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Manchester United: The 6 biggest problems facing the club right now

Harry Maguire
(Image credit: Getty)

Manchester United were hoping that a trip to lowly Watford would be the spark to re-ignite a flame. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had the whole of the international break to recharge, after all. 

A 4-1 loss was clearly not what the Old Trafford hierarchy had in mind, though. What felt obvious to so many United fans took five hours to mull over - and now Ole has paid for his failures with his job. 

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It's not just one or two on-field issues that need fixing at United, either...

1. A broken defence - at the front and the back

Manchester United have conceded two or more goals in every game since Everton held them to a 1-1 draw at the start of October. It's damning up front as well as at the back, though.

United's press has been lacklustre, growing ever more tired as the weeks of malaise have gone by. Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba have both been questioned for their work off the ball, while Bruno Fernandes sprinting forward has left space for opponents to simply walk through the midfield.

At the back, things haven't been much better, with Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw nursing spiritual hangovers since the Euros. United's compactness has vanished in recent weeks and the Red Devils need to go back to basics.

If they can't press, they need to sit off and wait to counter. Maguire needs to rekindle form or have a rest and there are some long hours that need to be spent on the training ground correcting this mess. 

2. How do you keep Ronaldo happy?

Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Juventus and suddenly, Massimiliano Allegri - the man who'd masterminded multiple back-to-back Scudetti - was gone by the start of the following season. Maurizio Sarri only got a year, too; Andrea Pirlo barely that. 

Now United have realised something similar. Ronaldo isn't calling for a sacking - that we know of - but by strapping yourself to a serial winner, you'd better start, you know, winning things.

CR7 demands results simply by his presence. His signing was seen as a catalyst to challenge for a title - and now the next manager will be judged by how they manage the superego, how they balance a team around the Portuguese and how expectations are managed for the rest of the season. It's quite the tightrope act. 

3. The midfield conundrum

Scott McTominay

(Image credit: PA)

Before the season kicked off, United fans felt as if they were one defensive midfielder short of a title challenge. They're nowhere near that challenge now - but the DM they lack is becoming even starker by the week.

Solskjaer muddled on with Scott McTominay and Fred, while Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba have both been slotted into midfield with differing degrees of unsuccess. While United are blessed with attacking midfielders like van de Beek, Bruno and Jesse Lingard, there isn't nearly the same talent deeper.

Is throwing £100m on Declan Rice now the answer? Probably not. This is a big issue for whoever steps into the Old Trafford vacancy, with the United side requiring a little more nuance in the middle of the park. 

4. A leadership void

Harry Maguire responded to criticism of his Manchester United form by knee-sliding after he scored against Albania on international duty and putting his fingers in his ears. Roy Keane called it "embarrassing" – and though that might be a bit far, Keano does have legitimate concerns.

Maguire has been fine as United captain but there isn't a lot of leadership in the squad. Bruno Fernandes is vice-captain and leads by example - though not recently - and while Varane, Ronaldo and Rashford are all leaders in one way or another, there doesn't seem to be a core of strong personalities like the ones that Keane would have played with. 

United target the best players in the world with their recruitment but looking at the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, they have key leaders across the field capable of dragging their team through the darker days. That's a lot to all fall on Maguire's shoulders. 

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5. Jadon Sancho's slow start

Manchester United

(Image credit: Getty)

Manchester United spent around £75m on Jadon Sancho after chasing him for two summers. Weeks into his Old Trafford career, rumours surfaced that his manager was considering playing him wing-back.

Sancho's slow start is indicative of a bigger problem with creativity at United. The side seems to rely on its goals from moments of isolated genius and has done for a while - but there's only so much that it can dig you out of a hole and United are beginning to realise that.

Failing to get the best out of one of the world's most prodigious young stars is damning. This is a conundrum that needs fixing - for all parties. 

6. The off-field structure

Part of United's lack of direction on the pitch is understandable when there's no clear strategy off the field. The lack of a director of football has been questioned for years, as rivals all move with the times - but what will work for United?

If Mauricio Pochettino comes in, he's going to want to have some sort of say over his signings, given that it's been a sticking point at both Tottenham and PSG. Arsenal have proven over the summer that actually, appointing a manager who has a say in transfers might be antiquated but at least you know what you're getting on the field.

Since United don't have that clear, all-encompassing club philosophy, perhaps a director of football would simply confuse things even further right now. Hiring a manager who has a clear idea of how to reset the team on the pitch - and backing him to do so - might be the way forward.

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