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Ask the Expert: Manchester United

11 January 2020

With Norwich City travelling to Manchester United for this weekend’s Premier League game, we caught up with Charlotte Duncker from the Manchester Evening News.

She explained how Norwich can get at United amid a difficult period of fixtures, and where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be looking to strengthen. The season seems to have improved for United since they last faced Norwich City. Is that fair to say?

CD: In the league, they’ve closed the gap on the top four, so that can only be a positive. They had really good results against Tottenham and Manchester City, but you’ve got to look at where they’ve dropped points. There was a disappointing performance against Everton and they’ve still got the same problems. They struggle to break teams down.

Especially teams that sit below them in the league, they just can’t seem to find a way through. We saw at the Etihad Stadium that they can go and play exciting counter-attacking football, but when they’ve got to come up with a plan B they struggle.

They’ve also closed the gap on the top four because Chelsea have had a few dodgy results, but United really should have capitalised on that and closed the gap further. They haven’t managed that, getting draws against teams that they should have beaten.

At Carrow Road, it was one of their best performances of the season. They’ve built on that a bit but you look at what happened on Tuesday night at Old Trafford and you wonder where they’re going.

rashford expert view.jpg Watford and Aston Villa are a couple of the teams United dropped points against. What did they do to stop United’s threat?

CD: At Watford, the performance was absolutely dreadful. Teams like Norwich will take heart from that. When a team puts eleven men behind the ball, United don’t have the creativity in midfield to be able to break them down.

Against Man City and Spurs they were given space. They have fast attackers and when they can get in behind and run that’s when they cause the opposition problems. They probably should have been 4-0 up at half-time at the Etihad.

You look at the Watford game and the chances weren’t coming. I didn’t think Watford were great, but they stopped United playing how they wanted to, frustrating them. They didn’t have the creativity to make chances and look what happened. Marcus Rashford is very important to how they want to play and seems to be encouraged to shoot on sight, forcing errors like he did against Spurs. What can we do to stop him?

CD: Teams below United have all gone with the same plan and that’s to sit deep and frustrate. If the midfield can’t linkup play and get the ball to the attackers, the chances of scoring are slim. Norwich should look at the teams that have picked up points against United and see that’s what they do.

mings v united.jpg

United’s defence have got mistakes in them so teams hope they can punish United with the one chance they get. If they can stop them from scoring, then it’s a big three points. Speaking of mistakes, David De Gea has made a few this season. Why do you think that is?

CD: He’s been so good for so long and saved United on so many occasions. The criticism isn’t unfair because he hasn’t been good enough this season. He’s got a new back four in front of him who haven’t been the most solid, but there have been a couple of occasions when he’s literally palmed the ball into his net.

Dean Henderson has been really impressing on loan, so it will be interesting to see if he comes into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s thoughts at the end of the season. There’s no option to call him back mid-way through.

From his perspective, the only way he’ll come back to United is if he’s promised the number one shirt because he’s established himself as the first choice ‘keeper at Sheffield United. Even though he’s grown up at United, he won’t want to just sit on the bench.

He’s been impressive and De Gea hasn’t been, so going forward it will be interesting to see where Solskjaer puts his faith.

de gea expert view.jpg Last time we spoke, Mason Greenwood was breaking into the team. It looks like he’s come into his own now. Is that United’s approach going forward, to promote the youth to the first team?

CD: In a perfect world, you’d want a balanced team of gems you’ve unearthed in the academy like Greenwood and experienced players. There have been flashes of brilliance of him but there have been times when you think he could have benefitted from, not necessarily a full season out on loan, but he’s just lacking that bit of experience.

United have been playing such young teams and have been lacking leaders on the pitch. Ashley Young is probably going to go to Italy but is one of the most experience heads in the dressing room. He’s club captain and I know he hasn’t played much this season, but he makes a difference.

Harry Maguire came in and is experienced, the sort of player Solskjaer could see being captain in the future, but they’re all new players to him. He’s not going to come in and start revolutionising the team straight away.

Daniel James is young, as is Aaron Wan-Bissaka. They haven’t had that much experience. When you look at Greenwood and Brandon Williams coming through, they need someone experienced. The City defeat on Tuesday showed there were no leaders.

mason greenwood.jpg

Rashford was given the armband for the first time which was great for him because it’s a Manchester derby and he’s a local lad, but he’s still young, even if he’s got the credentials to be captain in the long-term.

They need to spend a lot of money as well as bringing players through the academy. Every good team has experienced players and that’s something United are lacking. They had that Man City game the other day, and with the FA Cup replay against Wolves next week, where does the Norwich game lie in Solskjaer’s thinking?

CD: After the performance on Tuesday, he’ll have to rotate. There’s no justification for some of them to start. The problem is in defence because Maguire isn’t expected to be fit, so you’re looking at Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof starting at the back again.

Some of the changes he would like to make he won’t be able to. Scott McTominay is still out and Paul Pogba has had ankle surgery so he won’t be available. The FA Cup replay is on Wednesday and that’s bound to be on Solskjaer’s mind.

The chances of getting to the Carabao Cup final are pretty slim now after the defeat against City. There’s no chance of winning the league, so the FA Cup is really the only chance of any hope of silverware. It depends if Solskjaer’s priority is the top four, which means three points on Saturday would be more important than winning against Wolves.

man u v wolves.jpg The board have shown patience with Solskjaer so far while we’ve seen Arsenal and Tottenham replace the managers they started this season with. Do you think that will continue this season?

CD: The end of the season is still long away and anything can happen! At the minute, there’s absolutely no suggestion that they’re looking to get rid of him. Hypothetically, if they lose in the FA Cup and then are humiliated by Liverpool in the league, you don’t know what will happen.

The performance against City, some people said it was the worst 45 minutes they’ve ever seen from a United side, so if there’s not some progression there’s only so long you can argue the case for sticking with the manager.

Of course, they’re going through a rebuild and say the money is there for him to spend, but if the fit isn’t right and there isn’t some improvement – it’s been over a year now since Jose Mourinho was sacked – plenty of things could change. Right now, they’re insistent on sticking with him.

You can follow Charlotte on Twitter @CharDuncker.

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