With Manchester United struggling to find any real momentum this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking at the business done in the summer and wonder how they managed to let go of such key players without finding replacements.
The sale of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan for £73 million seems, on the face of it, the most glaring mistake made by United as their inability to convert chances to goals continues. The Belgian forward has already netted 9 times in his 11 appearances for Inter, becoming the first player to achieve this record since Ronaldo in 1997/98 (Independent). With United having found the net only 13 times in the league this season, they rank 13th for goals scored and their lack of attacking prowess seems obvious.
Letting go of a leader
However, Solskjaer’s side seem to be struggling mentally with an apparent lack of leadership from within. United’s lack of leaders coupled with inconsistent performances has proven the decision to let Ander Herrera leave for free be a rather bizarre one. When you consider the impact he had for Solskjaer when the Norweigan arrived at the club, it seems a ridiculous decision not to have tied down the Spaniard to a new deal as soon as possible.
Once Solskjaer took the reins, United’s win percentage with Herrera in the team was sitting pretty at 68% which plummeted to 38% when he didn’t feature. The Red Devils were averaging 2.2 goals scored per game which dropped to 1.75 without him, showing how important his role of winning the ball back and turning defence into attack was.
The biggest effect his absence had on United, however, was their frequency of conceding goals. They only conceded 0.44 goals per game with him in the side compared to 1.88 without him. The tenacious central midfielder was often taken for granted and overlooked as he rarely did anything spectacular. But no player left a greater hole in the team when absent than Ander Herrera.
His willingness to do the dirty work and intelligence to mark key players out of games is a trait which United fans have come to sorely miss since his departure. In his final season for the club, no United player made more tackles and only Young registered more successful interceptions. This was key to his game as he sat in front of the back four and blocked the opposition’s passing lanes in the final third.
His tactical awareness and persistent aggression made him highly effective and a fan favourite at Old Trafford over the years. With his leadership qualities and desire to fight for the badge, there is no doubt he would have made a great captain in this current side.
Would he have stayed if the board dealt with it better?
Although United seemed unwilling to pay the £250,000 wages Herrera was after, he admitted he based his decision to leave on how the board dealt with the situation (Marca).
”I don’t like looking at the past but there were differences regarding the project and my importance within it‘,’ Herrera said.
”Their offer arrived late and by then I had already made the decision to play in Paris.”
It is clear Herrera felt somewhat undermined by the club and many United fans were devastated to see the key man leave. After failing to secure an adequate replacement in the summer, his absence is felt considerably more. Scott McTominay has done his best to fill the gaping void left by Herrera, but with a severe lack of depth in the midfield, and Brazilian Fred failing to impress, they are desperately short of options.
The return of Paul Pogba will be eagerly awaited by United fans, but with his future still hanging in the balance, Solskjaer will be looking for long-term options to bolster his midfield. With a lot of football to be played between now and Christmas, we may see Solskjaer increasingly call upon academy graduate James Garner to help a wounded United through to January where they can secure reinforcements.