Manchester City lost to Lyon by not playing the way they usually play. Guardiola changed the formation, changed players’ positions, and refused to make the changes even after seeing his side struggle.
Manchester United lost to Sevilla by playing the same way they have often played and lost. They were making the same mistakes that they’ve made in some of the games I’ve seen them lose—midfielders (Pogba, but also Bruno) don’t track back well enough, they defend after taking lead even when the defence has been leaky under pressure.
Which is worse—abandoning your winning instincts and then having a brain freeze, or refusing to learn the lessons and making the same mistakes again?
I refuse to even ponder over that Champions League semifinal—the scoreline says it all. The performance on the field was way more shameful than even the scoreline.
Based on all the Manchester United matches I’ve seen this season:
- Pogba doesn’t like tracking back to defend. He’s also not much of a fan of sprinting forward to join in a breaking attack. He’s excellent at sitting in the midfield and delivering lovely passes. He’s also good at occasionally taking powerful strikes at the goal. But, for whatever reason, he just doesn’t play the modern game where he needs to press when he loses the ball, run back to help in defence, and run forward to join in counter attacks. It may be his physical fitness needs work. It may be his mental attitude needs work. It may be both. But United need to work on them, or let him move on to a slower league.
- Bruno is excellent on the attack—he can create passes where none exist, and he joins in on counter attacks. He is better than Pogba at tracking back and helping in defence. His issue, which I think smart teams have figured out, is his mental fragility—he loses his energy after getting a few hard tackles. The smart teams hit him with a few hard tackles in the first half, maybe at the cost of a yellow card. Then he’s just off—makes fewer runs, trundles around the mid-field, and starts making that long face with dropped shoulders. Again, United need to work on both his physical fitness and mental strength.
- De Gea needs to go. He’s an awesome goalkeeper when his heart is in it. He’s been a great player at United—we’d have fared way worse over last few seasons without hi around. But either his heart is not in playing for United, or he’s just lost his touch. Either way, it’s time to plan his replacement. 2020-21 should be his last season at United.
- We need a new defence coach. I could point out the defenders and the goalie as the issue. But, it appears more a case of training and tactics. The midfielders, forget the forwards, don’t track back quickly enough. We concede from corners, and we concede from sustained pressure, and we concede from counter-attacks. Fairly often, one or more players just switch off and become static.
- We need a deeper squad, rotated more often. Ole has his favourite players, and likes playing them as often as he can. Many would admire the stability this brings. I say it also brings complacency. There’s no real pressure on the under-performers in the his favourite 11 to keep their place. It’s stability at the cost of improvement. This stability also hurts the ability to dynamically, radically change the playing system mid-game based on the opposition—all the regular players are too used to their positions, and the bench doesn’t get enough game time.