Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side suffered their fourth loss of the season on Saturday at the hands of Eddie Howe’s well-drilled Bournemouth team. Another three points dropped is a devastating blow for the Red Devils as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the Vitality Stadium, leaving them sat 10th in the Premier League and 10 points off the top four.
What was the problem for Solskjaer’s side?
United’s performance is more of a cause for concern than the result, as they failed to score in a league game for the third time already this season (Man Utd). What will trouble Solskjaer is the manner in which his team lost. Despite having 57% possession and dominating large periods of the game, United failed to create a clear-cut chance and their 15 shots didn’t cause too many problems for young Aaron Ramsdale in the Cherries’ net (Sky Sports).
Josh King punished his former side on the stroke of half-time after United failed to capitalise on some good early pressure in a relatively open and free-flowing game. The second half posed an entirely different challenge as a pattern emerged which saw Bournemouth sit deep and allow United the ball. This tactic has been proven effective by Crystal Palace, West Ham and Newcastle this season. United have struggled more in these games when they are allowed to control the tempo compared to when they are attacked and given space to counter at pace.
They were unable to crack Bournemouth’s back line as they continued to transfer the ball slowly from side to side and seemed to run out of ideas in the midfield. The closest they came to finding the back of the net was from a Fred cross, as Mason Greenwood fired into the post from a tight angle.
Questions were asked and answered about United’s midfield options and it is clear they need to bring in a creative midfielder if they are to convert possession into chances. With Paul Pogba preferred in a deeper role, they are lacking an innovative No. 10 with Andreas Pereira failing to impress in this position.
Who can solve United’s attacking woes?
With Leicester enjoying an impressive start to the 2019/20 campaign, a man key to their success could also be the player to revolutionise United’s attack: James Maddison, who has had a sensational start to the season. With three goals, two assists, and the joint highest rating in the Leicester squad (WhoScored), the young Englishman has set the league alight and is receiving attention from a number of teams as a result. Maddison averages more than two key passes per game, more than any other Leicester player, and has been an important part of his side’s expansive and attacking style.
He frequently occupies the space in between the opposition’s defence and midfield, receiving the ball on the half-turn and threading passes through to supporting wingers and the striker. This link between midfield and attack is one which United have struggled to establish leaving forwards Marcus Rashford and Daniel James isolated and resulting in them dropping deeper to pick up the ball. Maddison could solve this problem for Solskjaer as he receives the ball slightly deeper and this would allow United’s forwards to sit on the opposition’s back line and work in spaces where they can be much more effective.
Why would Leicester sell?
Premier League high-flyers Leicester will feel under no pressure to sell their key man and with Maddison’s market value currently estimated at £40.5 million, Manchester United could expect to pay more than double that figure to secure his signature. However, what will encourage United fans is that the attacking midfielder is rumoured to have grown up supporting the Red Devils and Harry Maguire’s recent move from the midlands may provide a necessary link to draw the 22-year-old to Old Trafford.
After enduring another mundane 90 minutes from their side, United fans will be wondering where the creative spark will come from. With the January window still a couple of months away, and Leicester being unlikely to sell their talisman mid-season, Solskjaer will be desperate for some inspiration from within his squad. But come the end of the season, it is imperative that United break the bank to sign a creative midfielder to solve their attacking problems, and who better than last season’s PFA Young Player of the Year nominee James Maddison.