Another semi final, another loss for Manchester United fans. In other news, grass is green.
It hurts even more knowing that the Red Devils had just wrapped up Premier League title number 21 by January, too.
Jokes aside, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side bowed out in the Carabao Cup semi final at the hands of Manchester City for a second year running in a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, which understandably left fans disappointed and of course garnered mass overreaction.
From Donny van de Beek barely getting his boots dirty in a four minute cameo to yet another disappointing defensive performance, United take two steps forward and go three back. For fans, it is wildly frustrating and signals that work is still to be done.
The defeat is humbling and even a necessary one to take if this club genuinely wants to make good progress and get back to the top of the football ladder. It serves as a reminder that, when going toe to toe with a genuinely top side, United still lack enough authority to control key areas of a game over 90 minutes.
It’s becoming a bit of a bore talking about the defensive woes at Old Trafford, but it needs to be said until changes are made. Two errors at the back cost United two goals against their local rivals; the first was poor defending from both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof from a free-kick that should’ve been dealt with, while Fernandinho’s winner came from a lazy clearance from Aaron Wan-Bissaka and could’ve been saved by Dean Henderson.
Despite having already spent considerable money on defenders, United need to sign at least one new centre back as soon as possible. A left-sided one in particular should be the priority, but any authoritative and dominant presence who can partner Maguire – let’s face it, he’s going nowhere – and desperately provide some organisation and urgency to a back line that looks error prone in every game.
Sure, going for youth is what’s cool and hip in football these days, but Leicester have proven with Johnny Evans and Milan are proving in Italy with Simon Kjaer that experience is key; United need someone at the back to control the game and ease the nerves of younger heads around them – and make Maguire look better.
While there’s definitely still room to round off an attack that is so nearly there with one or two more forward signings, trophies won’t come without leaders in the side who know how to win in the big games. Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes have gone some way in restoring that, but those two alone are not large enough. With the exception of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from 2016 to 2018, United have sorely missed a calibre of player with both game-defining ability and enough arrogance to pull a team to trophies. Adding that trait into the squad – in the right areas – is the crucial next step.
Fernandes bosses games in such a manner from attack, thus the Red Devils must continue building the spine. A top class defensive midfielder sitting in front of a defender in the peak of their powers would add security at the back and allow United to better dominate big games rather than having to rely on counter attacking football, which is partly the reason for the semi final jinx. Adding a world class winger into the frame might also alleviate some pressure on Fernandes to deliver every game, and stops Mason Greenwood being used out of position.
There’s no denying that this is the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired that United seem to have taken considerable steps forward. There are still question marks over Solskjaer tactically, but his influence over the squad he has managed to build is clear as day.
It’s now up to the club to make good on this foundation and add in a final sense of edge to the side in order to provide a trophy-winning ability to a squad that is almost there, but lost upon youthful heads.