has been dull and disinterested.
The player who won three consecutive United Player of the Year awards and who single-handedly kept them in games, kept scorlines respectable and kept his head held high. A lot of Manchester United players can’t say they have even come close to casting themselves in the same glory as the Spaniard.
But there is only so much one man can do. Seeing him after the Newcastle United defeat with his head down, at a loss for words and completely dejected is a sharp indictment of the rot that this club finds itself in.
“It is not acceptable, not just this game but the whole season,” De Gea said. “It is the most difficult time since I have been here. I don’t know what is happening. We cannot even score one goal in two games.”
When asked what was needed to fix things, he candidly responded “Everything.”
And that seems to beg the question. Does manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær have what it takes and if not, where do Manchester United go from there?
During Ole’s period as caretaker manager, he won 74 percent of his 19 games with 40 goals scored. Since being appointed as permanent manager he has won 29 percent of his 21 games with a mere 23 goals scored.
As caretaker, Ole was free of expectation. He just needed to not be Jose Mourinho and that is exactly what he was. As a club legend, he brought back hope, excitement and most importantly, a breath of fresh air.
Retrospectively, however, there is not much else he brought to the table, which casts his permanent appointment in doubt. His managerial CV has minimal achievements of note, having relegated Cardiff City and being semi-successful at Molde, a job that brought a fraction of expectations compared to the one in Manchester.
Most alarming is his lack of an identity and versatility in their approach. He sets his team up to counter attack using the pace of Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial and this was extremely effective against Chelsea, who naively set up with acres of space in behind. That was the only game where United were offered that much space.
Against teams that set up with a low block, United seem to be bereft of ideas. The passing is stale, uninspired and sideways for the most part with Rashford running tirelessly down the channels to no avail. $70 million signing Fred, last made a successful through ball in April, showing the lack of incisiveness and punch that Manchester United currently possess.
In such cases, a plan B is needed. However, Ole seems out of his depth and probably does not have the knowhow to get out of such a situation.
These problems go all the way back to their summer transfer window. Ander Herrera was confirmed to leave Old Trafford before the window even began and this would have given United plenty of time to scout, approach and sign a replacement. Yet, they failed to fill his vacancy, leaving them short of midfielders who can break opposition counters and win the ball in areas high up the pitch when teams are trying to play out of the back.
Romelu Lukaku, who supposedly did not fit the manager’s style of play also left, leaving United without a player who averages 20 goals per season. Had they replaced these goals with another proven goalscorer, maybe we would not be having this conversation.
Instead, Ole has tasked Rashford, Martial and Mason Greenwood to lead the line for United for the season. Rashford, who is now in his fifth season as a Manchester United senior, has only 10 goals as his highest goals tally in the Premier League.
He himself and Ole do not seem to be sure where his best position is and he does not quite have the instinct that proven goal scorers possess. On his best day, Martial is probably the best player on the pitch and can be very difficult to stop. However, his best days don’t happen very often.
His inconsistency is compounded by the fact that he is in his fourth season at United and has already missed 23 games due to injury. These frailties of those in charge of goals surely leaves a little too much on the shoulders of Greenwood, who only turned old enough to have a pint at an English pub last week.
Hiring Ole seemed to signal a shift in identity, an attempt to harken back to the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, by promoting youth, attacking football and breeding players who bleed for the club. In theory, this seems like the perfect way to go forward. Only thing lacking is a man competent enough to lead that charge.
The last time a United boss got sacked was off the back of a poor result against arch rivals Liverpool FC. With the same fixture coming up after the international break, are we going to see history repeat itself?
Manchester United and Ole have a lot of problems to contend with, and potentially going a mammoth 18 points behind Liverpool after just 10 games might be the final nail in the coffin.
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