Looking at the United squad, one can notice that from a squad of 25 players, just 6 players are left-footed. Luke Shaw is a regular first team player, as is Nemanja Matic these days, who however plays centrally in front of the defence. Fred is generally used as the alternate to Matic these days and he also plays central midfield where it is not critical to be right or left-footed players. Juan Mata and Chong rarely start a match and slowly they are drifting away from the 18-man squad. The other player is Mason Greenwood, who is comfortable with both feet. These facts show how the United squad needs balance and there is a lack of left-footed players with the required level to be used in the first team.
Most teams deploying a 4-3-3 formation in the modern game generally seek to have three strikers on top, one that plays centrally and possibly the most lethal from the three in front of goal, a right-footed forward that plays on the left flank, so that he can cut inside on his preferred right foot and hit the target. Similarly on the right flank, a left-footed player is preferred to benefit from the same tactic. In truth, the front three deployed by Ole since the resumption of the League in June have the right characteristics to perform as a unit at the highest level. The trio of Rashford-Martial-Greenwood scored plenty of goals this season and had Greenwood managed to score three more in the Europa league before the season ended, it would have been the first time in decades that United’s front three would have all scored 20 goals or more.
Marcus Rashford is developing into a world-class player. He is still a work in progress but his technical ability is undoubted. Rashford’s right foot can really hit the ball with venom. His freekicks are deadly when he manages to hit them properly, as Willy Caballero of Chelsea knows very well. His runs on the wing, close dribbling skills, vision to find the right pass and willingness to defend the left flank are there for everyone to see. Marcus has scored 22 goals this season, his highest return for United, even though he lost a few matches because of the back injury that hit him in December. What he needs is to achieve some consistency in his performances and that will get him to another level.
Tony Martial has just had the season of his career. He scored twenty three goals till now and cemented his new Number 9 position. Many United fans have raised their eyebrows when Lukaku and Sanchez were moved on in the beginning of the season and Tony was given the responsibility to lead the United attack. He rose to the plate though and has scored and created many goals for him and his strike partners. Tony was always very quick, with quick feet and sometimes he makes the most fantastic goals look easy. He has built his body this season which was needed to hold the ball better upfront and that has yielded the results. He needs to focus on scoring the easy and obvious goals now, in order for him to become the complete Number 9. He does not own that, the poacher’s goal and it is key for any forward to lead the line.
Mason Greenwood has been the revelation of the season though. Not that he surprised the United supporters that make time to watch the U18s and the U23s, because those supporters have been seeing Mason hitting the net regularly for years. Mason scored 17 goals in all competitions this season, and most of the games he was involved in before the Covid suspension, he had to come on from the subs bench. For the last 8 games of the season however, Ole threw him in the starting line-up and he did not disappoint. He is widely recognised to be the best finisher at United. Mason can hit them with both feet and if he continues to develop in the United way, he should be the new centre forward for England, post-Kane era, maybe before.
That said, in order for United to return to the very top, there needs to be fierce competition for places at the business end of things, which is where games are won and lost. I’ve just finished watching United dominate in the semi-final of the Europa league against one of the top teams in Spain, and yet they ended up losing the match because they could not turn their dominance into goals. It is not as if we did not create enough chances. This United team with Pogba and Fernandes pulling the strings in the opponents’ half is able to create chances against any team out there. The only reason is that our three strikers are not ruthless enough, possibly because they do not have equally gifted players pushing them, waiting in the wings to snatch their starting places.
There has been ongoing talks for Jadon Sancho of Dortmund, a fantastic young player who would get into the first eleven of any team on the planet. Is Sancho the answer? In my opinion, he is part of the answer. Yes, he will provide width to this United team and he will provide assists and goals, but United still need a proven experienced goal scorer to come in and challenge the status quo. If United managed to get Sancho, there might not be enough funds in the kitty to spend on another €100 million forward like Harry Kane, surely not. So Ed Woodward has to be creative. Him and Ole might have to realise that what United need is not an up and coming forward to develop with the team but the finished article, who will score goals from day one and who will win us trophies in the next two years, until Greenwood can grow into the world class Number 9 we all hope he will be.
I mention three players here which would fit the bill for me and maybe I will raise some eyebrows but that’s what these articles are meant to do, create debate. First option, Jamie Vardy. He’s 32 but he would score 30 goals next season in this United team and he will cost less than €30 million. Option 2 and my favourite one is Aubameyang of Arsenal. He’s in his last year of his contract and I’d be surprised if he costs more than €45 million. At 31 and with his physique, he will give us three good years and he’s a deadly finisher as there can be. I would love to see him leading the United attack next season. Third option is more a dream than reality. An unexpected return of Ronaldo. He’s 35 true but still one of the best scorers anywhere. Can you imagine our young trio of strikers we had this season spending a couple of years learning from the best ever? Can you imagine how much Mason will gain from training with and playing alongside Cristiano? Whatever the option, Woodward has to get one of these three. Anyone of them plus Sancho will push us a couple of stages further and we would truly be able to challenge on all fronts. Just keep Mata and Ighalo with them and farm out all the other fringe players, so they continue with their development.
Happy to hear your views…will be back next season.
Article contributed by Contributor Roderick. Comments are appreciated on our Facebook page.