A 2 nil win over Wolves on Saturday May 20th and a 1 nil win over Bournemouth last Saturday saw the Reds go one step closer in securing Champions League football for next season. United must win or draw at least 1 of their final 2 matches, if Liverpool should win their remaining matches. Currently, United has a 97% chance of securing a top 4 finish according to ESPN’s Power Index. United should go on to finish top 4 apart from an absolute calamitous finish to the season. But, once top 4 is secured, sights will be set on what needs to improve next season.
There are several issues that need to be addressed, as there are in every team really. United though, have 3 very crucial issues that Erik ten Hag must fix this summer if United hope to continue their progression under the Dutchman.
There’s no question, United’s finishing has been absolutely shambolic. Which is quite curious when you consider that United has its most wins in a season since 2011/12 under Sir Alex Ferguson. This season, United is underperforming their XG of 56.02 by 7 goals. That is 7 goals that could be the difference between fighting for top 4 and having a reasonable shot at at title challenge.
If we look even deeper, according to Opta, United has created 72 ‘big chances’ this season compared to 69 by Arsenal. The difference? United is converting their ‘big chances’ at a rate of only 34%. That is absolutely unacceptable. This team needs more natural finishers.
Any team with aspirations of winning a title needs to have multiple double digit goal scorers in their side. But, apart from Marcus Rashford, no one has come close to cracking double digit goals this season. For instance, Arsenal have 3 players with double digit goals this season (Saka, Martinelli and Odegard). The Gunners now look unlikely to win the title but they put in a hell of a fight against Bone Saw FC 2 in Manchester City. Everyone knows United needs a striker but its not just a number 9 the side needs. United needs a player like Antony, Sancho or Garnacho to begin putting in 10 plus goals a season along side Rashford and a new number 9.
Last Saturday, United only won the match because of incredible goal scoring ability put on display by their defensive midfielder Casemiro. This attack has problems.
So, who is the number 9 United needs? Well, if United hopes to challenge for the title next season then perhaps Harry Kane is the best option.
This issue is the one that will take the most time to fix. Even if United have a fantastic summer transfer market heading into next season, they’ll need their best players to play consistently.
Unfortunately, many things like injuries and fixture congestion mean each position needs more than one option. A successful team has players that can step in to fill a role at each position. This allows them to rest their star players, offer competition for places and remain unphased by an injury to the first team. City’s title this season was won completely on depth. Arsenal when healthy and fit were perhaps the best team in England throughout the season but as the season began to climax their lack of depth caught up. Arsenal didn’t even have any European competition for the conclusion of the season. City were able to fight in every match despite playing in every competition simultaneously most of the season.
If United are to challenge for the league, they are going to need depth. It’s possible a few key additions in summer could give Eric ten Hag enough of a squad to work with and go deep in all competitions, but it’ll require the teams best players to play their best week in week out.
Currently left back and maybe right back have decent depth. Tyrell Malacia is not on Shaw’s level but he’s a terrific young talent that pushes a player like Shaw and can give his England counterpart a nice rest. Malacia’s ability also allows Shaw to step in as a backup at centre back. Meanwhile, Dalot and Wanbissaka are slowly beginning to form a similar relationship on the right. But outside of that, every position lacks depth.
In midfield, Casemiro and Eriksen have no backups. Fred can come on at times and offer something different, give some tenacity to the midfield if playing defensively but he can’t offer anywhere near the control of Eriksen. Up front United has no number 9. Weghorst is on loan, Martial lacks any desire, Rashford is better as a winger and not one of those options resemble an ideal 9. There are a lot of gaps to fill in this United side.
Ugh, I hate to write about this one but its far to glaring of an issue to ignore any longer. I love David de Gea and he will always be a club legend. Even to this date he has performances to save out skin but if this team is to evolve to the next level then they need a keeper that can distribute.
David de Gea is perhaps the worst goalkeeper in all of Europe at playing out from the back. Most of his goal kicks are shot aimlessly into the opposition half and passes to his defenders in the back keep your heart in your chest. He’s had these issues his entire career but it has became an even larger issue as the team has evolved under Eric ten Hag.
De Gea is so bad at playing from the back that teams have began exploiting this weakness intentionally. Newcastle United put De Gea under pressure constantly in their victory over United at St James’s park a few weeks ago. Every time De Gea had the ball Newcastle would press him and it led to an errant inaccurate pass almost every single time. Even when the team decides to pay long, it turns into more of an aimless punt. And, let’s not even get started on just how bad De Gea is at saving penalties. I’m not sure what happens to his reflexes when someone steps up to the spot.
The goalie market is quite slim heading into this summer, but many goalkeepers would be better than De Gea at playing out from the back. If United want to continue ten Hag ball, then they need to let De Gea go.
United’s biggest issues need to be resolved over the summer and I’m confident they will be. Even under the current leadership, United should be able to get in a striker like Harry Kane which would fix most of the issues up front. And perhaps an midfielder or two could yield Eric ten Hag with just enough to make a real push at the league next year. But fixing the depth and finding a replacement for De Gea could take a lot longer than fans are willing to wait. Patience really is key here but in the meantime we can hope to get as much as we can out of this squad.