November 27, 2020

Gary Neville’s Man Utd verdict: Paul Pogba issue, midfield problems, what can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do?

5 min read
Paul Pogba

From the midfield diamond problem, to Paul Pogba’s poor performance, to unnecessary pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Neville spoke at depth about United’s current position, and insists the warning signs have been there.

Gary Neville gave a damning verdict on Manchester United’s situation on his podcast after the 1-0 defeat by Arsenal at Old Trafford.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second-half penalty meant Arsenal won at Manchester United for the first time in the Premier League since 2006, with United sat on just seven points from six games this season.

From the midfield diamond problem, to Paul Pogba’s poor performance, to unnecessary pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Neville spoke at depth about United’s current position, and insists the warning signs have been there.

Is there a fix in sight? And does Solskjaer have some tough decisions to make?

United in a desperate position

Neville believes the warning signs have been there at United for many months – a lack of urgency punctuating their performances – and that finding a solution is difficult with so many decisions for Solskjaer to make.

“You can’t put it down to the fans not being in because we’ve known that situation for some time now. They had a problem at the back-end of last season – they struggled against Southampton, West Ham – and it’s continued into this season in the league.

“The performances have been really poor with a real lack or urgency. United thought they’d found the solution to this incredible amount of midfielders they have – six of them – by playing a diamond and trying to get four of them in. Solskjaer thought he’d found the system against RB Leipzig but it’s not going to be as easy as that. It’s a big pitch at Old Trafford.

“They had no balance, particularly on the right – I never thought Scott McTominay being there worked at all. He did change it at half-time and it was a little better but there’s a real problem of confidence and lack of urgency aligned with inconsistency with regards to shape and team selection. It’s getting worse, too. Does Edinson Cavani come in? Does Donny van de Beek come in? Where does Pogba play? Do you need McTominay and Fred both in there because they seem to win the ball back? It’s creating more confusion.”

“I had a long discussion with Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football about how you get Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in the team and where does Van de Beek play – but there are too many of them and now there’s a lack of balance. He took Mason Greenwood off – who I thought should probably have stayed on because of that balance – but that exacerbated it.”

“They are in a desperate position – nine points off the top – and Ole couldn’t really afford a bad start in the league. I don’t think anyone expected him to get a league title this season but to fall behind so much, so early just puts pressure on. Only the Champions League performances have provided some sunshine.”

Pogba poor, but not alone

Pogba gave away the penalty for Arsenal’s winner, and was given a 4/10 in Sky Sports’ player ratings, but Neville said the Frenchman was not alone on Sunday.

“If we’re discussing his performance, he was really, really poor in every part of his game – simple as that. He wasn’t alone – I thought McTominay was poor, Fred below his normal standard and Fernandes well below his normal standard; I don’t think anyone covered themselves in glory in that midfield. Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey knew their jobs and dominated.

“I’ve said for a long time, my issue has been that Pogba’s agent has publicly said he’d like to play for Real Madrid so there’s no secret. Remove the emotion: if you’re the No 1 player – the Rooney, the Beckham; the Neymar or Mbappe, Ronaldo or Messi – you’re going to be talked about more than the rest. It’s a compliment. You’re the man. You’ve been bought for £90-odd million.”

‘Midfield brings more problems than solutions’

Solskjaer altered United’s new midfield diamond at half-time on Sunday after Arsenal’s press troubled his side in the first half, but the desired result didn’t come. They have a wealth of midfielders, but where can they fit in?

“There are more problems than solutions. You have six midfield players at the club: Nemanja Matic, Fred, Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes, Donny Van de Beek and Paul Pogba and you’ve somehow got to get them into a system, which is forcing Ole to play a diamond.”

“I think there was an element of him thinking he could just put four players in that diamond and it would work after what happened in midweek but McTominay on the right-hand side wasn’t working after five minutes. You have to be comfortable moving out into that wide area; Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s already a bit awkward on the ball at right-back so you need someone to balance it and the balance on the right is a real problem for United.”

“When Mason Greenwood went off it was even worse. They wanted Jadon Sancho obviously to play on that side and it looks like a real bad error in not getting that position recruited.”

“Changing systems, players – having plenty in one position and not enough in others – is a real problem. Manchester United’s full-backs aren’t the best attacking full-backs in the world – Luke Shaw’s ok going forward; he gives a bit of balance – but you’re playing a diamond and your width’s coming from players who don’t really play that position well in terms of being high and wide. It’s all looking a bit scruffy and towards the end, I’m not sure what shape United were playing.”

Is there a solution? Tough decisions…

What next? With another transfer window coming up in just two months, Neville feels Solskjaer will have some to make some gutsy decisions on personnel.

“He might have to make some tough decisions, Ole. There are eight weeks to go until the January transfer window. He might have to upset a few. He’s going to have to be selfish. He has to back certain players but ones that he doesn’t want, leave them out rather than trying to fit them all in.”

“He’s rotating from game to game to try and keep everyone happy but he’s going to end up losing himself if he’s not careful. There needs to be an element of consistency.

“It’s a concern in that there doesn’t look to be a balance. It felt like every move Mikel Arteta made was controlled. With Ole, he’s got a group of talented, expensive players that he’s trying to work into a system. He’s going to have to pick a couple of the talented ones and tell the rest of them, you’re not playing.”

Source: BBC sport

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