A Strong Month For MUFC: Five Things We Learnt01/02/2019
January blues are certainly a big deal in this country. The festive period is officially over, the month seems to drag on for an eternity and moods gradually seem to deteriorate. However, the spirit surrounding the red half of Manchester has been anything but, with the club not experiencing such an uplifted atmosphere since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
With five wins from six games, Manchester United showed no signs of a Christmas hangover last month and, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Red Devils look in good hands. So, what did we learn from the congested fixture list in January? Here are some of the major talking points.
Victor Lindelof - The New Mr Reliable
Finding a reliable centre-half has been a difficult task at Old Trafford in recent years. Since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United have struggled to field a reliable defender at the heart of their defence on a consistent basis. However, the club have now found their answer in the shape of Victor Lindelof.
The Swede featured in all six of United’s fixtures last month, keeping three clean sheets and scoring the crucial equaliser against Burnley. From a defensive perspective, the side look much more assured at the back with Lindelof in the starting XI. His commanding presence has been key in helping see out games, particularly in the away victories at Tottenham and Arsenal. It is not just his defensive attributes that have helped improve United’s fortunes though, but his distributional skills as well.
Acting as the team’s ball playing defender, Lindelof has the duty of distributing the ball from deep and finding the likes of Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba in the pockets of space in-front of him. Solskjaer’s offensive system encourages his players to play more aggressively on the ball, with the Swede now flourishing in this role. It has certainly been a reassuring sight for fans to see a defender who actually looks comfortable in United’s backline – nobody can dispute his label in being the club’s player of the month.
Attacking System Here to Stay
It has not just been the results in recent weeks that have rejuvenated the United fan-base, but the attacking performances too. Despite having been in charge for just ten games, the caretaker manager has already implemented a free-flowing, dynamic blueprint for his players to take on the field. This is something that Jose Mourinho refused to do during his tenure at Old Trafford, and it was a huge factor in the Portuguese manager’s downfall at the club.
Paying heavy emphasis on the front three, Solskjaer has granted his players a license to express themselves on the pitch – both on the ball and off it. Now operating with a focus on playing the ball into the final third at a quicker pace, United look much more dangerous when in possession, and their attacking stars are loving every minute of it.
The likes of Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have repaid their manager’s trust with their impressive goal outputs, It is a philosophy that looks here to stay. Gone are the days of the team solely focusing on their opposition’s game-plan. Now, the Red Devils are working on their own strengths and their commitment to the cause is evidently reflected through the impressive performances. Who would have thought that things would be this way just weeks ago?
Upon his return to Old Trafford back in 2016, rival fans and pundits have been quick to slander Paul Pogba on any little detail, whenever possible. Well, these critics have been quickly silenced in recent weeks. Now playing just ahead in the midfield three, occupying the no.10 position at times, fans are seeing why United forked out £89m for the Frenchman.
With two goals and one game winning assist in January, Pogba carried his December momentum into the new year with a spring in his step. Everything that United do now flows through the midfielder, as Solskjaer has built the frontrunners around the basis of Pogba’s positioning in the middle of the park. As we saw at Tottenham, the Frenchman is now keen to quickly release the attackers in-front of him, with the Red Devils now looking ruthless on the counter attack. Not many players could have executed the pass to Rashford at Wembley with such perfection, but this precision is what makes Pogba such an incredible talent.
On his day, the Frenchman is simply unstoppable. His dominant display against Arsenal left Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira red faced. Not even two defensive midfielders could prevent Pogba from bursting through the middle of the park. Now standing as the club’s star man, Pogba has the responsibility of dictating his team’s style of play. On current form, he has to be regarded as one of the most dangerous central midfielders in Europe right now.
Keep Marcus Rashford Upfront
Everybody has been keen to praise the collective efforts of United under Solskjaer, but of course, certain individuals continue to grab the headlines. One name that has been plastered all over the papers and our social media feed recently has been Marcus Rashford. It appears as though the young Englishman has been receiving specific coaching lessons from the ‘baby faced assassin’, as his fortunes have quickly changed in-front of goal.
Having taken a leaf out of his own manager’s playing days, the forward now looks less ‘rash’ inside the box and has implemented a cool head when one v one with the opposition keeper. This has been apparent in Rashford’s recent goalscoring record, as he registered three goals in four starts last month. The return is certainly a generous one, but it has been the Englishman’s movement that has also helped improve United’s style of play.
As a fluid no.9, Rashford has been consistently making runs and stretching opposition’s backlines, which opens up space for the likes of Pogba and Lingard to move into. As opposed to Romelu Lukaku, who causes the team to function in a static fashion, Rashford’s involvement up top creates a positive ripple effect to those around him.
Will Solskjaer Now be Hesitant to Rotate?
It was a positive month for United, no doubt. However, there was one small dampener – the home draw with Burnley. Heading into the fixture, Solskjaer had opted to rotate the team slightly and feature Lukaku, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira. All three had predominantly been fringe players over the festive period and this was a telling factor in the game.
Unfortunately for Pereira, he gifted Ashley Barnes the opening goal for Burnley and the Brazilian looked off the pace before being pulled off on the 60th minute. Lukaku looked equally as sloppy and Mata failed to replicate the same sort of energetic level that fans have seen through Lingard in the same position out wide.
Luckily, a point wasn’t the worst result possible, especially considering that United were 2-0 down with just four minutes to spare. The comeback highlighted the ‘never die’ attitude that the players now possess under their Norwegian leader and they will hopefully take this momentum forward into February. The fixture, though, highlights the lack of depth in quality that United have and Solskjaer now recognises which players he can fully trust.Back