Back to a back four
“We have to come out against Watford like a proper hurt animal and get back to what we know we can be,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after Manchester City schooled United. “That’s the only way to approach this and attack the situation.”
Solskjaer acknowledged the back three was a means to an end against Tottenham, Atalanta and City. The formation was abandoned in the first-half against Atalanta and at half-time against City.
It was not a good look to switch to a more pragmatic formation when more than £80million was invested in the attack in the summer and the results were mixed at best.
How many changes?
United won at Tottenham but there was something unsettling about the lack of changes from the Liverpool drubbing. Solskjaer dropped just two players – Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford – and some peripheral players are baffled at why Solskjaer is refusing to drop serial under-performers.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay, Fred, and Bruno Fernandes cannot seriously argue they merit starts this weekend. But the majority of them likely will.
Meaningful and meaningless
The dynamic going into every United game now is bizarre. A manager is striving for a win to stay in his job yet, if United do win, it changes nothing in the grand scheme of things. The club hierarchy have started the succession plan at a glacial pace and Solskjaer is on borrowed time.
United could move up to fifth this weekend and the teams above them – Arsenal and Liverpool – face each other tomorrow tea-time. That is the smallest of small mercies for a club whose players are wondering why the manager is still managing them.
Who supports Ronaldo?
Solskjaer’s management has jeopardised several players’ international careers but the upside is most of the front six who start at Watford could be fresh. Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial were not on international duty this month.
Lingard has been mystifyingly underused, has not started in the Premier League for the club since New Year’s Day 2020 and may not be a United player beyond January. Van de Beek cameoed in the last two games but it remains to be seen if he is trusted to start a meaningful Premier League game for the first time since December 6. Rashford is back in training after withdrawing from the England squad.
A Van de Beek tweak?
Van de Beek has started twice in the league this calendar year and both of those matches – Leicester and Wolves – were in May when Solskjaer heavily rotated.
The Dutchman was serenaded louder than ever before as he warmed up during the derby and his introduction was wildly celebrated, partly because he replaced Fred.
That was as mutinous as it got from the United matchgoers, still dignified in voicing their opposition to Solskjaer without turning on him in an unedifying manner.