Erik ten Hag’s focus might be on the Dutch Cup final with PSV Eindhoven this weekend, but there can be no ignoring the growing list of issues he will have to solve when he is appointed Manchester United manager this summer.
The Reds appear to be in auto-pilot mode as they enter the final weeks of the campaign and not even the battle for Champions League football seems to be enough of a dangling carrot for a team who clearly just want this season to end.
Saturday’s clash with Norwich was another jumbled performance from a tombola of a team which in parts looked comfortable and in others looked chaotic, as United somehow threw away a two-goal lead against the side rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table.
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This time, thankfully, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to the plate to do what he does best and save the blushes of his dysfunctional teammates. Talk of a new manager brings with it a fresh debate about Ronaldo’s suitability going forward. 21 goals in his homecoming season prove the Portuguese is not the problem, though against Norwich they were reminded of two players who still are.
The erratic performance of United was again summed up by the frustrating displays of their two full-backs, with Diogo Dalot and Alex Telles once again highlighting the issues in defense that the next manager will need to solve.
Telles was always going to start following Shaw’s injury setback while Dalot seems to be starting simply because he isn’t Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Both resemble wannabe wingers who like to dart forward at every opportunity, and both of them have yet to nail down the key ‘defender’ part of the job title.
Dalot and Telles look the best suited to the high-pressing approach favored by Ralf Rangnick at the moment, but even with the interim manager’s support, neither of them has shown enough to make the role their own.
For Norwich’s opening goal, both full-backs were caught alarmingly out of position, and for the second, they were in different postcodes as Teemu Pukki drew the two sides level.
Yet, even with their obvious shortcomings, the pair still made huge contributions in United’s favour. Ronaldo’s second goal of the match was set-up via Telles’ superb delivery from an inswinging corner, and Dalot made a huge block in the box to ensure the scores remained level at a crucial part of the game.
Despite all the criticism, it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see them both start at Anfield or the Emirates next week, but in the long-term it is quite clear they are not up to the level of the leading full-backs in the Premier League, and are only plastering over cuts at a time when surgery is required.
That in itself is the problem. United’s hope relies on players who have huge question marks next to their names, and at a time when seismic change is needed, it is clear some areas will need to be overlooked initially.
United are prioritizing at least one new midfielder and a younger forward in the summer window, but third on their list should be a reliable full-back who can play on either side of their defence.
That doesn’t mean it will happen, though.