United sit fourth in the league, three points off the top and have the best defensive record in the Premier League. Yet there is a crisis afoot at Old Trafford.
It is no secret that the Red Devils are struggling as an attacking entity. Six goals in their last nine games in all competitions is simply not good enough and the pressure is starting to build on all involved with the first team.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw with West Ham was yet another unfulfilling result and while more chances were created, the clinical finishing of a top side was still lacking. With a must-win match against Wolfsburg to come on Tuesday evening, it would seem obvious that a change in tactics must be adopted.
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However, United appear to lack both a manager who is willing to compromise his precious defensive solidity and the players required to change the system effectively. The current system with two holding midfield players is infuriating to watch.
Bastian Schweinsteiger has been performing at the highest level in a deep central role for years and he does not need Morgan Schneiderlin to be there to walk him through dull, conservative matches at Old Trafford. Teams arrive in Manchester, put ten men behind the ball and look to use the counter-attack. Therefore, the unnecessary second holding midfielder could be put to better use elsewhere.
Perhaps a second out-and-out striker alongside the ever-present Anthony Martial? It sounds like an obvious option, but senseless transfer dealings have rendered it impossible for this to be a viable option in every match.
The inexplicable loaning out of James Wilson has left the senior squad with two strikers; including the once great, but horribly out of form Wayne Rooney.
It is baffling how such an experienced manager as Louis van Gaal would leave himself so devoid of attacking options. For a team which is supposed to be fighting for the league title and Champions League progression, it indefensible to have only two genuine strikers.
With the festive period upon them, United are in a precarious position. Already struggling to find the net, the Red Devils will face a fixture pile-up where they can ill-afford to drop points.
In the winter months, a Sir Alex Ferguson side would employ a rotation system for attacking players. For example, in 2010, Ferguson could play Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in one fixture and then start a fresh pairing of Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck a few days later.
LVG has no such options and it is completely self-inflicted. Javier Hernandez is currently excelling in the Bundesliga. When he finally left United at the end of the summer he was underperforming, but his sale should never have gone through if no adequate cover was to be brought in.
With a glaringly obvious lack of depth prevailing, the recent loaning of Wilson to Brighton and Hove Albion is nothing short of insanity. His excellent solo goal at the weekend was a perfect example of the talent United could have had available to them on the bench as they fruitlessly tried to break down the West Ham defence.
It is clear that something has to change and it seems obvious that the removal of the second holding midfielder is key. This would allow a more attack-minded player a less structured role to influence matches with creativity and flair. Perhaps it’s time to see what Andreas Pereira can do instead of sitting on the substitute’s bench game after game.
United must loosen up, play with more intensity and bring enjoyment back to their increasingly stale displays. A result in Germany on Tuesday night is a must, and Van Gaal must alter his tactics to do so.
Heading into the chaos of the Christmas period, more stubbornness from the manager or an injury to either senior striker could result in United exiting Europe and the title race before the New Year.
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