Why Ole Gunnar is in trouble at Manchester United and what the possible solution is – Drop some big names to regain his old Manchester United Winning team
The thing with this Manchester United team is that, they badly lack fundamentals. Fundamentals or the lack thereof cannot be easily defined but you can generally grade through eye test or through data if you want. You would want to score ‘Decent’ in everything and ‘elite’ at a few things.
The best teams in Europe are usually elite at:
3. Sustained pressure
3. Ball retention in all phases
4. Compactness in all phases
6. Defensive work rate
These are fundamentals that make these teams not just difficult to beat but impossible to keep out.
Manchester United under Ole Gunnar are/were good or elite at:
1. Compactness in all phases
3. Defensive work rate
These 3 fundamentals made them difficult to beat, especially if you were a top team. With so many elite talents in the squad, they even won the best teams in the world a good few times.
However, these fundamentals are not enough to go toe to toe with the best teams for the big trophies. With the addition of even more elite talents and expectations, Man United had to start playing like one of the best teams in the world.
One of Manchester United’s deep-rooted problems had always been sustaining pressure in the opposition 3rd and ball retention in all phases
If you can’t keep the ball well enough in all phases, you can’t effectively sustain pressure on teams and if you can’t sustain pressure on teams, you are not going to be one of the best teams in the world no matter what.
Manchester United under Ole Gunnar have always been been generally poor at ball retention in all phases (and sustaining pressure in the final third). This is not just a coaching issue. Manchester United is simply full of players that are too direct and eager on the ball 24/7.
Bruno Fernandes is the chief culprit and his massive influence has made others similarly such that everyone plays direct and eager even when they ought to consolidate possession.
The likes of Rashford and Greenwood ought to be taught to take care of the ball better. With someone like Guardiola, they will be forced to learn to take care of the ball better (simply because Pep would use the ultimate consequence to teach as well: not playing games).
If this continues, Man United risk having many players like Bruno Fernandez in the squad which will make it near impossible to play possession football at the required level needed to match the best teams.
Man United also have Paul Pogba who, when he plays in central areas especially against a good press, loses the ball too frequently for the good of the team.
The problem is not just that Manchester United have these unreliable (in terms of keeping the ball) profiles, it is that they are extremely talented and global figures, too, and as such they must play.
If you fill the team with natural retention profiles like Sancho you could make it work having one or two chance-creating turnover machines in the team (City have one in De Bryune and Liverpool have Trend Alexandre Arnold and both are still better at retention until the final action, anyway).
However, when everyone is a turnover machine in your attack, you will struggle to sustain pressure on the opposition.
In attack, Man United only have two natural ‘make the ball stick’ players, one of which they just bought in Sancho and Van Den Beek (Mata doesn’t matter).
Both play where Manchester United’s biggest names play, reducing their influence, game time and general usefulness.
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Because Manchester United lose the ball so much, they MUST compensate with ELITE
3. Defensive work rate.
Much ado has been made about Man United’s buildup but it is not bad. It is not elite, either.
If the buildup was elite, Manchester United will naturally get into a settled final 3rd shape more frequently than they already do, which, on paper, should be good for them.
What about compactness in all phases?
The first thing I liked about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a coach was the fact that his teams played compact (if not inspiring) football.
Compactness is a SUPER FUNDAMENTAL. It is what makes teams good enough to win trophies. It is the soul of football.
Compactness can be structural in nature. It is having small distances between your players so that they can defend easier, prevent progression and press in packs. The secret of Ole-ball in previous seasons was compactness.
Compactness is not just structural, it’s also artificially induced by pressing schemes.
You can, for example, create a compact defensive situation by directing opponents towards the byline and then directly pressuring in packs there. So we can say that effective pressing schemes require compactness (small distances) and that compactness can be created by pressing
Both can be interdependent, even more especially in advanced areas. Pressing also requires a lot of work rate (although you don’t have to work as much when there’s small distances between players and if the team doesn’t lose the ball too frequently). So all of compactness, pressing and defensive work rate are related in some way, ESPECIALLY in advanced areas.
