The media are in their element and the naysayers overjoyed, Manchester United have failed to beat Arsenal. The wheels are off, once more, and a dreary red sky looms over Old Trafford.
A familiar feel to my Sunday morning and one that any polished United supporter can pre-empt. It’s obvious as to why the aforementioned few are happy and even easier to predict. What’s harder to recognise, and even harder to accept, is that this particular Manchester United are not yet out of transition. In fact, the current crop at actually overachieving.
United returned to the summit of the Premier League on the 12th January, following a 1-0 road victory to Burnley. This was the first time a United squad have achieved this, after 17 games, in the post-Fergie term. It would have been easy to get carried away with this standing and start getting that 21 tattoo on your arse – but we’re just not like some other clubs (you know who you are). Rather than getting ahead of ourselves, the logical supporter could see this for what it was, progression!
Despite the table, no realistic United fan would have us favourites at this stage. However, for every OleOut, anti United and each and every rodent who’s made it their duty to turn those notifications on, breath that table in.
— Shaun (@PlasticShaun) January 12, 2021
I’ve spent the better part of two years defending the managers project and debating the various statistical factors of this side. It’s evident that the manager is cultivating the club in the image of his great mentor and the process is accelerating extremely well. Following yesterday’s draw with Arsenal, the club are now unbeaten in 18 Premier League away games, a new club record in the top flight. As well as this, the side sit 2nd in the table and are only 3 points off of the leaders. Despite this, the anti – United brigade would have you think that the club are fighting to contend for a Europa League spot. Why is this? Paper will never refuse ink and the word ‘United’ will guarantee a click.
For me, the most impressive factor of this season, has been the fact that all of the above was achieved without any form of natural attacking flair on the right side of the field. It’s widely reported that our number one target, of the last Summer transfer window, was Jadon Sancho. The manager is very much aware of the necessity for a natural right sided player and, unsurprisingly, was not backed with his request. The lack of this particular acquisition has meant that our other attacking players – namely Marcus Rashford – have had to play in an unfamiliar role in filling the void. Not only has the yielded a lack of progression from RW; it has often worked in detriment to Rashford – Saturday’s game being the prime example.
When you dive into this scenario a little deeper, you then move onto the attacking output of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. There is absolutely no denying the defensive strengths of our RB – he’s second to none in terms of ability to contain an oppositions LW. In terms of attack, despite a 14% chance creation from crosses, his attacking movement is often slow, predictable and lacking of thoughtful purpose. More often than not, a head-down cross into the box with a hit and hope feel is the result of an attacking move. One need only look toward Shaw / Telles to see the advantageous nature of healthy competition. However, despite the departures from the club, AWB is left without any real competition for his spot or any incentive to accelerate his game to the next level.
Listening to some of the clubs living legends, it’s interesting to gather their thoughts and see how they still bleed for the club. Following the draw with Arsenal, Roy Keane was extremely vocal in his dissatisfaction with the performance.
“I’m scratching my head with United really. The worry, for me watching them today, they almost lacked belief that they could go and win the game. The game was there for the taking. Overall, their performance lack that intensity. A real lack of quality today for Man United.” (Roy Keane quotes via GOAL)
Now, I’m not for a second trying to supersede the knowledge of our former leader. He’s been around the block enough and has won more than enough to have earned the right to air his frustration. He was also part of a United team that contained quality in every position and plenty in reserve. Keane joined a United side that contained some of the clubs all time greats: Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes and Brian McClair. As well as this invaluable experience, the club contained exquisite quality in wide positions: with Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis and Lee Sharpe. As we all know, he’d later be joined by David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. In fact, throughout his time at the club, he was never without quality in every section of the field and further quality chomping at the bit for their chance.
The point I make is that without sufficient quality in every position, and bodies who are waiting in the background, no United side will ever reach the mantle of title winners. Solskjaer has strengthened the squad in several areas and has also oversaw the sale/loan of individuals who just aren’t at the desired level. For the first time in many years, United have real quality in multiple positions and they also have bodies on the bench. However, until the manager is backed with the necessary elements for the right side of the field, we’re similar to a boxer fighting with one hand tied behind his back.
For those of you confused, this has never been a title race – we’re only in January! This is a remarkable run of form and one that has given the fan – base a reason to smile. Despite 1 point from the last 6, we’re still in 2nd place, we’re still competing for the FA cup and we’re still represented in Europe. Any fan, with half a brain, can surely realise that the primary aim is progression? Not only were we 15 points off 2nd place last term, we were 33 off top! The next time you feel the necessity to write a negative tweet about one performance, just take a deep breath and think. From where we were, we’re slowly getting back to where we are supposed to be. Have faith in the managers vision and the obvious progression on show.