Manchester United have surprised us all this season. They are standing in the second position of the league table at the moment with 45 points to their name at the time of writing and are considered as serious contenders for the Premier League trophy this season. Their first team head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was originally brought in as a stop-gap (or caretaker, if you like) manager after the incumbent Jose Mourinho was sacked post an embarrassing defeat to Liverpool back in December 2018, has exceeded all expectations and performed remarkably well at the helm manning one of the toughest jobs in the footballing world.
At the time of writing, Manchester United have played 23 matches in the Premier League this season, out of which they have won 13, drawn six and lost four. These are decent statistical results for manager Solskjaer and surely he will be proud of his achievements. However, the Norwegian can not afford to rest on his laurels as there is still a lot to be done by him to make sure that the United faithful, who have unfortunately not been able to visit Old Trafford due to government regulations related to the Covid-19 pandemic, remember this time with happiness and fun.
WHAT MANCHESTER UNITED HAVE DONE RIGHT- THE DEFENCE
Manchester United’s strengths begin at their last line of defence. Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea, who was until recently termed as the best goalkeeper in the world, had a tough time between the sticks in the 2019/20 season. Manager Solskjaer has managed to infuse some confidence back into de Gea and that has resulted in the Spaniard putting in top class performances on a regular basis for United. He has turned up for the club on 20 occasions so far in the Premier League, and has kept 8 clean sheets in them, which is a noteworthy achievement for someone who was written off by the fans at the end of the 2019/20 season.
Another thing that has worked well for de Gea is the emergence of young goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who had spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Sheffield United. With Henderson now pushing for a place in the starting XI, de Gea has had to pull his socks up and the arrival of a competitor for his spot has only worked constructively for the Spain international. Henderson, on his part, has only been restricted to Cup matches and a few Premier League appearances, but he has not done any harm to his prospects whatsoever in the limited time that he has had at his disposal. Everyone in and around Old Trafford and Carrington (Manchester United’s training ground) are pretty sure that they have another world-class goalie in the making amidst their ranks.
Manchester United’s centre backs, led by their club captain Harry Maguire and his partner in crime, so to speak, Victor Lindelof, have had a better than average season at the heart of their team’s defence. Maguire has played in all the matches that United have participated in the Premier League this season, and has eight clean sheets to boast against his name. He has also scored a couple of goals, and that has endeared him tremendously with an amazingly fickle fan base at Old Trafford and across the world (remember how people were bailing for him to be taken back to prison after the incident in Mykonos back at the end of the previous season? Well, that is a story for another day.)
Maguire’s assistant Lindelof, who mans the right centre back’s position, has had issues with injuries and could only manage sixteen appearances for the club this season so far. He has been a part of six clean sheets and although he has not scored any goals this season, the Swede’s presence at the back has comforted his partner Maguire and given an assurance of solidity to his more attack-minded colleagues. The extremely unfortunate Eric Bailly, who has been asked to step in from time to time, has done himself a world of good whenever he has appeared for Manchester United to both his manager and the United faithful, who have been cheering him on from behind television sets in the comfort of their living rooms.
Another case in point of United’s revival in defence is the emergence of their strong fullbacks. Left back Luke Shaw has created the most number of chances by any left back in the Premier League this season and his superior performances have only rubbed off on his partner across the wing Aaron Wan Bissaka. A truly defining memento of the duo’s strong partnership on the field can be seen by the first goal of United’s 9–0 routing of Southampton last week.
Shaw had crossed the ball from the left wing only for Wan Bissaka to get in behind the Southampton defenders and tap it in home with relative ease and comfort. New signing Alex Telles, who has deputised for Shaw on and off this season, has made an instant mark for himself at the club. Manager Solskjaer has relished having two first-rate left backs in the club at the moment and although Telles had an embarrassing bout with Covid-19 (embarrassing for the testing authorities- who had apparently goofed up on occasion), he has worked hard in training and latched on to whatever opportunities have been thrown his way.
