Rethink Mason Mount’s role
Mason Mount was recruited from Chelsea as a No 8 midfielder by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag in the summer. But the England international again struggled in the position in Saturday’s limp 1-0 defeat at home by Crystal Palace and, alongside Marcus Rashford, was substituted in the 77th minute with United chasing the game.
It was Mount’s second game back after more than five weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring problem and the player said he used the time out to analyse where he could get better. “It’s been a tough start with the injury and frustrating but I used that time to look at areas where I can improve,” he said.
Yet Mount was at his best for Chelsea on the right of a front three – he won back-to-back player of the year awards for the club and was integral to them winning the Champions League in 2021 in that role – and given United’s glaring problems on the right flank he could provide an obvious solution. Jadon Sancho is unavailable, Facundo Pellistri is raw and inexperienced and it is unclear how fit and in what frame of mind Antony is after weeks away now he is back in the squad.
Play Sofyan Amrabat alongside Casemiro
United’s injury crisis at left-back – Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia and loan signing Sergio Reguilon are all out – has seen Morocco midfielder Sofyan Amrabat deployed as a makeshift full-back in the last two games against Palace. But given United’s alarming susceptibility on the transition and the ease with which opponents can run through their midfield – Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Palace have all exploited those weaknesses at Old Trafford this season – partnering Amrabat with Casemiro seems a no brainer.
It would give United far greater cohesion, solidity and dynamism in central midfield, provide a better platform for the attackers and offer additional protection for a vulnerable defence. Like Mount, Amrabat is a square peg in a round hole at the moment.
Reinvigorate Marcus Rashford
Rashford is making and completing more dribbles, making more progressive carries and getting more touches on average this season than last. But his final ball and finishing have been a real problem and decision-making erratic. He has one goal in eight appearances for United this season – he had five after the same number of games last term when he managed 30 in total – and his body language does not exude confidence or happiness.
His substitution against Palace when United desperately needed a goal was telling. It has not helped that Rashford has been moved around so much, though. He is clearly at his most effective off the left and thrives on that familiarity but has been used as a centre-forward on several occasions this season and shunted to the right at times, usually to accommodate Alejandro Garnacho.
United have just seven goals in as many league games and are not creating nearly enough quality chances. “Sometimes we had to make the extra pass, sometimes the final pass, sometimes be more direct, sometimes the finishing wasn’t good enough,” Ten Hag said of the Palace match. “In the final part we didn’t play our best game.”
No more passive defending
United are either needlessly aggressive or overly rash (witness the daft free-kick Amrabat conceded from which Palace scored) or much too passive (as evidenced by their feeble attempts to clear Eberechi Eze’s free-kick before Joachim Andersen hooked home his winning volley, before which Rasmus Hojlund completely missed an intended clearing header).
There is a naivety to their defending that cannot continue to go unaddressed. The litany of injuries and constant upheaval to the back line have not helped at all – three of United’s four first-choice defenders are currently injured – but contrast how slow United invariably are to react to second balls to the desire, determination and organisation with which Palace defended their own box.
Ditch the left-field substitutions
With three minutes of normal time remaining, Ten Hag threw on Harry Maguire (a defender he seldom plays and has stripped of the captaincy) as a makeshift striker and introduced Donny van de Beek, a player he omitted from United’s Champions League squad and who looks totally lost and startled on those very rare occasions he has featured. Where was the logic in that?
In the previous home game against Brighton, Ten Hag’s substitutions felt like the manager was throwing mud at a board in the hope some would stick. The Dutchman made some smart interventions with his use of substitutes last season and needs to get back to that.