Manchester United’s unbeaten run hides a problem that will hold them back – Tyrone Marshall

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The good news is that the Manchester United attack, which has been a concern for so long this season, is now firing on all cylinders. The bad news is that the defense is struggling to match the level of improvement shown at the other end of the field.United have now plundered 48 goals in 18 undefeated games and the triumvirate of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have scored 58 goals between them this season. Their number and their performances, with notable contributions from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, seem worthy of a team ready to mount a challenge for the title.

But the biggest problem Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces is now at the other end of the field. These 18 undefeated games in all competitions have in fact produced 12 clean sheets, but when United are broken it can seem defensive and it’s a rear four that is not as convincing as the first three.

The weight of shutouts is hard to dispute, but Solskjaer has never hidden his ambition to bring United to the top of the game, so he shouldn’t and will not shy away from the tough truth of whether this defense is good enough to support a title challenge.

We have seen the impact of Bruno Fernandes on United’s attack, transforming the team’s style of play and creativity since his stint at Sporting Lisbon. Sometimes it seems that Harry Maguire will have the same impact on the defense, but the suspicion remains that it is a defense maintained by a sticky plaster for now.

The £ 80m central defender has become a substance captain and is still clearly United’s best central defender, but he sometimes looks confused and there have been occasions recently where he has not defended with the confidence and composure of someone confined to the most expensive back center in the world should.

He was beaten too easily by Steven Bergwijn at Tottenham and by Junior Stanislas for Bournemouth’s first goal at Old Trafford. He was not responsible for any of Southampton’s goals in last night’s 2-2 draw, but there were moments of impetuosity which could have been costly, especially when Danny Ings was reunited near the sideline in the first half, then roughly when stopped. doing the same with Stuart Armstrong in the penalty area in the second half. Gary Neville was right when he called it “thoughtless” defense and everything seemed a little too harum-scarum for a central defender who should be a calm and dominant presence.

By his side, Victor Lindelof continues to have moments when he is not looking for the job. He has sometimes been reckless against Southampton and his decision-making is still uncertain, while the Swede has never completely ignored the idea that he may be intimidated by strikers. He had the competition from Eric Bailly before the suspension of the season, but Bailly was fragile when he was called against Norwich City and conceded an unfortunate penalty against Bournemouth after replacing Lindelof at halftime.

United would have hoped that spending £ 80 million on Maguire would have solved their defensive problems, but centrally, too many questions remain. It would not be surprising if they were forced to re-enter the transfer market before becoming real title contenders, and it may turn out to be a problem that needs to be resolved this summer, given the progress made in the middle. field and attacking.

At the rear, United seem to be better served. The draw with Southampton was not Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s best night, but he has shown enough defensively this season to show his worth and he has improved in the future. However, lack of competition can become a problem if Diogo Dalot does not improve.

Luke Shaw was one of United’s best performers in 2020 and was a starter in each of these 18 undefeated games, although that status will be called into question after being forced to leave his former club. Until then, he had been United’s best defender and it seemed dangerous to end up in attacking positions.

It was with Shaw and his replacement Brandon Williams off the field – the latter with a nasty cut to the head – that Southampton managed to steal a point. For the second consecutive game at Old Trafford, United had conceded twice to the South Coast opposition and this time their attack had not gotten them out of trouble.

After the 5-2 demolition of Bournemouth, there had been an acceptance of the defensive errors had been made, but they were made again on Monday evening. They could still prove costly for United’s ambitions for next season.

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