This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
Despite having the notoriously defensive Jose Mourinho at the helm, Manchester United encountered some alarming problems at the back during the first half of the last campaign. That frailty seemed to continue into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time in charge, and in the end, the Red Devils ended up with the worst goals conceded record in the top six.
But following the arrivals of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, there is understandably a sense of optimism that the club’s struggles in defence may have been eased. The duo are renowned for their imposing styles of play and will surely offer more protection to David de Gea in goal than an ageing Antonio Valencia, or the comedy double act of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
However, United’s troubles may not be dramatically washed away by their new signings. Solskjaer’s intent to press from the front and win the ball back up high will likely result in the Red Devils playing a high line with their defence. At both Leicester and Crystal Palace – two sides not expected to dominate possession or play on the front foot – Maguire and Wan-Bissaka were often part of defences that stayed deep and soaked up the pressure, before countering.
At United, that simply will not be the case. The pair will be part of a back-line that is expected to push up and compress the space for the opposition to play out from; but as is the risk, a routine ball over the top could be something United face on a constant basis, and Maguire’s lack of pace is certainly something of a cause for a concern.
Indeed, whilst the Red Devils’ summer arrivals will boost the club’s defence in the long-run, the protection in front of them will have a major bearing on whether Solskjaer’s side will see a marked improvement. Ander Herrera’s departure has robbed United of a tenacious midfielder who was willing to get his foot in, whilst Nemanja Matic has underwent somewhat of a decline since his Chelsea days.
As United have seen with their top-four rivals Arsenal in recent seasons, the need for a dominant holding midfielder can often be the difference-maker. So whilst Maguire and Wan-Bissaka are a step forward in the right direction, the side’s defensive woes may not be over just yet.