Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Manchester United still short in attack as they bid to appease frustrated fans

After an awful start against Crystal Palace, Solskjaer needs to find some answers at Brighton

Dwight Yorke was at Manchester United’s training ground this week, schooling the club’s under 23 players in the art of goalscoring.

A finisher of his quality was sorely needed in United’s opening league defeat to Crystal Palace and while United’s young forward line is impressive and improving, there is an over reliance on it.

It would also look short if any of the established three of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood became injured.

Striker Odion Ighalo will return to China once his loan spell ends in January and Dan James needs to get his form back, while manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been hoping to bring in Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, but there’s an impasse over the fee.

United also hope that their one new signing Donny van de Beek can act as a second striker and the attacking talents of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba contribute, but the team needs strengthening up front ahead of an intense period of football which includes the Champions League.

Brighton and Hove Albion are the next opponents in the Premier League and despite United first playing the Seagulls more than 100 years ago, they didn’t actually have a match in Brighton until 1980 and have only contested nine away games there in their entire history. By next Wednesday when the two meet in the League Cup, that will be 11, with three of those games coming in a three-month period in 2020.

United’s 3-0 win at the Amex on June 30 was their most impressive in the post lockdown period with two goals from Fernandes and one from Greenwood. It partially made up for the dreadful defeats of the two previous seasons there under Jose Mourinho.

United’s record at home to Brighton is better with ten wins and two draws from 12 games, but Saturday’s game is a big one. A second consecutive league defeat and the mood will further darken among fans frustrated that only one signing has arrived so far in the transfer window.

United's best and worst kits

Given their form, a Brighton triumph would not be a complete shock since they have won their last three games convincingly without conceding a goal. Two have been against lower division sides in the League Cup, but last Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Newcastle was as impressive as United’s 1-3 home defeat against Crystal Palace was unimpressive.

Tactically, Brighton played a 3-4-3 formation at Newcastle, switching to five at the back when they defended. United struggle to break down teams who defend deep and did throughout much of last season when they had a better record against the best teams, though Solskjaer felt his side were much better in this respect after lockdown.

The National asked Solskjaer ahead of the trip to the South Coast if he was happy with the way his team performed against opponents who defend deep.

“I wasn’t happy with the way we defended against Palace,” said the Norwegian.

“We weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to play at the intensity that we needed, the quality. The runs weren’t there but after the restart in June, I thought we had taken big strides.

"Once in a while one game lives its own life and the Palace one was a very disappointing one. I’m still confident that we can break teams down with our quality, but we need more imagination.”

Not only do United find certain teams problematic, they also falter when they go behind, as football pundit Ashley Westwood, a former Youth Cup winner with United, explains.

“United play 4-2-3-1 and struggle against teams who sit off deep and play 4-4-2. Teams like Palace or Burnley sit back when they go ahead, they defend deep in two blocks of four and don’t leave the space which United’s forwards need and thrive off.

“United look more dangerous on the turnover of possession, on the counter. But Manchester United at home to Crystal Palace are not going to be a counter attacking team.

"It’s about trying to get the ball between the lines, which is why they signed Bruno Fernandes, but last week you had United’s midfielders almost sitting on top of the Palace back four. It was all fairly comfortable for Palace. You need to move the ball quickly and be a bit cuter, but you also want opponents to attack you to free up space.”

The Palace game underlined what teams have to do to beat United – and what United have to do to turn things around. Two intriguing encounters await.

Updated: September 26, 2020 07:43 AM

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