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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer added an extra defender to the Manchester United defence, yet it was even more open than before. Solskjaer reverted to a three-man backline in a desperate attempt to strengthen an already flimsy defensive barricade.
Unfortunately, Solskjaer merely crumpled any existing structure, if any, and Manchester City strolled beyond their beleaguered defence as freely as little bluebirds. The conversation is not moving from ‘Can Solskjaer get the best out of these players’ to ‘Can Solskjaer even field them effectively’?
Only he knows what possessed him to deploy Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-wing-back. Solskjaer signed the Englishman from Crystal Palace for £50m in the summer of 2019, when he was regularly labelled as the best one-on-one defender in the World.
But the 23-year-old looked like he was walking on a tight-rope rather than competing against the Premier League champions.
“I said before the 3-5-2 doesn’t suit the players in the team,” former midfielder Paul Scholes said to Premier League Productions. “Wan-Bissaka is useless on the ball – brilliant defender but useless on the ball at right-back.
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Solskjaer’s defence were horribly ripped exposed by Manchester City (Image: GETTY)
“Three centre-halves today, none of them that good on the ball. Ole has got to find a way… There’s a squad of players there that could be okay.”
“The conviction has to come from the coach of the way you’re going to play football,” said the 46-year-old. “Ole has been here three years now and we’ve come here today not really knowing what he’s going to do.
“That makes the recruitment almost impossible because you’re not buying players for a system.”
Unfortunately, Wan-Bissaka’s bizarre positioning perfectly sums up United’s current predicament. In his first season at the club, the right-back had won more tackles per game than any other player in Europe, yet his responsibilities were to press City’s wide players and provide the attacking width.
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If Solskjaer has decided three at the back is the way to go, then where exactly does this leave Wan-Bissaka? Hopefully, for his own confidence and sanity, not at right-wing back.
In the summer, Manchester United were regularly linked with Atletico Madrid defender Kieran Trippier. The England right-wing-back, who has regularly featured in a back three for England and for Diego Simeone’s side, has even said to the Daily Mail he wants to return to the Premier League.
United cooled their interest in the former Tottenham Hotspur defender in the summer after Diogo Dalot’s impressive pre-season for the Reds, according to the Athletic.
Yet, Wan Bissaka was still deployed ahead of the Portuguese star. In fact, further insights from the Athletic have even claimed £73m star Jadon Sancho has been trialled as a right-wing-back in recent training sessions, such is Solskjaer’s insistence on the new formation.
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Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s performance against Manchester City was earmarked for severe criticism (Image: GETTY)
The story also claimed the 21-year-old, overcome by the pace of the Premier League, sitting “wide-eyed” in the dressing room after their 4-1 victory against Newcastle United.
He very likely gave Solskjaer the same look when he was told about his possible new position.
In a position where attacking and defensive prowess are more than a necessity, Solskjaer has so far fielded the defensively outstanding but attacking suspect Wan-Bissaka, and has reportedly considered deploying a winger who has never played as a defender.
It is a predicament extending further than square pegs and round holes and the Norwegian may have to consider some very ruthless decisions.
If he doesn’t then he could very well be the on the receiving end of a brutal decision from the United board.