For the umpteenth time this season, Manchester United have failed to capitalise on Chelsea’s shortcomings. Michael Obafemi’s 96th minute equaliser consigned Pogba, Fernandes and team to yet another disappointment, despite their fantastic run of form post-lockdown.
Had United held on for a couple more minutes, a victory would have seen them reach an unprecedented third place spot, for 24 hours at least. Instead, it leaves Solskjaer’s men with much more work to do if they are to finish in the Champions League places come the end of the season.
Take nothing away from Southampton’s sturdy and impressive showing throughout, despite United turning things around at 2-1, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men, you felt were always in with a chance of sharing the spoils. Their performances in recent weeks meant United couldn’t afford any complacency heading into the game.
All the hyper intensive analysis on which Utd player is to blame for Obafemi’s goal…you’re missing the most important point: that ball in from JWP is close to impossible to defend— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) July 14, 2020
With the game closing out, there was always the uncertainty lingering in the air that United could not hold out for the victory, and if Solskjaer is to take the club to the next level, these are the kind of games United need to be winning. It’s why Liverpool and Manchester City are currently a cut above the rest. They know how to win games when not playing well. They know how to blow teams away without being perfect.
When they need to close out matches, there’s always the confidence that they will indeed hold out for the three points. It may not be a defensive masterclass closing out leads, but their constant knack of scoring goals leaving their opponents with no chance of drawing themselves back into it.
Certainly, since the restart United have been simply scintillating in attack, playing the kind of football that someone like Pep Guardiola would be applauding, becoming the first team in Premier League history to win by 3+ goals in 4 straight matches.
However, Monday night exposed United’s need for quality reinforcements, especially on the attacking front. At times during the Southampton, United looked laboured, worn out which is understandable considering the heavy fixture list.
Though, looking at United’s bench, you’d struggle to pick out players who could come on and transform the attacking impetus when needed. For now, United’s best line-up is the indeed the one that’s started their last 4 games, but for the long-term, players such as Bruno Fernandes, Pogba, Rashford and Martial will need rest and rejuvenation.
The question for Solskjaer to address during the summer is who could come in alongside their current options and grab games by the scruff of the neck as Premier League winning teams over the years do? Who can United rely on right now – apart from Pogba and Fernandes – to come in and have a telling contribution when United need more goals, providing those incisive passes in the final third, the creative flair needed to break down teams when Pogba and Fernandes aren’t around.
Both players weren’t at their best against Southampton in all honesty, and that may have been down to fatigue, but you can’t blame Solskjaer for heavily relying on them both, when they are the only two prestigious, world class creative midfield options in their arsenal.
Analyse United’s options on the bench, and it’d be a struggle to point out who could come in when required to add some creativity and attacking flair apart from Fernandes and Pogba. Daniel James, Andreas Pereira, Juan Mata and Odion Ighalo have all contributed their fair share this season. However, none of them inspire the confidence that is needed to come in and add more fuel to the fire when United need it most.
Solskjaer desperately needs players he can rely on when Pogba, Fernandes, Martial, Greenwood and Rashford need rest. While Liverpool and City can have much to boast about in their abundance of alternative options, United simply don’t have that luxury. For United to challenge for major honours, those first-class reinforcements are essential.
Manchester United have heavily been linked with Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Donny Van de Beek in recent months, and these are the sort of players Solskjaer would love to add to his rich attacking options. A necessary and invaluable headache but thats the kind you want as a manager of a prospective premier league winning team. These are the kind of talents Sir Alex Ferguson held in his weaponry and its one of the reasons he was so very successful.
Of course, Grealish and Sancho are of first-team quality, and are players who are good enough to claim a spot in the first XI on any day, but this is the kind of headache Solskjaer needs if he is to challenge for major honours. That is the kind of competition he needs to breed within his team to get the best out of each and every player and Pogba and Fernandes should be no exception either.
Furthermore, United need progressive dribblers, players who can hold onto the ball long enough to relieve pressure and if needed, hold onto their lead and grind it out successfully till the end, like was the case against Southampton. Grealish and Sancho prove the perfect solutions to those issues, and of course they are two players blessed with such verve, imagination, creativity and the cutting edge that United have been crying out for in order to match the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, and to challenge on the European front also.
Certainly, there is much for Solskjaer to address concerning his squad but for now, in order for United to acquire such quality targets, a necessary compulsion is securing a champions league spot at the end of the season. Solskjaer’s men may have blown a unique opportunity against Southampton, but now isn’t the time to sulk and doubt their capabilities. With still a few games left to battle it out for the top 4, United’s destiny still very much remains in their hands.