Manchester United know where they must improve to challenge for Premier League title

Man Utd were beaten 2-1 by Leicester City in the Premier League at Old Trafford after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced into 10 changes. Cagla...

Man Utd were beaten 2-1 by Leicester City in the Premier League at Old Trafford after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced into 10 changes.


Caglar Soyuncu's towering header to restore Leicester City's lead at Old Trafford was the 12th Premier League Manchester United have conceded from a set-piece this season.

Only Leeds United have conceded more than United's dozen but nobody can compete with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side for the ratio of goals they are conceding from dead-ball situations.

Twelve of the 37 goals United have conceded this season have come from set-pieces, that's almost a third of their goals from situations that are worked on regularly on the training pitches of Carrington. Leeds' 15 have come from 53 conceded, while Wolves, who have also conceded 12 set-piece goals, have done so from a total of 47 conceded.

Once again this was a corner sent into the heart of United's defence. Marc Albrighton's delivery was a gift for Soyuncu to attack on the edge of the six-yard box. The centre back had the run on Nemanja Matic, who rather than jumping to try and disrupt the man attacking the ball attempted to use his body, to no avail.

United's defensive record isn't great this season, although it's only marginally worse than last term, but that can be put down to their persistent weakness at the set-piece. It's an obvious area of improvement for next season when they will attempt to close the gap on Manchester City.

Solskjaer's gamble

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks like he will be true to his word in promising none of his players will start all four games in their extraordinary schedule of four matches in eight days, but we will never know if his selection gamble against the Foxes was the wrong call.

Given United will always play their strongest possible team against Liverpool at Old Trafford, Solskjaer's options were to either make wholesale changes against Leicester or split the alterations between the games on Sunday and Tuesday and hope half his first team could cope with two matches in 48 hours.

In the end he decided to pick what was almost his strongest team to face Villa, before ringing the changes on Tuesday night. It made picking up three points in the Midlands all the more important, something achieved with another second-half comeback. That allowed Solskjaer to take the risk of 10 changes against Brendan Rodgers' side. He will have always known the risks involved.

That United officially surrendered the title on Tuesday night will be frustrating to Solskjaer, but the reality is it didn't come down to a defeat which had more to do with the schedule than the quality of performances.

Perhaps the biggest comfort will be the damage the week might yet do to Liverpool, who have seen their hopes of a top-four finish damaged by Leicester's win at Old Trafford. If Liverpool fail to repeat the trick on Thursday then those hopes will be extinguished.

Van de Beek's difficult season

Donny van de Beek's last three United starts have all come in different positions, which partly helps to explain some of the struggles he's had in his first season at Old Trafford.

The Holland international started as an attacking midfield at Leicester in the FA Cup on March 21, on the left-wing in Rome last Thursday and now in a deeper midfield role on Tuesday night.

Having come through the academy system at Ajax there's no doubt Van de Beek will be versatile but when he's had so little action in his first season at the club, using him in a variety of different positions and not allowing him to build up any momentum in the side won't be helping his cause.

This wasn't a performance that suggested his long-term future is in a deep midfield role, but then asking him to play there in a side showing 10 changes was never going to allow for a fair assessment.

United will hope Van de Beek improves for his first season at the club, but to get the best out of him United really need to give him a more sustained run in a single position, before turning him into a jack of all trades.

Full-back concerns

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw have been two of United's best players this season and possibly two of their most improved, which has made the task harder for those below them in the pecking order.

When both made way at half-time against Roma last Thursday the drop off in quality was stark and this was another tough night for understudies Brandon Williams and Alex Telles.

Williams has more mitigation given his lack of action this season - this was his first Premier League start of the campaign - and his tender age, but more has been expected of Telles given his pedigree.

The Brazilian left-back made a positive impression on his debut in Paris in October but he's not hit those heights since. Defensively he's been poor recently and Leicester City got far too much joy down his side on Tuesday.

For the opening goal they found holes behind Telles and Axel Tuanzebe far too easily, which forced Williams and Eric Bailly across to cover. All members on the back four when they at the near post or beyond when the cross went to the back post and Luke Thomas, who was in acres of space to score an impressive volley.

Maguire's leadership role

Harry Maguire navigated the steps down the directors' box to the seats behind the United dugout tentatively before the game, with his right foot in a protective boot after suffering ankle ligament damage.

This might have been the first time Maguire hasn't started a Premier League game for the club since he signed from Leicester City in the summer of 2019, but his roars of encouragement - a feature of behind closed doors games - were still audible.

Maguire was particularly keen to encourage United's youngsters, displaying the leadership skills which have turned him into a dependable captain.

When Elanga got the first hint of space down the left-hand side just before the 20-minute mark Maguire's shout of "go on, take him on" echoed across the Old Trafford pitch.


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