Manchester United Struggles: Defensive Frailties and Missed Opportunities Continue to Bane the Red Devils

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Manchester United find themselves in a familiar rut as the Premier League season enters its final stages. While glimpses of brilliance emerged throughout the season, it’s the team’s defensive woes and inability to convert chances that are causing the most concern. 

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Set-Piece Vulnerability

Set-piece defending has been a glaring weakness for Manchester United.  Conceding a high number of goals from set pieces throughout the season is a major cause for concern. This is further exposed by the fact that center-back Harry Maguire, despite boasting a decent aerial win rate (3.1 per game), is part of a defensive unit that struggles to collectively defend these situations. Luke Shaw, while a constant threat going forward, can be susceptible to lapses in concentration defensively. Casemiro’s 1.8 aerial duels won per game, a low number for a defensive midfielder further highlighted the lack of a strong defensive presence upfront. 

Poor Discipline

United’s defenders have conceded a concerning number of fouls throughout the season, putting unnecessary pressure on the team and giving away cheap scoring opportunities from free kicks in dangerous areas. Sofyan Amrabat, while a strong tackler, has been particularly prone to giving away fouls in dangerous areas.

Lack of Cohesion and Communication

The defensive unit has often lacked cohesion and communication, with players unsure of their roles and responsibilities. This has resulted in gaps in marking and a disorganized defensive line, making it easier for opponents to exploit the space behind the defense.

WeaknessStatRank (Out of 20 Premier League Teams)
Avoiding Fouls in Dangerous AreasFouls conceded per game20 (Worst)
Defending Set PiecesGoals conceded from set pieces19 (Second Worst)
Aerial DuelsAerial duels won per game18 (Second Worst)
Defending Counter AttacksGoals conceded from counter attacks16 (Fourth Worst)

United’s struggles in these areas are evident in the conceded goals throughout the season. Opponents have exploited their weaknesses in aerial battles, set-piece defending, and positional awareness during counter-attacks. This vulnerability was ruthlessly exposed in the recent 4-0 drubbing by Crystal Palace, a match that epitomized United’s defensive frailties.

Attack Stutters Despite Individual Brilliance

While the attack boasts talented individuals like Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and the exciting youngster Alejandro Garnacho, they’ve struggled to function as a cohesive unit. The over-reliance on Fernandes for creativity is evident, and the team’s weakness in finishing scoring chances further compounds their problems. 

Profligate Finishing

Manchester United created a decent number of goalscoring opportunities but lacked the clinical finishing touch to convert them. Matches like the recent 0-1 loss to Arsenal highlight United’s finishing woes. While Bruno Fernandes (10 goals) and Marcus Rashford (7 goals) have been their top scorers, the team as a whole lacks a clinical finisher. 

Midfield Concerns

Furthermore, midfield stability has been another area of concern for Manchester United this season. While the likes of Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes have provided moments of brilliance, the midfield has often been overrun by opposition teams. A lack of control and composure in midfield has hindered Manchester United’s ability to dictate the tempo of games and assert their dominance. Strengthening the midfield will be crucial for the team to regain control and dictate play effectively.

PlayerKey StatsStrengthsWeaknesses
Bruno Fernandes10 Goals, 7 AssistsCreates long shot opportunitiesLoses the ball in dangerous areas, Can be wasteful in possession
Scott McTominay7 GoalsStrong tackler, Makes driving runs forwardLacks composure on the ball, Prone to rash challenges
Casemiro(Stats not shown)Proven defensive midfielder, Strong in the tackleLimited passing range, Does not offer much going forward

Other Weaknesses

Non-Aggressive Approach: Manchester United lacks aggression, with Bruno Fernandes (8) being the only player in the top five for aggressive tackles.

Fouling: A tendency to concede unnecessary fouls in dangerous areas puts United under pressure throughout matches.

Attacking Inconsistency: While they are capable of scoring in bursts, as evidenced by their 4-goal performance against Sheffield United, they have also been shut out completely on multiple occasions, most recently in their disappointing 0-1 loss to Arsenal.

This inconsistency is further highlighted by the fact that their average goals scored per game is only 1.66. They have scored 4 goals in a single match, but have also failed to score in 2 out of their last six games. This lack of consistency makes it difficult to predict how United will perform in attack from one game to the next.

To address this inconsistency, Manchester United needs to find a way to be more clinical in front of goal and convert more of their chances. They also need to improve their build-up play and create more clear-cut scoring opportunities for their attackers.

Attacking Down The LeftPercentage of attacks originating from left flank
Taking Long ShotsShots attempted from outside the box

With just a few games remaining, can Manchester United address these issues in time for a strong finish? 

Shoring up the defense and finding a solution to their finishing woes are problems that Erik Ten Hag must solve urgently. The upcoming transfer window will be crucial for Manchester United. Addressing defensive frailties and recruiting a proven finisher should be top priorities. New signings coupled with a tactical shift to address their weaknesses can propel Manchester United back into the upper echelons of the Premier League next season.

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