Manchester United fans became very excited over the Christmas period when they went top of the league, with many feeling that league title number 21 was on the horizon. Even Gary Neville, who has been remarkably level-headed in his commentary since retiring from football and becoming a pundit in 2011, did not attempt to dissuade United fans from getting carried away, saying that they can have “a very special season”. However, Manchester United are far away from winning the Premier League, and over recent weeks United and their fans have been brought back down to earth with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accepting that they “should not be considered title challengers this season”. The problems Manchester United have stem from their defensive problems and their lack of squad depth.
The primary issue plaguing Manchester United is their defence, which inspires little confidence. It is certainly true that a team cannot win the Premier League just by having a world class defence, but a team can easily lose a league title because of its defensive issues – just look at Liverpool in 2013-14. This is why all the greatest teams in footballing history have been built on the foundations of a strong defence. Manchester United have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to close out games and put the basics of defending into practise, which was perfectly demonstrated by their catalogue of basic defensive errors against Everton which saw them draw a game they should have won. The reason for these defensive problems can be put down to the absence of quality, reliable defenders and leaders in their back line. It was hoped that Harry Maguire would bring quality and leadership to the Man United defence, but he has shown himself to be mistake prone and unable to organise the defence. Manchester United do have Eric Bailly, who is a quality central defender that can lead when available but he is injury prone. Bailly’s fitness was a problem under Jose Mourinho, which is why he requested the board to sign another quality defender, but they balked at this as they had invested in Lindelof and Bailly. Furthermore, Manchester United still have the problem of Luke Shaw who has done little to assuage the criticism from Mourinho that he lacks motivation and a footballing brain.
The second reason why Manchester United are far away from winning the league is their lack of squad depth. A team needs depth in each position to create competition and to rotate the squad throughout the season. One of the reasons why Manchester City have been so successful in the Premier League in recent years is because they have three quality players challenging for each position, who could easily slot into the starting xi of any top six side. This illustrates that the Manchester City board understand that, as Rio Ferdinand once said, it is the squad players who play the crucial role throughout the season in securing a team the Premier League title. Manchester United lack many players who are competing for starting XI places let alone who would compete for starting XI places in other top six teams, with there being a lot of deadwood that has been in their squad for years. It is no coincidence that when Manchester United have struggled it has been when rotating the team.
These chronic problems will hinder Manchester United from winning the Premier League in future seasons because there is little sign of any willingness from the Glazers to rectify these problems, showing that they have not changed their ways since Mourinho’s exit. For example, Jadon Sancho’s arrival would have strengthened the starting XI and the squad depth, but the Glazers were unwilling to invest more money into the team. Furthermore, it is legitimate to question Solskjaer’s ability to coach these players, as there are very few players who have improved under him and some of the defensive errors should be able to be resolved through basic coaching. This state of decay is why Manchester United will not win the Premier League for the foreseeable future, and why Solskjaer will become another Ron Atkinson.