For English top-flight teams like Liverpool and Manchester United to name a few, the football season is usually very long and gruelling especially for those teams that play in European competition who do a lot of travelling and tend to play a ton of games.
They play a total of four competitions which consists of three domestic competitions and one continental tournament and at times five like Liverpool with the Club World Cup.
Such teams playing in these competitions will be looking to make a cup run which requires big squads to play the sheer number of fixtures during the season. The general feeling is that there should be the right balance of quality and quantity in the team to remain competitive in the inevitable case of squad rotation or injury.
This means that a team’s squad players are almost as vital as the starters.
This is where Manchester United have got a problem.
United play in the Europa League which if luck is not on your side, can be a really frustrating competition due to long trips to away grounds and little recovery time.
Manchester United are unfortunate in two aspects with the first being that they have to travel the longest distance of any British team (a total of 8,798 miles per the Express) and the second being that the team is lacking in quality outside the first eleven.
Their poor form is no secret to anybody with the starters and the squad players underperforming. Injuries to important players have gone a long way in exposing the weakness of the team’s fringe players.
Manchester City have the likes Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus to name a few, Liverpool have Divok Origi and Naby Keita, Chelsea have Christian Pulisic and Pedro and Tottenham (who are as bad as or maybe even worse than United form-wise) have Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela.
Who do United have?
Declining Juan Mata feels more like a pensioner than a squad player at this point. He has been very bad this season so far for United.
He has not scored or assisted this season and his overall stats just goes to show poor Mata really is.
This season has seen Mata feature solely in is favoured number 10 role behind the striker but his average of 0.7 key passes per game according to whoscored and an expected assist (which is a metric that analyzes the quality of a created chance as regards, for example, to the area the ball is played) rating of 0.24 per understat. This essentially means that Mata almost never creates chances at all.
In fact, in the seven games he has played in the league this season, he has only given 5 key passes in total.
He always looks crowded out in the middle of the park and he seems to have lost his trademark vision for the final ball that has given him so many assists over the years.
To say Mata is a shadow of his former self would be an understatement.
The Brazilian might as well become United’s second mascot on the pitch. Week in, week out, you hear pundits talk about Fred with the same question in mind concerning what his best role as a midfielder really is.
Fred is neither the tough-tackling midfielder nor the excellent ball distributor and he definitely has not shown himself to be a box-to-box all-rounder either. He’s just Fred, Fred the Red.
Although he has been better in the Europa League, he has made just one start this season in the Premier League and that was against Newcastle and he played badly.
In that game, Fred played as the deepest player in a midfield three and the stats showed that he gave a match-high 84 passes with an accuracy of 88%. Fred gave no key passes, through-balls passes in the opposition penalty area as suggested by his pass map which was drawn out by whoscored.
His lack of any form of creativity and unnecessary tidiness in a match where United were supposed to be fully on the front foot is even buttressed by a shocking statistic that shows that Fred has not found a teammate with a through-ball since April.
For a midfielder that is one damning stat.
Fred and Mata are supposed to be reliable fringe players will come in and do a job when the key players are absent through injury or be the most influential on the pitch when the second string team are playing but they are none of that at the minute and the form of the starters keep them exposed.
Recruitment is needed for the Red Devils as early as possible in order to create room for balance in the team.