Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United squad very much lie at a crossroads for the remainder of this 2020-2021 season. As recently as December, they looked to be well in the race for both the Premier League (PL) title and set to advance from their Champions League group. However, today the Red Devils sit 10 points behind rivals Manchester City in the PL and are battling against the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham in the Europa League knockout stages. This article will seek to examine what led to this decrease in form, and what lies ahead for this undoubtedly talented, yet inconsistent squad.
The first major sticking point for Man United this season has been the form of Paul Pogba. A polarising and game changing player, his ability to define this Manchester United squad both on and off the ball has caused massive swings in form, especially in the midfield. In recent draws against West Brom and Everton, in which Pogba has been side-lined by injury, Bruno Fernandes has lacked the assistive playmaking ability that Paul Pogba brings to the midfield. Without a second midfield player to force dynamic runs out of the wingers and forwards, United have struggled against teams that park the bus and disable Solskjær’s trademark counter attacking football.
Pogba has also caused trouble off the pitch this season. Represented by Super-Agent Mino Raiola, he has often been the subject of both Serie A and La Liga transfer rumours. Earlier this season, Raiola went as far to declare the Frenchman’s time at united “over” which led to a media frenzy that distracted both the fans and dressing room from his play. For United to see a return in form similar to when they topped the league table in January, Pogba must be at his best both on and off the pitch.
Although Pogba has often caused a distraction for Man United’s midfield, the Portuguese star that is Bruno Fernandes has continued shining bright. Brought on during the winter 2020 transfer window, he has since become the clubs leading scorer and has also won Premier League Player of the Month four times. Fernandes has also been supported by the recent rise in form of Scott McTominay; the Scottish defensive midfielder has been immaculate in his recent starts, scoring six goals this season and captaining his first match in January.
In attack, Man United has fielded a variety of combinations of both new and old signings. Bolstered by the recent addition of Edison Cavani, United’s front three looked to be one of the most dangerous outfits in the league after the end of the summer transfer window. However, Cavani has been hampered by injuries, and the poor form of Antony Martial and Mason Greenwood has put much of the scoring responsibilities on Marcus Rashford who can only accomplish so much on his own. Rashford has performed well this season, and with the return of Cavani on the horizon United has a promising forward outlook.
In the central defence, United have relied on the sturdiness of Englishman Harry Maguire more than any other player. While often belittled by the media over small mistakes, Solskjær has demonstrated that he has been happy with the centre-back’s performances. On the wings, the addition of Alex Telles has elevated the play of long-time outside back Luke Shaw who has arguably put in some of the best performances of his career in recent months. On the other side, Aaron Wan-Bissaka has remained a consistent performer on the wing, bolstering the attack as well as serving as one of the best defensive outside backs in the Premier League.
As for the future, United still have a chance to earn some silverware through the upcoming Europa League and FA Cup matches but look unlikely to challenge City for the Premier League title. In order to secure the second-place spot over Leicester City, they must learn how to break teams that park the bus specifically through the improved play of Antony Martial and Mason Greenwood. The addition of youngsters Amad Diallo from Atalanta and academy product Shola Shoretire looks to be promising, however their development looks set to be a long-term project. With crucial matches against Chelsea and AC Milan on the horizon United have the chance to turn around their season, but it remains up to the form of a few key players to make this happen.