Manchester United’s defence has come under fire this season, with fans and pundits alike questioning why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not look to bring in a new centre back in the transfer window. Talk of United’s shaky backline only intensified when Tottenham Hotspur handed them a 6-1 thrashing in the Premier League.
That game was United’s heaviest defeat under Solskjaer and meant only newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion had conceded more than the Red Devil’s 11 league goals at the time.
United had also failed to keep a clean sheet in the league at the time and there were serious questions being asked about their defence.
However, in the four games that have followed the Tottenham thrashing, United have been unbeaten, conceded just two goals and kept two clean sheets against Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and RB Leipzig.
During this run, Solskjaer has tweaked his defence slightly, most notably against PSG, and the Norwegian may well have found some solutions to a few of their defensive issues.
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Club captain Harry Maguire’s lack of pace has been highlighted as a weakness opposition teams can look to exploit, with former United star Roy Keane telling ITV last season: “I think he’s done OK.
“We were talking about how good he is on the ball, but defensively I still have one or two question marks over him.
“I always worry about his pace on the turn, I remember the first goal against Crystal Palace where he’s not doing the basics – covering round his other centre-half.”
Against PSG, Solskjaer picked Axel Tuanzebe as part of a back three and the youngster’s pace was key as he helped blunt an attack containing Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria.
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Speaking on BT Sport, ex-United star Rio Ferdinand highlighted Tuanzebe’s pace as his key attribute and the 22-year-old could work well alongside Maguire, covering for his weakest attribute.
“This is where United have struggled in the last six to 12 months, chasing players down those channels,” Ferdinand said of Tuanzebe’s display against PSG.
“They can’t stay with them and it opens up the back four, back three. But here, he was smelling danger. Ole has just said that’s two of the best strikers in the world.
“He snuffed out danger on many occasions and you have to reward performances like that at a time of injuries. Again, first game in 10 months and to come in and play like that from out the cold you just deserve to be rewarded.”
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In that same game, Luke Shaw played on the left side of a back three, allowing Alex Telles to make his debut in a more advanced role.
Utilising the pair together could be a good long-term option for Solskjaer, with Owen Hargreaves highlighting the benefits on BT Sport.
“He [Telles] is a good player, a great attacking player. He gets assists, works up and down, he’s probably more suited to playing as a wing-back because defensively he’s not great.
“In terms of assists, his numbers are off the charts. He’s great on set pieces, he’s a good addition to United, a modern full-back. When Luke Shaw was at his best last season it was when he played left on a back three, which might suit all parties.”
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