As far as bad spells go, Manchester United’s aren’t that bad when it comes to trophies. In the post Sir Alex Ferguson era – our worst since the 1980s – we have somehow still been able to gather major silverware. One League Cup, one FA Cup and the club’s first Europa League title is nothing to sniff at. That they were enough to help United complete football by winning every possible trophy available in club football, and surpass the major trophy haul of them lot at the other end of the East Lancs Road – who are in their best period since the 80s – are added bonuses.
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We can acknowledge this to be the case whilst also admitting that it’s not really what we should be aiming for. It may for the onlooker seem greedy, but we are Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, we should act like it and be striving for the biggest honours. In the past, winning the Premier League was the minimum, winning the Champions League was always a possibility and a primary target.
Trophies like the FA Cup and League cup were considered a cherry on the cake. This is the mentality we need to return to, and whilst thankfully it seems we are heading in that direction, we need to take that final step to make winning the big trophies a realistic goal.
Here’s what I believe we need to improve to take that final step:
1) The Starting XI
The truth is Jose inherited a deep squad with a lot of players who were good enough to play for United, but not strong enough to create a starting line-up that would have opposition trembling in their boots. Take one of this season’s starters for example: Nobody could claim Ashley Young is not good enough to play for Manchester United. He has shown this season to be an adequate left back and a strong voice in the dressing room. But the question is if he is good enough to be a consistent starter. If United were to bring in a world class left back like Alex Sandro the starting line-up would be strengthened, but Ashley Young’s presence maintains the squad depth. It seems obvious but by strengthening the starting line-up you also strengthen the squad overall. Other areas with a plethora of “squad level” players who have shown not to be up to snuff for the starting line-up is at centre back. United have Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Blind, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe and Lindelof on the books, all of whom are more than adequate squad level players to fill in as backup for injured players and for rotation purposes, but only have one top quality centre back in Eric Baiily. That is a major problem.
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2) Diversity in Attack
This is in a way linked to the previous point on the starting line-up, the difference being that these players are of good enough quality, but they all do a lot of the same things. A prime example of this is on the wings, where not a single one of our players seem capable of getting to the touchline and whipping in a cross. When your centre forward is Romelu Lukaku the absence of this attribute is especially bizarre. I would bet the big Belgian would bag at least 35 goals if he had decent supply from the wings. On the left, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Alexis Sanchez all do exactly the same thing. We can argue about the effectiveness of each but not one runs to the by-line to cross first time to Lukaku. They always opt to check back onto their stronger right foot, by which time the opposition defence has had a chance to face the ball and reorganise. A strong left footed winger like Gareth Bale and/or a world class left back will add great diversity to our attack, but the problem extends to the right wing too. United need to make the pitch as wide as possible, so a genuine threat from the right wing is also needed. If defences have to spread out to address genuine threats from wide, that gives more space in central areas for the likes of Pogba and Lingard to do damage too. Willian has been linked to United and while he isn’t a flashy name, his ability to get down the wing and cross the ball could be exactly what we need.
3) Positive Mentality
The players, manager and supporters need to all come together ahead of next season. United will always have their detractors in the media, but what has been striking over the past few years is how much people have allowed it to affect them. Players seem to be listening to the media more in recent times, we have a manager that appears to be triggered by them, and a large portion of our fans seem to believe every single thing that is written. Nobody can win anything if they don’t believe they can. Under Sir Alex, players and fans went into every season believing we could win the title, and if the starting XI and the diversity in attack are addressed, it will be this third key point that decides if we stand a chance at winning major silverware again next season.