We are deep, deep into injury time, and the ball comes in to the area. Seconds later it’s in the United net and three points have turned into one. A win now feels like a defeat. The poor marking and bad decision making by United’s players in their own area has cost them
This happened on July 13th 2020. Southampton scored in the 96th minute to make it 2-2 and put United’s top four hopes in the balance. After watching a similar thing occur against Everton, it’s clear that lessons have not been learned.
United are playing some of their best football in years. As a supporter it’s refreshing to look forward to every game. There was a clear period where a feeling of dread kicked in before a match. But even if “we often score six”, as the song goes, the worry has to be the way in which goals are being conceded.
Sometimes you have to hold your hands up when someone scores an amazing goal against your team. It almost makes it easier to accept. At the moment, if you analyse the goals conceded by United, so many are from mistakes. In some cases, there are more than one, like the Sheffield United winner.
United’s former defensive partnerships are fondly remembered. But at the moment, we are never sure which pairing is going to start the game. There is a lack of pace when Eric Bailly doesn’t play, and there’s nobody who dominates. A defence has to have at least one strong character. A leader. Communication is key at the back, and there are times when the back four are not on the same page.
In Ole’s backroom staff, there are number of former players with a lot of experience. The recent appointment of Darren Fletcher is very positive. His tactical awareness is a strong point. Within United’s coaching staff there are former midfielders. The manager was a deadly striker. But one glaring omission is a defensive expert.
The errors that are being made can be and must be ironed out. There are particular issues. Overplaying at the back, poor marking and not working together as a unit. But who is going to help the defence? The same problems are happening over and over again. United are being targeted at set pieces because it is a massive weakness. It is not being dealt with somewhere. Either the players can’t grasp it or they are not guided by the coaches
Bringing in ex-players fits with Ole’s plans. He trusts his former teammates and they share the same passion for the club. Patrice Evra spent time there last season as part of his training for his coaching badges. Known for his enthusiasm and love for United, is he a possibility? He was one of the best left backs in the world during his career. He was also a very vocal presence on the field.
Another person who was a very good defender is Paul Parker. He didn’t play with Ole but he was an intelligent and classy player. Currently he is a pundit and he often highlights where the defence can improve. There are others too that would add so much as a defensive coach.
Gary Neville said that United should always try and recruit the very best. It’s these standards that the club must maintain. Is the solution someone who has no history with the club but it a very good defensive coach? For United to get back to where they want to be, the defence has to be better. No team should ever come to Old Trafford and feel that the home team has a weak defence to exploit. United also shouldn’t have to rely on the attacking players to get them out of trouble. With the right guidance the current defenders can improve.
Defenders are constantly linked. We have heard the same names over and over again. But could United’s most important signing be a defensive coach?