Manchester United have a problem of plenty - solving this conundrum is key to salvaging their season

Manchester United losing in chaotic fashion to Leicester City brought to the fore the issue of getting their stars playing cohesively.

Manchester United players after the loss to Leicester City. (Twitter: @ManUtd)

Is there a more inconsistently baffling top side in world football right now than Manchester United?

For starters, the squad they boast is ridiculous. That they can call upon the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial all at once is staggering. It is, in many ways, a FIFA Ultimate Team come to life.

But the real world and FIFA are two very different things. And having a cavalcade of superstars on your books does not a title-winning team make. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is finding this out the hard way now.

The 4-2 loss to Leicester City is just the latest indicator that United need more than individual brilliance to win the league. They possess match-winners aplenty, but a cohesive strategy is needed to bring the best out of the team.

“We need to look at the whole set-up and balance of the team and maybe something has to give,” Solskjaer admitted after the game.

Indeed, the balance of the team has long been an issue. And it is one that has gotten even further exposed since the end of the summer transfer window.

Recruitment issues coming back to haunt the side

Going into the summer transfer window, there were three obvious areas of improvement for Manchester United. A new centre-back, right-winger and defensive midfielder were the priorities.

They signed Raphael Varane from Real Madrid to plug the defensive hole. And they finally got Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, a year after missing out on him. But the lack of a new defensive midfielder seemed jarring.

Indeed, one of the reasons United look so disjointed is due to their midfield options. Against Leicester, Solksjaer chose to start with Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba as a midfield duo. Why he did so is anyone’s guess.

Pogba has always struggled in a midfield two, whereas Matic lacks the mobility to cover for him. Given United’s lack of cohesion, it is doubtful even a mobile midfield partner would have mitigated the damage.

As a result, Leicester could easily play through United’s midfield. To make matters worse, the defence sat in a low block. This gave Leicester’s attackers plenty of room to run into.

The attack is less of an issue, at least as far as output is concerned. Mason Greenwood scored a beautiful goal and Marcus Rashford scored on his comeback.

But United’s lack of cohesion was evident even in the way they attacked. There was a noticeable lack of pressing when out of possession. The odd feeble attempt at pressing Leicester’s back-line yielded little, as is expected.

And while the lack of pressing can be put down to tactical mismanagement, it is also down to recruitment. The summer’s biggest buy – Cristiano Ronaldo – led the line. But he does not press actively.

Yet his lack of defensive output should be no shock to anyone who’s watched him play. Which brings us to the next issue at hand: tactics.

Non-existent gameplan hurting Manchester United

The fact that United started the season with no coherent Plan A is no shock. The fact that they still don’t have one, however, most certainly is.

The start of the season saw United essentially play a 4-3-3, with Pogba starting on the wide left and drifting inwards. This allowed Ronaldo to stay further forward, with the attackers going either side of him when out of possession.

It was a system that worked for a while – Pogba notched up assists for fun and Ronaldo was scoring too. The issue, however, came when United are asked to defend cohesively.

Solksjaer has spoken of wanting to press high, but with Ronaldo leading the line that isn’t happening. Therefore, the plan should be to make one or both of the other attackers work a little harder.

It’s what Sir Alex Ferguson did during Ronaldo’s first spell at the club. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Park Ji-Sung covered ground in an effort to cover for Ronaldo.

However, that isn’t happening now. This leaves United’s midfield porous and the backline horribly exposed. The lack of cohesion when defending is evident in how many goals they concede on the break.

Typically, teams will counter attack at a time when organisation is at an all-time low. However, Manchester United conceded a goal straight from kick-off after they eqaualised against Leicester. More than just a case of players switching off, it speaks to a lack of tactical drilling.

The best sides in the world feature players who know their roles – both in attack and defence. United’s players have free reign to attack and, seemingly, no instructions on how to defend. It’s hardly an ideal combination.

Can the downturn of form be reversed?

Given United’s upcoming fixtures, it is imperative they start to play more like a team and less like a Galactico-style squad.

They take on Atalanta in the Champions League in a must-win encounter. They will then face Liverpool at home and Tottenham Hotspur away before travelling to Bergamo to face Atalanta again.

Following that comes their biggest litmus test – a home game against Manchester City, their local rivals and defending champions.

It isn’t an easy fixture list by any means – even for Solksjaer, whose job seems under no threat at this point despite recent results being up and down.

However, the time for excuses is now over. Previous such dips in form were put down to the team being in transition, or of needing more investment.

Solksjaer has a team that should be competing for honours. A failure to do so might spell the end even for a man whose credit at the proverbial bank seems unlimited.

Shayne Dias

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