Three reasons why Manchester United can still secure a top-four finish

One year on since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over at Manchester United and the club are in exactly the same position as he found them. They are struggling to compete with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, a similar situation when Jose Mourinho was sacked 12 months ago.

But with Solskjaer at the helm, United can secure a top-four finish this season. Here are 3 reasons why.

Fighting mentality

The home draw from behind against Everton mid-December can be framed one of two ways. The result in isolation can only be disappointing and predictable: United squandering chances, dominating possession and tripping over their own shoelaces.

But the context and circumstance are a little more generous. United did not surrender; they fought, scrapped, maintained their course and eventually broke through. It was Mason Greenwood who scored the equalizer and earned the point with a fine finish. But United’s response to Victor Lindelof’s own goal was an improvement. Luke Shaw and Daniel James both tested a presumably post-rave Jordan Pickford.

Manchester Unityed
Manchester United drew with Liverpool this season (Image credit: Getty)

They also fought back against Newcastle after conceding an early goal. They did so against Sheffield United and Aston Villa as well. United have struggled this season but that has not deterred them from staging a comeback – something which was lacking last season.

Solid in defence

Despite dropping to mid-table spots, United have conceded fewer goals than Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal. Only three teams have conceded fewer goals and looking back, most have been one-off defensive mistakes (both Palace goals at Old Trafford) or scorching strikes from opposition players (Ruben Neves, Aaron Cresswell, Matty Longstaff).

Under Mourinho last season, United had conceded 29 goals in their first 17 games of the campaign — more than Huddersfield, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Brighton, among others. Mourinho apologists would highlight the fact that Solskjaer got his star centre-back signing, whereas the Portuguese didn’t.

Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were big-money signings who have lived up to their billing so far; the right-back, in particular, continuing his stunning form.

Harry Maguire
Maguire joined United this season (Image credit: Getty)

United’s struggles going forward and in the midfield are evident but Solskjaer’s tenure has definitely seen a defensive improvement which might prove vital in their quest to challenge for the top four.

Good against big teams

Back-to-back victories against top-six rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City stunned the football world and metamorphosed Solskjaer from an adored pet that needed to be put to sleep to a God who should be given the keys to Manchester.

Unbeaten in seven games against rivals Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea this season, the Norwegian’s record against top-six sides has been incredible: played 13, won 7, drawn 4, lost 2. If you average that point haul over 38 games, it would be a 73 point season, which would have been enough for third place in the Premier League table in 2018/19.

The Norwegian’s approach to every game is pretty much the same, which is to play counter-attacking football with a high press. In this tactic, when out of possession, the side will put pressure on the opponents everywhere on the pitch, starting with the forwards closing down the opposition defenders and blocking forward passes in order to force mistakes, turnovers and interceptions.

This loss of possession then leads to a counter-attack by United’s pacy forward line that catches the opponents unprepared.

James has been vital for United (Image credit: Getty)

This tactic works well against more attack-minded sides looking for a win, who push forward to score and leave space at the back for United to exploit.

When United have the lion’s share of the ball and are asked to take teams apart, they have struggled. Far better to allow possession-hogging opponents to come on to them; to start at pace and punch on the counter. Their good form against big clubs might see them secure a top-four finish at the end of the season.


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