When I analyse a troubling start to the season, I think there is some truth to the argument that we are maybe suffering a hangover from last season. The sheer number of games with a World Cup sandwiched in between has potentially contributed to an appalling injury crisis and the team looking lethargic and under cooked.
Last season we somewhat limped over the line. Injury and fatigue compounded by a lack of strength in depth resulted in a rather disappointing end to the season which promised so much after the League Cup triumph.
Any tangible improvement last season was mainly down to a solid defensive trio of Varane, Martinez and Casemiro with Bruno and Rashford predominantly providing the moments of individual quality to win a game. Eriksen also brought an element of control in midfield above that provided by the likes of McTominay and Fred, but clearly lacked the energy, tenacity and ball winning capabilities, especially in tough fixtures away from home.
It must be remembered that we won most of our games last season by the odd goal. Scoring goals was difficult and the team predominantly played the entire season without a recognised first choice CF. 17 clean sheets provided the platform to win the majority of games by the odd goal.
Moving into the summer, a new CF, midfielder and CB were obvious reinforcements, especially considering injury concerns surrounding Varane, an ageing Casemiro and only a single injury ravaged CF in the entire squad.
The Mason Mount pursuit raised eyebrows and whilst some argued a new GK was also paramount, many supporters conversely thought that on a limited budget the money could be better invested elsewhere. Maybe the De Gea contractual situation impacted EtH’s plans and it could be argued that it made little sense to give a new long-term contract to a GK that would inevitably be replaced next season, anyway.
Hojlund and Armrabat both later arrived injured and whilst Hojlund is no doubt an exciting young prospect, but is it fair to expect a young and inexperienced player to carry the goal scoring burden of a Club like Manchester United? Beyond Hojlund is only the unpredictable, inconsistent and injury plagued Anthony Martial.
Tactically, there appears to be a shift with the team pressing higher, attempting to win the ball back further up the pitch. This has resulted in cavernous holes in the midfield, leaving the defence brutally exposed. Varane is predictably injured and Martinez and Casemiro have both endured difficult starts to the season and the team has shipped goals. Going forward, the team is still over reliant on either Rashford or Bruno providing moments of individual quality in order to score goals and create chances.
I do wonder with Hojlund now fit and the return of Varane, Mount and Amrabat imminent if this might just inject some much needed energy, tenacity and impetus into the team.
I also wonder what impact this would have had on the start of the season if they had all been fit and signed in time for the opening games. Alas, this is redundant now and only emphasises the lack of squad depth and quality. The problem remains that when key players are injured or out of form, there is nobody to replace them.
It seems scandalous considering the size of the Club to just write the Bayern game off, but our season should not be defined by a defeat in Munich on Wednesday night. On paper, our next four league fixtures are all very winnable and with some players returning from injury, if we can secure a maximum 12 points from the next four games, that will hopefully bring some stability.
With the energy Hojlund, Mount and Amrabat will hopefully bring to the side, maybe we’ll see a more effective, committed and organised press.
Written by DLIB September 19 2023 14:42:48