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Manchester United have steadily improved as a team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management, but one defect continues to hamper their results and it resurfaced again on Tuesday night.
The Red Devils started their Champions League campaign in Switzerland against Young Boys, but lost the bout by two goals to one after Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off on the 35th minute.
Solskjaer’s men began the second half with a one-goal lead, but struggled to manage proceedings largely as a consequence of how the team chose to defend.
Simply put, United dropped too deep as a defensive unit.
The Old Trafford outfit retreated into their own penalty box and invited pressure on the their goal as the match progressed, with the height of their defensive line proving to be a problem throughout Solskjaer’s tenure.
Gary Neville has touched on the subject in the past, stating: “Lindelof’s problem is Maguire. Maguire’s problem is Lindelof. If you put Lindelof alongside Van Dijk, he’d make a great pair, but the problem is that he’s alongside somebody who isn’t the most mobile. They both drop back a little bit, and they’ve got to get up the pitch. More front foot, more aggressive.”
Raphael Varane was supposedly added to address the weakness over the course of the summer, as his speed should allow United to climb an extra few yards up the field when defending.
The French centre-back was brought on as a substitute at half-time in the contest, but his introduction didn’t impact the defence enough, with United facing a total of 19 shots compared to their own measly figure of two at the opposite end.
A higher defensive line – once coupled with high pressing – typically reduces the number of shots that a team faces, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea acting as examples in recent times.
United have kept a clean sheet in just one of their five matches so far this season, and that was arguably fortunate to happen against Wolves, who took 15 shots on the day compared to 10 for the Red Devils.
The campaign is still young and United have time to address their flaws, but the team’s tendency to drop when defending rather than pushing high has to be resolved sooner rather than later.