Manchester United’s winning streak continued with a 5-0 thrashing handed out to Club Brugge. The victory confirmed United’s place in the Europa League Round of 16. The Red Devils were last beaten in January. Following that loss to Burnley in Old Trafford, Solskjaer’s tactics changed, shifting to a three-man defence. The squad has never looked back. Many owners of an online sports trading account will have felt the benefits of this switch as United’s form has improved.
After battering Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup – a result that saw the football punter tips start to suggest United could make it to Wembley, they won the next leg in their League Cup tie. Unfortunately, the 1-0 result was insufficient to overcome their 3-1 deficit and reserve a ticket to Wembley. A draw against Wolves and wins against Chelsea and a resurgent Watford assisted them to scale the Premier League table. In part, Solskjaer made the adjustment to incorporate Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams in the starting XI. Shaw was pushed by academy graduate Williams at times this term but has played well when available. Solskjaer deploys a 3-5-1-1 with Shaw as the left-centre-back and Williams the left wing-back. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire have formed the back three with Shaw, while Eric Bailly returned to deputise for the Swede against Brugge. While Bailly provides depth for the defence, the high work rate of Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes him a fantastic fit in this system at right wing-back.
In midfield, Fred is an indisputable starter. The return of Scott McTominay likely spells the end of the productive run in the team of Nemanja Matic. January signing Bruno Fernandes has revitalised the attack. Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira will now have to wait for their turn. It may be telling that Pereira wasn’t named to the squad against Brugge. Anthony Martial maintained his place as the striker with Marcus Rashford potentially out for the season but his own injury allowed Odion Ighalo to start and open his United account. The standout players in this setup have been Fernandes and Shaw.
United’s defence is solid. They have conceded only one goal, because of the mistake against Brugge from Sergio Romero, in the last seven matches. Shaw deserves credit for his newfound resilience. His existence stabilises the backline and his retrieval speed negates the lack of Harry Maguire thereof. Shaw made challenges that averted Watford forwards Troy Deeney and Ismalia Sarr from scoring. He makes penetrating runs, too, both in number and effectiveness whilst abandoning his defensive mates less often. In four starts for the Reds, Fernandes has scored two and grabbed two assists. He was the Man of the Match in all four contests. He electrifies United’s attack, having made four big chances per 90 minutes so far. Ball retention and his incisive passing allow Fred to take a few offensive liberties.
Martial has been injured in the middle of a three-game goalscoring run. It is a no-brainer. United lacked service. Bruno gives it. United faced heavy criticism due to their inability to disrupt blocks. With Fernandes’ arrival, Solskjaer may have discovered his go-to formation to end the campaign. United can spread defences via Williams and Wan-Bissaka, allowing Bruno to exploit the openings. Fred and McTominay protect the rear three as do Shaw and Maguire, but equally can select their areas in joining the assault. The tendency to linger following set-pieces in the final third of Maguire became evident. He has the assurance that teammates not only will but can cover for him. There’s no reason United and Solskjaer can’t push on towards season’s end, generating wins and qualifying for the Champions League with this formation.