Updated: Saturday, 16th November 2019 @ 10:52pm

What did we learn about Man Utd over Christmas? No.1, defence not good enough...

What did we learn about Man Utd over Christmas? No.1, defence not good enough...

| By Alex Mays

The festive period of fixtures in the Barclays Premier League proved to be a pivotal and difficult time for all clubs involved.

A gruelling three games in six days would highlight strengths and exposing weaknesses in any squad. With United, this was no exception.

United registered a convincing win on Boxing Day against an (at the time) in-form Newcastle side and two draws from tricky away games to Spurs and Stoke respectively.

Five points could be seen as a reasonable return, though not good enough for Louis van Gaal and his title ambitions although the Dutchman was still talking big ahead of today's fixture against Southampton.

That aside, what have we learnt from United's festive performances?

Man Utd are not good enough defensively to challenge for the title

Since the beginning of the season back in August, United have been incredibly unfortunate when it comes to injuries, with Van Gaal bemoaning these problems- particularly at the back.

Plenty of defensive reshuffles have followed and playing players out of position then blooding in youngsters Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair did take its toll in September, when they conceded five against Leicester and four against MK Dons in their highest profile defeats in the league and League Cup.

 

 

 

Pundits, critics and even Van Gaal himself said that defensively United would improve once the injuries died down, but many remain unconvinced by the trio at the heart of the defence in Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

This may be down to a lack of experience at the top level, without the leadership or experience of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra they had to fall back on in previous years.

Fortunately they have a world class goalkeeper in David De Gea, who is in the form of his life and at times has won United matches on his own.

Rooney could be more suited to a central midfield role

Since the beginning of his managerial reign, Van Gaal has struggled to deploy the 3-5-2 system he famously used, to great effect, with the Dutch national side during the World Cup in Brazil.

Taking players out of their normal positions and using them to fit his system has had mixed results.

 

 

 

In recent games, he has played captain Wayne Rooney in a central midfield role, which he seems to have flourished in: pundits have compared his play to that of Paul Scholes.

Moving him back into the midfield has also allowed Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie to shine as recognised strikers.

Ashley Young has been a revelation at left back

Arguably Ashley Young is the best-left back in the league at the moment, against Newcastle in particular he showed great attacking ability with his pace and end product.

Throughout his career he has been deployed as right-sided winger, but under Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes at United he went further and further down the pecking order, seeming to be surplus to requirements.

 

 

 

This new lease of life he has had in this position could have even seen him recalled to the England squad.

But after his hamstring injury sustained against Stoke, this has ruled him out of action for several weeks which could prove a big loss to United.

United need to add experience and quality to their back-line during the January transfer window

Question marks over their defensive options or lack of them means they could definitely do with buying at least one experienced centre-back to bring some stability to the backline.

A holding midfielder would also prove beneficial, as the acquisitions of Daley Blind and Ander Herrera in the summer have not quite shored up the clubs defensive capabilities.

United were heavily linked with Mats Hummels in the summer, but he pledged his commitment to Borussia Dortmund. Following the Germans’ unexpected poor form, where they languished in the relegation zone in the Bundesliga at the end of 2014, United could be seen as a possible escape route for their current club captain.

 

 

 

More likely transfers, however, could be Ron Vlaar and Virgil van Dijk from Aston Villa and Celtic respectively. Both internationals for the Dutch national team, the link-up with Van Gaal could be seamless and certainly a step-up for both players at club level.

Diego Godin from Atletico Madrid and Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao have also been rumoured to be of United’s interest.

For a holding midfielder, Kevin Strootman from Roma and Sami Khedira from Real Madrid have been the big names suggested to add protection to United’s backline.

Strootman’s club Roma, however, have made it clear on several occasions that he is not for sale and the player himself has reportedly said he would prefer a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid over a move to England.

Khedira could be seen as the more viable option, as he been be surplus to requirements at Real Madrid this season, only making nine appearances this season in league and cup.

However, United will face competition from Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool for his signature.

Verdict

Champions League qualification is a very realistic ambition for United, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham remaining inconsistent and the uncertainty of Southampton and West Ham’s form continuing to defy expectations.

 

 

 

However, there is not enough quality in depth to challenge the likes of Chelsea and City, until next season perhaps.

Main image courtesy of Carl Recine/Action Images, with thanks.