Opinion: Manchester United's players are like statues
United players are in position but not stopping Aguero in the Derby (Photo: Getty Images / Manchester City)

Opinion: Manchester United's players are like statues

United run less than every other team, because they are too busy watching football matches.

Craig Millar

David De Gea is apparently having a bad season. That's possibly a fair comment. However, he is, like most seasons since joining Manchester United, overworked.

In four of the last five campaigns, De Gea has been player of the year. So, since Sir Alex Ferguson has retired, he has helped the three managers immensely with his skills, despite not being able to bring real success.

United had the second best defensive record in the Premier last season. This season, they are hemorrhaging goals. Is that down to De Gea? No - not at all. It just shows that without De Gea, United will be in more trouble than they currently are.

Forget about money spent, forget about signings United - or Jose Mourinho - missed out on. There is no player, not one defender in the world, that could make a difference.

The defenders themselves are the same as last year. They are making mistakes, but they are still the same players.

United don't run

What has transpired this year, is that United as a team are lazy. They are ball watchers, and the midfield is as culpable as the defence in that respect.

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba are both class footballers, but this season as United have toiled they have been largely responsible for the problems. They, like most United players, get into their defensive positions.

And that's it. As if being in a defensive area is the be all and end all. They do not engage the opposition ball player. They do not track runners. 

In the first half versus Chelsea and Juventus at Old Trafford especially, it was truly shameful the way United played. Each opposition player on the ball had so much time to pick a pass. They had so many options because although United looked good positionally they were like statues.

The first Manchester City goal in the derby loss was incredible. Three City players in United's penalty area, but United were so focused on the ball nobody was actually interested in the blue shirts. Totally unavoidable if any player bothered to try marking.

Ball watching. Not sensing danger. Not marking. There is nothing about this negative United team that is really defensive.

Zonal marking is not for everyone, but those who deploy it must see something in it. Yet zonal marking is generally confined to corners. With United, it's in open play.

One incident in the Juventus game emphasised the point. Pogba was around five yards off the player on the ball, who had all the time in the world.

The play was down Juve's left, just inside United's half. A runner went past Pogba on his inside. Pogba took a step left to prevent a pass. He didn't press the ball, so when Alex Sandro made one of many bursts forward, an easy pass to him hurt United. Pogba was no longer in a defensive position.

De Gea exposed

It's not a real wonder why the defence is so stretched, and De Gea is called into action so often. 

United run less than any team they face, the midfield doesn't protect the defence and the defence doesn't sense danger, they merely take up positions.

It's not just against the better teams either, Wolves, Newcastle United and Bournemouth all caused United prolonged problems.

Paul Scholes said recently that United look better when they are on the front foot. It may be time they started doing that. They possibly want to do that and that's the plan, but regardless of the formation 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, the normal pattern is one of sitting back.

It's hard to know how this team goes forward, both figuratively and normally. The fact that they isolate the striker and again the midfield are not prepared to go forward, means that more often than not they are under pressure.

The acquisition of Fred looked an astute one, as he can pick a pass and likes to get forward, but he hasn't settled and hasn't had many opportunities.

Pogba remains the most creative player, but unless United start running more, and taking risks going forward then there are going to be more bad days ahead.

They are much better when they commit because as a whole they are a shambles defensively.