Now, Man United because of the massive amounts of attacking talents and household names they have haphazardly gathered – have to play with possession in advanced areas more than they have ever done.
You cannot really do that without great buildup, ball retention in all phases, compactness, pressing, work rate, etc. These are the fundamentals Man United do not have. They can’t compensate with pressing, compactness and work rate because of a few reasons.
1. Ole Gunnar’s coaching staff do not seem capable of organizing a structurally sensible press.
2. The work rate needed from the attackers to have good pressing is lacking (major culprits being every single attacker apart from Cavani and Daniel James who they just sold to Leeds).
3. Compactness is affected by all of the above as well as the need to fit as many attackers in as possible (attackers who don’t press). Structurally, you can only fit in so many pure forwards. Fundamentally, you still need work rate from those forwards to achieve a kind of compactness.
Ultimately, the end product of all of this lack of fundamentals is the inability to as possible (attackers who don’t press). Structurally, you can only fit in so many pure forwards. Fundamentally, you still need work rate from those forwards to achieve a kind of compactness.
Ultimately, the end product of all of this lack of fundamentals is the inability to sustain possession and pressure in the opposition final third, which is the holy grail of attacking football and the way United have to and are trying to play.
– United don’t have an elite buildup, which is the most direct lead to sustained pressure in the final third.
– United don’t keep the ball well enough in every area of the pitch, which affects their ability to build up and their ability to keep the ball in the opposition 3rd.
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– United don’t work hard from the front and don’t have a good shape or good ideas even when they try to, which brings a lot of pressure on the rest of the team, causing errors, lapses of judgment, drained confidence and energy levels.
All of these things are overwhelming to any team in the world. Why do you think Liverpool, City and Chelsea mostly play safe football until they get to the opposition 3rd? Why do you think Liverpool have signed Thiago, Keita etc? Ball retention in all phases.
I have seen more than good enough final 3rd shape from Ole Gunnar’s Manchester United before, so I believe that the lack of retention/control is a pass selection and discipline issue from the players instead of the coach’s fault alone.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION FOR MANCHESTER UNITED AND OLE GUNNAR?
One way or another, Ole and United have brought this upon themselves with defective squad building. Pep Guardiola thinks about ball retention when he’s signing players. That’s why he got Jack Grealish and Bernado Silva. There’s a reason why Jurgen Klopp uses a technical profile like Roberto Firmino to link play.
I guess that this was the reasoning behind Jadon Sancho signing for Manchester United. However, Ole’s reasoning was not holistic and the club added to the issue by signing even more players where Sancho should play.
Ole Gunnar’s reasoning was not holistic because it didn’t consider butterfly effect issues such as where would Jadon Sancho play? If it was on the right, then a capable overlapping RB would be needed (which Aaron Wan Bissaka is not yet). Even if Aaron Wan Bissaka is to be retrained, what about the other flank?
Marcus Rashford, Martial, Pogba all play as inside forwards. That’s two flanks with collapsing forwards and overlapping FBs. And that’s without Cristiano Ronaldo. But who would cover for the FBs? Especially when Bruno Fernandes, Jese Lingard, Van De Beek, and possibly Pogba have to play in midfield?
There’s great tactical friction between the profiles of Man United’s globally renowned forwards and their globally renowned midfielders.
This is why Daniel James staying was a tactical necessity, as he can hold width on the flanks which allows an 8/10 and let’s Aaron Wan Bissaka stay back.
Ultimately, Ole Gunnar has thought well about the recruitment but not too well. This is down to the lack of a holistic tactical vision.
However, things would not have been so bad all that much until the Man United hierarchy muddled in with their great bear feet and signed Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now, Ole Gunnar is in trouble. To get things back on track, Cavani, Sancho, Van De Beek must see more game time. But this is near impossible with the other big names.
If Ronaldo is playing, then one of Man United’s young guns is not. More trouble for Man United in the long run.
Ole Gunnar must somehow return back to his old fundamentals and drop some of the biggest names, especially in the biggest games.
3 of those big names are Ronaldo Bruno and Pogba.
It’s an impossible job.
Ole Gunnar is in trouble.