Manchester United succumbed to their third defeat in five matches on Saturday with a deflated loss to struggling Everton. The result left them in seventh place, six points off the top four. A season that started out with a lot of hope of finally mounting a title challenge has quickly disintegrated into one of the worst in the club’s history.
Just one win in the last seven fixtures has led to many writing off the club’s season, already awaiting the arrival of their own bald saviour in Erik ten Hag who is expected to ditch sunny Amsterdam for cloudy Manchester. While the pessimism is warranted, the side still has seven games left in the Premier League and their season, against all odds, can still be saved. Here’s how –
Beyond the goals, Cristiano Ronaldo offered little value to Juventus in the last three seasons. With the goals drying up, he has actively been a huge net negative for Man United.
Edinson Cavani offered continuous movement and space creation, Anthony Martial offered on-ball technicality and 1v1 proficiency, and Marcus Rashford offered pace in behind. All of Manchester United’s strike options last season gave the side something other than goals which is not the case for Ronaldo, who has looked isolated on the field, with no teammate seemingly able to understand him.
Cristiano Ronaldo speaks out after smashing a fan's phone at Goodison Park pic.twitter.com/pnfHKKetb8
— utdreport (@utdreport) April 9, 2022
There is only so much blame you can pin on the support cast and there is no denying that Ronaldo’s arrival has caused a complete upheaval of United’s attacking plans. Moreover, he has been a brooding cynical figure off the field as well, reflected in him smashing a kid’s phone after the loss at Goodison Park.
Benching Ronaldo will give Ralf Rangnick some creative space in his tactics with the rigidity of a 37-year old forward removed. Ten Hag, assuming he agrees a deal, will certainly not want the Portuguese in his lineup and this will give Man United a chance to plan for life beyond him.
The Race is Still On
Despite the drop off in form, United still have a decent chance to make it to the top four. Fans have dismissed this wild idea of covering a six point deficit in seven games but it is a very achievable task.
Tottenham Hotspur, currently fourth, are yet to play Liverpool and Arsenal along with tricky fixtures against Brighton and Leicester City. Arsenal in fifth place have to play Spurs, Chelsea and West Ham apart from hosting Manchester United themselves. There is a lot of scope for points to be dropped but United need to be at their very best to take advantage.
What it all means 👀 pic.twitter.com/xkxcxg4eM9
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 10, 2022
The Red Devils themselves have to face Liverpool and Chelsea aside from Arsenal. It is not an easy task by any means but the need for optimism not only from the players but also in the stands is integral to mounting a late top four charge.
Get the Defence Sorted
Rangnick’s side has been somewhat decent going forward but the defence remains a massive issue. David de Gea has just seven clean sheets this season, the tenth best record in the league. Harry Maguire has been error-prone after two impressive years, Raphael Varane has been underwhelming while Victor Lindelof has continued to be meh.
Luke Shaw has struggled with injuries, Alex Telles has been exposed defensively while Aaron wan-Bissaka’s complete lack of attacking contribution has caught up with him. The defence has simply not been good enough for a top four position. Still, it is unlikely that there will be a major overhaul in that department given more pressing needs elsewhere.
Therefore, Rangnick’s priority should be to get the defence sorted to lay a good foundation for next season. Getting Maguire’s form back and allowing Varane to settle in will solve a lot of United’s problems and it may just dovetail with their Champions League ambitions till the end of the season.
Give the Kids a Chance
In terms of laying the foundation, nothing is more important for Manchester United than blooding their very promising young crop in properly. Anthony Elanga has already seen a lot of game time this season but there are many more talented players coming through from the academy that should be given a chance to prove themselves.
Alejandro Garnacho is the latest young Red to earn a senior international call-up 🇦🇷
Hard work reaps rewards in the #MUAcademy 🔴#MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 19, 2022
Alejandro Garnacho has excelled on the left wing for the youth sides while Charlie McNeill and Joe Hugill have proven themselves to be potent goalscorers. Hannibal Mejbri and Kobbie Mainoo have shown their effectiveness in the middle of the park and senior playing time could help facilitate their development. Hannibal in particular looks ready to make the step up, especially with Toby Collyer joining the youth ranks next season.
The club also has a lot of exciting players out on loan that are not perhaps getting the minutes they hoped. Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellestri could provide to the out of form Marcus Rashford while James Garner should definitely be incorporated into the senior team next season after a good campaign with Nottingham Forest.
Fix the PR
It is a burden of being the biggest club in the country that every dip in form is accompanied by crisis talks and rumours flying around but Manchester United’s representation in the media this season has been catastrophically bad. There have been continuous leaks from the dressing room and the club has failed to deal with it.
Few journalists have been given a bit too much access and information which is proving to be detrimental to the club. There is a distinct sense of mistrust between players, fans, pundits and journalists. If United are to become a properly functioning organisation and preserve their beloved commercial strength then they need to correct their modus operandi of dealing with the press.
The season has been truly demoralising for not just the fans but the players and staff as well. It is important to take stock of where the club is at and set realistic goals for the end of the season. There are still things left to play for and Manchester United can be in a much better position for next season if they get their shit together right now.