Manchester United’s newest enemy: The low block

After another disappointing evening failing to break down a side set up to frustrate, Manchester United dropped more points against a team they should be expecting to beat.

Over the last few weeks, minus impressive performances against Southampton and Real Sociedad, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have looked a shadow of the one that topped the table in January.

While a second-place finish will no doubt be a sign of progress under Solskjaer, falling so far behind Manchester City in such a short space of time will still be a huge source of frustration.

The biggest fear now isn’t that their city rivals are set to run away with another title, it’s that like last season, there’s a growing concern that the club could get dragged into another unnecessary top four battle.

Last campaign that development meant fielding a weakened side against Chelsea in an FA Cup semi-final, essentially ending any hope of silverware for another year. With United still in the FA Cup this time round, as well as the Europa League, fans won’t want a repeat of that sacrifice.

If Solskjaer is serious about wanting to pursue a trophy this season, figuring out a way to break defensive-minded teams down in the league is a must.

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No plan B

It’s no secret that when United have looked at their best this season, Bruno Fernandes has often found himself at the centre of it. Naturally that’s led to teams devoting a pretty sizeable chunk of their game plan to stifling him.

That wasn’t such a big issue when Paul Pogba was fit, as it meant there was another outlet who naturally drove play forward, be it through carrying the ball at his feet, or through his ability to spot an early ball over the top.

With Pogba sidelined, the majority of the attacking responsibility has been handed back to Bruno. From that you’ve got one player trying to single-handedly unpick two banks of four, as well as someone who tends to play 90 minutes of every single game.

The mystery of Donny

Donny van de Beek’s start to life at Old Trafford has been as confusing as it has been disappointing. The Dutchman has consistently impressed at both Ajax and in the national side, though hasn’t really been given a chance since making the move to England.

Why that is, remains a bit of a mystery.

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However, in Donny you have someone who operates at his best when receiving the ball in and around the 18-yard box. His spacial awareness and ability to read play is exactly why he came to the club with such glowing reviews.

The drab 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace may have been the biggest indication yet, that there is absolutely no need to play two defensively-minded midfielders against teams who set up in the low block.

Having Nemanja Matic and Fred together offers very, very little to United’s attacking force. Switch one of those out for van de Beek and suddenly Fernandes has someone he can pick out between the two lines of four opposing players.

If you’re being pessimistic, you could say that sacrifices defensive solidity – but that seems far less relevant when you’re failing to score against this calibre of side.

It does beg the question over whether Solskjaer feels the need to pack the midfield from a defensive point of view, because he doesn’t trust his often-criticised back line – though that’s a whole different debate.

One things for sure, the sooner Pogba returns from his injury, the better for United. Either that, or it’s time to fully throw van de Beek in at the deep end.

Featured image credit: Getty