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August 21, 2019

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Martial evolving but United lacks creative touch

Manchester United’s opening two games of the season have given a clear indication of the direction manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is taking his team but have also exposed its limited options.

After opening with a 4-0 win over Chelsea, Monday’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, would have been a second straight win, had Paul Pogba converted his second-half penalty kick.

As well as regretting that spot kick, United will also look back on its dominance in the first half and wonder why it didn’t go on to add to Anthony Martial’s 27th-minute goal.

Martial, operating as a central striker in the No. 9 shirt left by departure of Romelu Lukaku, won plenty of praise for his well-taken goal and his involvement in the team’s attacks.

But it was also evident that the French forward is fighting his instincts to drift out to the left flank in search of possession — a habit that often takes him into Marcus Rashford’s territory and leaves United short in the central area.

Solskjaer, himself a classic goal poacher, has been working directly and personally with Martial on the training ground in an effort to get more out of him centrally and close to goal.

“The more we get him in positions to score, the more goals he’ll score.

“This was a wonderful goal but (I want him to) add those five extra tap-ins. He’s already had one last week (against Chelsea) so he’s got four more to go at least,” Solskjaer said after Monday’s game.

But the most revealing comment from the Norwegian regarding Martial came after the opening match when he expressed his delight at the goal but contrasted it with the striker’s all-too frequent habit.

Talking of Martial’s first goal of the season, Solskjaer asked: “The thing is, how do you react? Do you drop your shoulders and think. ‘I’ve scored my goal now?’ Or do you get hungrier and realize, ‘That’s where I score my goals?’.”

What will be more difficult for Solskjaer to address is the lack of creative quality in his midfield.

United is set up to attack at speed on the break but as a top six team in the English Premier League it is also going to have plenty of matches where it enjoys spells of control and its opponents are content to sit deep and frustrate.

The midfield setup at Wolves featured two holding midfielders in Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay with Jesse Lingard buzzing further forward behind the front three, which included the speedy Dan James on the right.

The pressing was effective, especially with fullbacks Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw, contributing from the wide areas. But when the game slowed and United had the ball, the absence of a genuine No. 10, a player who can create an opening or fashion something out of nothing, was stark.

That explains why United was reported to be interested in acquiring Christian Eriksen from Tottenham Hotspur. With no opportunity to address that deficiency until the January transfer window, Solskjaer will have to look at juggling his existing resources.

What is beyond debate however is that United’s back four looks much more solid since the arrival of Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, the 80-million pound (US$96.71 million) close-season signing and the world’s most expensive defender.


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