Hello and welcome back to Rowlesy’s Ramblings. Manchester United extended their unbeaten run with a thrilling attacking display taking apart Bournemouth on Saturday. It was the first time since Solskjaer’s first ever match in charge that United scored 5 in a the league. This long unbeaten run has not only propelled United to within touching distance of the much coveted 4th place, but 3rd place too.
That proposition looked virtually impossible as a United side without Bruno Fernandes suffered a dismal home defeat to Burnley which, by all intents and purposes, left Solskjaer clinging onto his job for dear life. It has been truly remarkable just how the signing of one player has completely lifted the gloom and revived a club that has been on its knees for some time. Isn’t it a great feeling going back into matches not only confident but expecting a victory? Say it quietly, but Solskjaer’s United are showing signs.
Solskjaer deserves enormous credit for the transformation. He looked a dead man walking in losing to Sean Dyche’s side. It was dark and gloomy in every sense, with United jeered off by a usually patient and knowledgeable Stretford End. United have suddenly gone from a functional, bric-a-brac side to one filled with diamond encrusted stars. Many managers before Solskjaer have tried and failed to find a balanced United side, without having to sacrifice some attacking stardust. In previous regimes, the likes of Veron, Kagawa and Rooney almost had to be shoehorned into midfield to no avail, so for Solskjaer to not only accommodate Greenwood, Martial, Rashford, Fernandes and Pogba into the same team, but to make it thrive and balanced too is huge testament to the work Solskjaer, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are doing behind the scenes.
The world really is Mason Greenwood’s oyster, isn’t it? We have known for a while the kid has all the talent, but to produce such a high level still at just 18-years-old is remarkable. You can see the upper body work he has been doing when you compare present pictures to earlier in the season, it will certainly help him physically make a full adaptation to the men’s game but the key will be managing his body and workload to steer clear of injuries while he is shaping into his body. Everyone’s ears pricked up when Solskjaer, who knows a thing or two about finishing, praised Greenwood as the club’s best finisher, some statement with the likes of Martial and Rashford in his arsenal. Solskjaer’s belief is there for all to see, it’s astonishing that he genuinely has no weaker foot: defenders think they are safe sending him onto his right foot but Diego Rico paid the ultimate price for that false sense of security as Mason arrowed a venomous drive into the net for his second goal at the weekend. He now has equal league goals with Firmino in just 7 starts. Without meaning to get swept away in giddiness, there can’t be many 18-year-olds who are doing what Greenwood is doing.
What’s even more amazing is that he is not a natural inside forward or right winger, so when I see people questioning the Jadon Sancho transfer because it would hinder Greenwood, I turn a blind eye. Greenwood is being utilised on the right wing to give him a better footballing understanding, getting on the ball more, doing his defensive duties and developing his all round game. It will bear more fruits currently than slaving away with his back to goal against uncompromising centre-backs. Dan James has had a commendable first season in the top flight, especially with the jump from Championship football to a club of United’s stature, but I think the idea has always been for United to have an undisputed right winger, i.e. Sancho and for Greenwood to eventually go from rotational option, while he learns the game, to be United’s focal point. The cream always rises to the top, look at Rashford as the prime example, who had to fight off the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez and still held his own. I’d virtually guarantee Greenwood will be around for years to come.
Whilst United are certainly making strides in their quest to get back competing for top honours, there are still nagging Achilles heels which United will need to swiftly address. The chief one is defensive vulnerabilities still exist. I know United’s defensive record in this unbeaten stretch is still very good, but Bournemouth showed, for all United’s exhilarating attacking play, there are chinks in the armour at the back. David de Gea and Harry Maguire, fresh from their parts in Bergwijn’s goal on restart night, had their shorts pulled down by Junior Stanislas.
Top class sides seldom have glaring weaknesses in their team or don’t concede two self inflicted goals to relegation threatened sides, better teams will not afford United the luxury of scoring five goals. Ultimately, United will have some critical decisions to make. Can De Gea get back to his old levels or is it time to blood Dean Henderson? Who will be Maguire’s long term partner? Does Victor Lindelof do enough to compensate for Maguire’s lack of pace? Can Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe rid themselves of their mounting injuries to present as serious candidates? Do United need to recruit or will Teden Mengi be the ‘next one’?
There is simply no let up in this unforgiving fixture schedule, with United next up at Villa Park on Thursday, followed by a home game against Southampton the following Monday. Despite the grueling nature, I cannot see how you meddle with this team that is thrilling supporters. Solskjaer has struck an amazing balance, it’s whether Nemanja Matic can play twice in a week. Fred and McTominay are amazing depth though so maybe that change is afoot. Leicester and Chelsea can potentially drop points soon, it is paramount United do not do likewise if they want to sort their own destiny.
Ole’s at the wheel.