Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are two of the most underperforming teams in the world at the moment.
I’m not going to lie, I love football fan channels. Listening to fans bemoan their clubs is a guilty pleasure that provides insight into the various levels of knowledge possessed by passionate fans, and also where my own knowledge of football sits in comparison to those who live it.
I have never liked Manchester United, my first memories of them being Ron Atkinson, Bryan Robson, and their annoying fans. Still, as fan channels go, they and Arsenal’s AFTV make interesting points often, and incorrect points even more often.
I am not going to write about the utility of fan channels, but I am going to write about the confidence they give me in knowing that my opinion is going to be no more ridiculous or poorly articulated than what half a million subscribers look at every day.
What I don’t understand about Manchester United and their diabolical form is that their most obvious issue is having a six-man defence and a four-man attack and never the twain shall meet.
From a playing point of view, United have better defenders than midfielders, so it should be obvious that a back three and wing backs makes far more sense than two holding midfielders protecting a reasonable back four while stifling a disparate front four. I cannot understand how the coaching staff cannot see this.
A lot of the fan channels are blaming a lack of investment in the squad from the owners as the reason for the poor quality of performance, and no doubt that with better investment they would have better players, but would they have better results?
Holding midfielders are there for teams who need to stifle an attacking threat, and force the ball to the edges or to take away the space from playmakers and force turnovers, which in theory should allow attacks to take place further up the pitch, and force the opposing attacks to turn around and try and get back to help defend.
At United, the two holding midfielders seem to be there to slow up the attack, and let the opposition reset their defence.
This is coupled with an attack that has every player either played out of position (Andreas Pereira) or put into a position that they doesn’t fit the set up (Juan Mata as a number ten). A crippled right side, a slow moving left side (Daniel James is fast but needs a top quality left back to protect him) and playing a non-striker as a centre forward shows that there is no real plan to break down defences and no policy to play to the strengths of their playing group.
This is where the a back three and a couple of wing backs come into play. With Harry Maguire, Axel Tuanzebe and Aaron Wan Bissaka, United have the potential to create a potent defence while bolstering their attack. Both Tuanzebe and Maguire are good on the ball, while Wan Bissaka is a tacking machine with pace and the ability to force his opponents into decisions far earlier than they would like to make them.
When fit, Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot could provide the sort of width in attack and the ability to make a tackle higher up the pitch forcing the turnover. But the real benefit of this is that you can play Scott McTominay in a spoiling midfield role, where he can attempt to break down attacks through the middle knowing he has three quality defenders behind him so he can play to his strength, which is running around.
Although it looks like a back six, it’s not because of the ability of Maguire and Tuanzebe to bring either a three-man advanced midfield of Paul Pogba, James and Jesse Lingard into play by playing past McTominay, or the wingers into play and giving them options to try and hit the striker (Anthony Martial) or James and Lingard charging at the back posts, or even using the attacking midfielders to bring the defenders to them and letting Pogba run at the oncoming defence, giving him options for through balls or long shots.
To the fan channels, yes United need some serious investment, but they especially need it in the coaching and tactical side. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his staff seem hell bent on reinforcing the wheel of disappointment that United fans seem to be destined to push eternally up that hill, with Liverpool and City looking down on them.