Manchester United’s defence came in for particular criticism following their 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace last week, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested the solution could already be at the club.
United finished last season with the third-best defensive record in the division, but started off the new campaign with an uninspiring loss, with Victor Lindelof in particular coming in for a barrage of criticism following his part in all three Crystal Palace goals, though the decision to award a handball against him did seem extremely harsh.
Since the defeat, it has been suggested by a number of fans and pundits alike that instead of their incessant pursuit of Jadon Sancho, Manchester United should focus their attentions on signing a pacey and dominant defender to play alongside Harry Maguire, the £80 million man often criticised for his lack of pace.
However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has suggested that Eric Bailly could be the answer to his problems, the pair having played together in midweek against Luton town.
“I think last season proved to us how we can defend at our best,” Solskjaer said at his pre-match press conference “Last week wasn’t fantastic. We conceded sloppy goals but I think our defensive record from last season with Eric and Harry how good a partnership they were.
“Eric is fit again, a big big plus and looking forward to seeing him develop and play more games. We’ve been waiting him to be fit and play more regularly.”
Eric Bailly’s game by numbers vs. Luton:
100% tackles won
82% pass accuracy
50% aerials won
3 shots blocked
0 goals conceded
Good to see him get 90 minutes. 🇨🇮 pic.twitter.com/6qFVZETEb6
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) September 22, 2020
Whether the Norwegian is in fact able to rely on Bailly is another matter, the Ivory Coast international having spent a significant portion of his career in the Old Trafford treatment room, making just 86 appearances for the club since his move from Villarreal in 2016.
United – who currently have seven senior centre-backs in their squad – are looking to offload a number of fringe players in their squad, though the likes of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo have attracted little interest. Roma, along with Inter Milan, are said to be keen on Chris Smalling this summer following his impressive season on loan in the Italian capital last term, though United are said to want £20 million for the defender.
“Different things need to happen then,” Solskjaer said of the 30-year-old’s current situation. “Let’s see if there is that change. Let’s see what happens to Chris when the transfer window closes.”
While United’s undoing against Palace was their defensive errors, they also failed to create too much going forward, and speaking ahead of a tricky trip to face Brighton, Solskjaer demanded more intensity and imagination from his side – the Red Devils having lost on two of their three Premier League trips to the AmEx.
“I wasn’t happy with the game against Palace,” said Solskjaer. “We weren’t ready, not ready to play at intensity we needed. The runs weren’t there.
“After the restart in June and July we took big, big strides. Palace was a very disappointing one, but I am still confident. We need more imagination (than last week) that is for sure.”