UNITED’S MIDFIELDERS HAVE DONE THEMSELVES PROUD
Now that I have spoken about United’s defenders, the spotlight naturally turns towards their midfielders. The engine room of United’s playing eleven have fed balls to their attackers consistently and also prevented their defenders from coming into too much of harm. Led by central attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, United’s midfielders have done much better than they did in the 2019/20 season and their showings have regularly and consistently reflected on the team’s performances in the ongoing 2020/21 season. Fernandes, for one, has had a dream run in the Premier League and United’s fans will be hoping for that to continue for long.
The Portuguese maestro has scored 13 goals so far this season and provided a whopping eight assists. Admitted that several of his goals have come from the penalty spot, as he is the designated taker for the Red Devils, but the creativity and flair that he brings to the team is unmatched. He has also scored goals directly from free kicks and influenced all of those who have played around him. Fernandes has very good awareness of things going around him and he can be trusted with the ball even when the going gets tough for Solskjaer’s Red Devils.
Central midfielder Paul Pogba, who has had a love-hate and an up and down relationship with the fans of Manchester United ever since his arrival at the club back in 2016, has actually thrived with Fernandes in the mix. The presence of the former Sporting CP star has allowed Pogba to relax a little and go deep into the central role which he always relishes. He is the main playmaker of the team along with Fernandes whenever he plays, but his recent form has suggested that he still has a lot to offer even though he divides opinion tremendously whenever he steps onto the pitch.
New signing Donny van de Beek, who was brought to Old Trafford from Ajax in the preseason, has had precious little game time coming his way and in a way this was expected, as there were too many midfielders already in the ranks at Manchester United. However, van de Beek has impressed mightily whenever he has stepped onto the turf and there is an extreme amount of goodwill regarding him with the fans. Holding midfielders Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic too have had very good runs in the Premier League this season.
Although Brazilian Fred had a bit of struggle adapting to the physicality of the Premier League, he has gelled well with the squad and provides a lot of depth to the team whenever he is asked to play by his manager Solskjaer. Nemanja Matic, as usual, has been very strong in shielding his defenders from the attackers and midfielders of opposition teams and his powerful technical and physical prowess has tempted Solskjaer to bring him into the fray whenever United have needed some added solidity in their defence. The former Chelsea man is also a big figure in the dressing room given how much of experience he has to offer.
Scott McTominay, on his part, has been phenomenal to say the least. Rated so highly by former manager Jose Mourinho that he brought about a new award in his honour, the Scotsman is a mixture of attack, defence, holding and top flair in one. He is rightly called as the engine of the team and his desire and awareness more than make up for the few flaws he has in his technical abilities. McTominay shields his defenders, breaks up the play of the opposition and provides the ball to his more attack-minded teammates whenever they need it in the final third. McTominay also has an eye for goal, as can be seen by the fantastic finishes he has provided to United whenever gaps in the opposition’s defences have arisen.
THE ATTACKERS OF THE RED DEVILS ARE A CLASS OF THEIR OWN
United’s attackers have scored 18 out of the 46 goals that they have netted so far this season but that is not exactly reflective of what they have provided to the team and how they have helped its cause. New signing Edinson Cavani, who was brought as a free agent to the club from Paris Saint Germain, has adapted extremely well to life in England, and even at his age, has six goals and two assists to his name already. The desire, hunger, passion and work rate that Cavani displays has made him indispensable to manager Solskjaer and there are no talks of him being eased into the first eleven due to his advancing years.
The apple of everyone’s eye at Old Trafford and across England, for both football and reasons other than football, Marcus Rashford, has had a steady start to the Premier League. He has eight goals and six assists to his name and looks set to add more to that tally soon. The United Academy graduate has led the lines for the Red Devils this season and he has thrived off the presence of Cavani in the central attacker’s role. It is widely known that Rashford prefers to play on the wings, more so on the left hand side, and his pace and guile has set him up well for whatever challenges that have been thrown his way in this season. Even if he has been asked to play up front, Rashford has not hesitated and taken his chances well.
Some might say that Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have not quite lived up to their potential this season and that is perfectly acceptable. The Frenchman Martial has four goals and three assists to his name whereas the young Englishman Greenwood has only one goal and one assist to show for in the 16 appearances he has made this season. It is completely okay for the manager to be harsh to them at times but also shower some compassion on most occasions. Betting tips website MightyTips have regularly covered Manchester United’s games across all competitions this season and their database is enormous.