Two key issues limiting Manchester United

Manchester United suffered their second consecutive 1-0 defeat in the Premier League against West Ham United. With that loss, the Red Devils are still fourth in the league table, but fifth-placed Liverpool have moved within one point of them having played an extra match.

A mistake by David De Gea led to West Ham’s goal on Sunday, but the fact that United failed to score for the second successive match will increase Erik ten Hag’s worries. A failure to secure Champions League qualification will be catastrophic, given the position United were in a few weeks ago with Liverpool well behind them.

Manchester United are over-dependent on counter-attacks

A careful insight into Manchester United’s style of play will reveal that they rely heavily on counter-attacks to break the opposition’s defense. They have deep-lying midfielders like Casemiro, Christian Eriksen and Fred who can all play long forward passes to their forwards.

Marcus Rashford has often made good use of those long passes, as he has already scored 29 goals this season. However, it cannot be denied that Rashford needs some amount of space to be at his best while cutting inside from the left flank.

Hence, he is most effective through counter-attacks. Instead of always playing long passes from inside their own half, the Manchester United midfielders can think of playing through passes from inside the opposition half, as even a fringe player like Rico Lewis demonstrated for Manchester City against Leeds United last Sunday.

Antony is a bit more adept at dribbling through the opposition defenders, but has not been able to do much as of late and he is the only option United have on the right. Each of Anthony, Martial, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho is comfortable playing on the left, just like Rashford.

No proper No. 10 to combine with the wingers

Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United’s No. 10 in their 4-2-3-1 formation but he has played in a few other positions at times. He has been given a deep-lying role on a few occasions and has also played as a right-winger. Despite that, he remains the talismanic player for them.

However, Fernandes’ tendency to stay deep and play probing, long passes means that Manchester United have too many players of the same type in their midfield. They lack a proper central attacking midfielder who can combine with the two wingers and the center-forward to create dents in the opposition defense.

That is something that a Kevin de Bruyne or a Martin Odegaard do frequently to unsettle opposition defenses with quick, short passes. De Bruyne is also frequently helped by a marauding Ilkay Gundogan, who has seven goals this season.

For United to score more goals, Fernandes will have to undertake a more advanced role to make their attacking unit more complete. It remains to be seen whether the Red Devils manage to get their act together for the remaining set of matches.

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