Are Manchester United living in a false reality?
Image: Daniel CC BY-SA 2.0
Many harboured doubts when Manchester United Chairman Ed Woodward welcomed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back to the club as the new caretaker manager. Six games later, the Baby Faced Assassin is a club legend reborn.
Fueled by United's snatch-and-grab against Tottenham Hotspur, pundits are now lauding the return of the Mighty Red Devils. A deeper look reveals United still fight the same demons. They just hide them better.
During Jose Mourinho’s second season, he employed an unmistakable defensive strategy. For much of the season, it masked United's shaky backline. Coming into his infamous third season, the Portuguese was clearly upset at United’s inability to secure a centre-back signing and you could see why.
United conceded 29 league goals in the Portuguese's time this season, 15th in the table. Mourinho couldn't hide the cracks anymore.
Solskjaer found a different way to camouflage United's flaws, a method for which fans have no complaint. While Mourinho chose to play an overly defensive style of football to mask United's weaknesses, Solskjaer has attacked relentlessly. Some people say attack is the best defence. Pep Guardiola calls it "defending far away" [from your goal]. Spurs missed their opportunities but a quality side is going to put a few past David de Gea at some point, quite likely as soon as February, when Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani line up against Solskjaer's squad.
Whoever sits in the managerial seat next summer undoubtedly will want more defensive reinforcements. They should be able to find them if the board is willing. An ascendant United is attractive to any player.
Woodward should want to redeem himself after the summer of criticism he endured. Come June, United belong in the market for a quality centre back. None would be better than Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld. With his release clause dropping to a mere £25 million in the summer, snapping him up should prove easy pickings for Woodward. The 29-year-old was rumoured to be on his way to Old Trafford last year but Woodward wouldn't countenance his £50 million price tag.
Another option is Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly. Last season, the Senegalese was instrumental in Napoli's title charge under current Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri. In the end, Gli Azzurri fell four points short of eventual winners Juventus. The 27-year-old had a tough few weeks in Italy, enduring racist chants from Inter Milan's supporters. It's easy to forget football players are human beings. Koulibaly may feel it the perfect time to seek a new challenge. What bigger than the Premier League and where better than Old Trafford?
There's no doubt United have made steps forward. Regardless, the same problems that plagued Mourinho still exist. The summer transfer window will be instrumental in resolving many of them. United have been their own worst enemy in recent times. How far the Glazers and their proxy Ed Woodward choose to back their next manager will speak volumes to their aspirations on the field. Hopefully, it will be loud.