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Ole in another fine mess as holes in United squad are exposed

James Ducker


Problems mount in key areas for Old Trafford hierarchy

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Familiar failing: Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks on in bewilderment at another dismal defeat at Old Trafford. Photo: Shaun Botterill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Familiar failing: Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks on in bewilderment at another dismal defeat at Old Trafford. Photo: Shaun Botterill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

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Familiar failing: Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks on in bewilderment at another dismal defeat at Old Trafford. Photo: Shaun Botterill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Manchester United's worrying home defeat to Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener on Saturday exposed a number of problems that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club hierarchy still need to tackle.

The current uncertainty has left more questions than answers and here's the priority list.

Unplugged weaknesses

For a club with designs on closing the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City, it was a chilling start to the new season for United. There was no more glaring indication of the unplugged weaknesses in their squad than a right flank in the lamentable 3-1 defeat by Palace that had a distinctly Championship flavour to it.

Where United fans hoped to have had Jadon Sancho on the right wing by now, they instead had Daniel James, seldom seen during the end of last season and whose half-time substitution had a weary inevitability to it, and, at right-back, Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Head-scratcher

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Victor Lindelof. Photo: Martin Rickett - Pool/Getty Images

Victor Lindelof. Photo: Martin Rickett - Pool/Getty Images

Getty Images

Victor Lindelof. Photo: Martin Rickett - Pool/Getty Images

Fulham did not consider Fosu-Mensah to be up to it in the Premier League two seasons ago and, given that Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, had the Dutchman on loan at Selhurst Park the previous year, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's decision to start him was a head-scratcher.

Hodgson knew Fosu-Mensah's flaws and it was no surprise to see an energetic, well-drilled Palace target United's fragile, inexperienced right side from the off. Over half of Palace's attacks during the game came down that flank.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a £50m signing from Palace last summer, may not have been fit enough to start and Fosu-Mensah did improve and provided the cross from which Donny van de Beek scored on his debut, the game's one bright spot for United. But it is troubling that a club who've spent around £900m on transfers in the past seven years didn't have more appealing alternatives.

That Wilfried Zaha, the sole recognised right-sided forward United have signed over that period bar James, was the man who ran them ragged will only have added to the sense of disquiet among the United faithful.

Centre-half headaches

"You can talk about (Jadon) Sancho all you like, but until they get a centre-back in who can run and defend one-on-one, you're never going to win a league," former United captain Gary Neville said in his scathing analysis of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire.

Neither player has ever been comfortable defending one-on-one against pace, but the extent of their discomfort in those positions was brutally exposed by Palace's fast, direct trio of Zaha, Jordan Ayew and Andros Townsend.

Lindelof (pictured left) was culpable in all three goals, albeit unfortunate to be penalised for handball for the controversial second, but the ease with which the Swede was spun and outmuscled by Zaha for the third goal was further evidence of what a soft touch he can be.

"He's just not strong enough there," Neville said. "It's a 50-50. It's weak."

Maguire is the costliest defender in the world at £85 million but, like Lindelof, has the turning circle of an oil tanker and Solskjaer's concerns about how the England defender's arrest ordeal in Mykonos last month might affect the player's state of mind this season will only have deepened after this erratic showing.

Yes, goalkeeper David De Gea will feel somewhat aggrieved he was punished for moving marginally off his line when saving Ayew's penalty before Zaha scored the retake, but United were the architects of their own downfall.

United have an interest in the RB Leipzig centre-half Dayot Upamecano but, with seven central defenders already on their books, Solskjaer needs to offload players first.

Transfer intransigence

"I think we need more players to strengthen the squad," Luke Shaw admitted.

"It can give us a boost. When you look around at how other teams are strengthening, we must also do it to keep up with the others".

Shaw was slow to track Townsend's run to the far post for the first goal and could yet find his position under threat from Alex Telles should United manage to complete a deal for Porto's Brazilian left-back.

But the England defender was only saying what everyone can see: that United's squad is full of holes that need plugging before the transfer deadline on October 5.

No one said striking a deal with Borussia Dortmund for Sancho would be straightforward and Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, again hinted at the financial repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis when he stated the club were "not immune" from its impact.

Yet too many of United's transfer pursuits become drawn-out sagas - Wan-Bissaka, Maguire and Bruno Fernandes were all the same - and it raises serious questions about Woodward and right-hand man Matt Judge's approach to negotiations.

Attrition

"Deal attrition" is how well-placed sources have described United's transfer tactics - the attempt to grind down selling clubs through incremental tweaks - but they still have a troubling tendency to end up paying the asking price.

United's capture of Holland midfielder Van de Beek from Ajax was a rarity because it flew largely under the radar, but they lack the stealth of rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City in the market.

Cheap turnovers and no patterns of play

Van de Beek's name was spelt incorrectly on the team-sheets handed out before kick-off and it set the tone for a sloppy, error-strewn night.

Paul Pogba contracted coronavirus and missed a lot of training which may have explained his difficulties, but Palace did a job on Fernandes, who could find opposition sides are wiser to his movements this season, and James McCarthy and James McArthur took it in turns to hound Scott McTominay.

The result was United conceding possession and being caught on the break. It did not help that there was so little interplay between United's attackers.

Marcus Rashford has been out of form for months, it was hard to remember Anthony Martial touching the ball and Mason Greenwood made no headway.

Luton and Brighton are next. Solskjaer needs an immediate reaction. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk