After such a promising start with the thrashing over Chelsea and encouraging performance in the result away at Wolves, the early season positivity is already dissipating amongst some United fans after the humbling defeat at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were defeated by Patrick Van Aanholt’s last minute winner, but the problems lie much deeper than the error from David De Gea that cost United a point.
The fact that United had 71% possession (BBC Sport), yet could only manage three shots on target in the match tells you everything you need to know.
United are suffering from a lack of creativity, meaning chances for forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in front of goal are scarce.
Jesse Lingard hasn’t had a good game under Solskjaer for months, and it’s baffling to see the Norwegian persist with the 26-year-old given the lack of goal contributions he offers.
Yes, Lingard has his uses in a pressing game defensively, perhaps against tough opposition away from home where the Reds see less of the ball.
In these games against what should be lesser opposition at home, the Reds need players on the pitch who have the ability to break rigid, resilient defensive set-ups down.
It’s a concern itself that Solskjaer is adamant that he is not concerned with Lingard’s form. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction to suggest he has to be dropped; he has not come up with a goal contribution for the Reds in eight months.
Lingard is not the root cause of the problem, and there is an issue with Solskjaer picking a counter-attacking XI against a side who we know are going to sit back and look to counter themselves.
But the territory and dominance United have in these sort of games cries out for more ingenuity and imagination in attack.
Granted, Solskjaer has been left stranded in the sense no attacking midfielder was signed this summer despite the area being in need of addressing.
But there are still options for the Norwegian.
The likes of Lingard and James are not always the answer when there is a lack of space to run into, the pair’s best assets. Perhaps Paul Pogba could be moved into a move advanced role; the Frenchman is currently attempting to take on the job of two in midfield to keep things ticking over.
Watching the unimaginative, pedestrian attempts at penetrating defences is often arduous when watching United against teams set up to defend, especially when seeing the incomparable ease at which champions Man City walk through their opposition.
Angel Gomes is an academy graduate due a chance, and there’s no reason he would have done a worse job than Lingard in midfield yesterday. The 18-year-old excelled in pre-season and is surely knocking on the door to make it into Solskjaer’s first-team squad.
Alternatively, the guile and class of Juan Mata could be utilised in behind Martial in attack, after the Spaniard signed a contract extension this summer.
This is not the time to overreact as a United fan given we are three games into a long season, and Solskjaer needs times to get things right at Old Trafford. There was an acceptance when the transfer window shut on August 8th that United were still light in creative options attack, so it’s no surprise that the evidence came to light against Crystal Palace.
But Solskjaer surely has to alter the way the Reds setup in some games, including the personnel, to create more opportunities and put to bed the weaker opponents.