• United’s statistics under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a caretaker versus him as permanent manager tell a story.
• Solakjaer has a history of putting faith in youth. At Molde, he used Erling Braut Haaland up front, a teenager who he compared to Romelu Lukaku in 2018.
Manchester United finished 32 points adrift of Premier League champions Manchester City last season — as many as they finished ahead of relegated Cardiff City.
United want to return to former glories but for now, their focus is on returning to the top four.
This will be a significant summer for the club in making that step and here, we have outlined five serious issues that they must solve.
SOLSKJAER’S TACTICAL HICCUPS
United’s statistics under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a caretaker versus him as permanent manager tell a story.
As their temporary boss, United scored 16.4 per cent of their shots – the best conversion rate in the Premier League. Once full-time, that dropped to 5.2 per cent – the worst. The statistics show they were still shooting but they weren’t scoring, so the strikers have to shoulder a chunk of the blame for their sudden collapse. Yet what made it worse was their troubles in front of goal coincided with United also losing their way at the back. They started conceding 1.8 goals per game rather than 0.9. The back four would not stay in a straight line but rather turn zig-zag when opponents put pressure on them. Strikers’ runs would not be tracked.
There were times when Solskjaer favoured counter-attack football when he should not have, such as in United’s embarrassing 4-0 defeat by Everton. Other times when United left a worrying amount of space in between their defence and midfield. Barcelona were among their opponents who made use of this.
Solskjaer famously flopped when in charge of Cardiff. He has to improve tactically if he is to avoid the same fate at United.
LUKAKU OUT, RASHFORD IN?
Solakjaer has a history of putting faith in youth. At Molde, he used Erling Braut Haaland up front, a teenager who he compared to Romelu Lukaku in 2018.
Last week Haaland hit headlines because he scored nine goals in a 12-0 win for Norway at the Under-20 World Cup. That, though, is nothing like Lukaku. Lukaku finished the season without a goal in any of his last eight appearances. He didn’t even score nine in all competitions for club and country in 2019.
Despite that, Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan are said to be interested in him, meaning Marcus Rashford could become United’s first-choice striker next season.
That would be a big call by Solskjaer. Rashford may not be ready to take on such responsibility. In 2018-19, the 21-year-old managed an 11.9 per cent shot conversion rate – the second worst of any forward who made 30-plus appearances at a Big Six club. A replacement striker might be better for United, though they know they cost significant sums.
THE POGBA PROBLEM
United are ready to rebuff approaches for Paul Pogba this summer. They want him to stay, and there is a reason for that.
Passes in opposition half — 1,421 (ranks 3rd) Passes into final third — 321 (ranks 3rd) Touches — 2,747 (ranks 3rd)
He ranks first for goals and shots when compared to other midfielders in the Premier League. He ranks third for assists, passes and touches, too. When he has an off-day, however, United falter and you cannot help but notice. That is why he has his critics, from Roy Keane to Graeme Souness.
“He would be a dream to play against,” Souness previously said. “He lets you play because he thinks the game is all about him. You buy a player at that price to be the difference in the big games and he hasn’t been, so sell him and sign two £50million players instead.”
To sell Pogba would risk a revamp, so that is why the club want him to stay. Perhaps the problem is not always the Frenchman but rather the players around him.
SPENDING SMART RATHER THAN JUST BIG
United are kickstarting a significant summer by signing Daniel James for £15million from Swansea. This is a purchase that indicates a change in direction by United.
Previously, they threw money at problems and made mistakes (Fred for £52m was a big one last year). Now, they are also looking at young talent with potential. That does not mean United will abandon their big-money approach, however.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward wants them to be seen at the forefront of football’s elite and that means being competitive in the market. Yet what it does show is more forward thinking. It shows they are considering the future.
Wales boss Ryan Giggs will no doubt have given James, just 21, a glowing recommendation. The statistics also show how he was one of the Championship’s speediest players last season.
Louis van Gaal criticised United last week, saying: “It cannot be a good thing when a club is run solely from a commercially-driven perspective.”
Signing James is a step in a different direction, however.
SEE YOU LATER, SANCHEZ?
Alexis Sanchez appeared 20 times in the Premier League last season, scoring once and securing a total of three assists. Money-wise, however, he was paid £391,000 a week. He received a handsome bonus worth £75,000 per start. He collected a £1.1m annual signing fee (and is set to do so again ahead of next season). United did not get anywhere near the bang for their buck.
It will take some doing for them to get the Chilean off their books, with the 30-year-old under contract at Old Trafford until 2022.
Atletico Madrid, for whatever reason, are said to be interested in Sanchez. To get him there would still cost United, however. They would have to subsidise his wages to send him out on loan, possibly even pay as much as 50 per cent to get him out. That would see them pay out millions per year to have him off their books. Still, many a manager may see that as a price worth paying.