Just like last time Pauly Kwestel from The Busby Babe is so prolific with words on Manchester United we had to make it a two-part event. Given everything that’s happened at United over the past few seasons, the squad they’ve assembled and yet another transition this summer there is plenty to discuss.
If you missed it, make sure to check out part one discussing the race for the top four, Ralf Rangnick, which players might leave this summer, Marcus Rashford, and a Manchester United player to watch for next season.
TSF: We know Rangnick and ten Hag will be looking to add players who fit their plans for United. What do you consider to be the top three needs to address this summer?
TBB: Defensive midfielder, Paul Pogba replacement midfielder, central midfielder/backup defensive midfielder. United have other needs (right-back, backup left-back, right wing, center forward, a depth CB) but they have signed (multiple) players in all those positions over the last four years. They haven’t signed any midfielders and they painfully need them.
We’ve seen what happens when you don’t have a midfield. Your defense is exposed and will be made to look bad. Your attack doesn’t play to its potential because you can’t get them the ball. Fixing those pieces without fixing the midfield will just set them up for failure, shatter the confidence of any new signing, and they’ll quickly be labelled a bust. Address the midfield and you’ll suddenly get better in both areas. Then next year you can address any weaknesses you still have and put those new signings in a position to succeed right from the jump.
TSF: Erik ten Hag is set to be the next manager tasked with restoring Manchester United to the top of the table. What are your initial thoughts on his appointment and how many seasons do you believe he would need to transform United — even if club management sees it differently?
TBB: Three years at a minimum but most likely five. The difference between now and three years ago is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had some nice young attacking pieces (Martial, Rashford, the striker who won’t be named) that were still in their formative years to be combined with players who were jussttt entering their primes (Shaw, Pogba, Maguire, Bruno). If you got steady progression there then those attackers would be entering their primes right as the older players were hitting their peak, giving you a pretty potent team.
It didn’t work out that way. Martial and Rashford never took that next step forward. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James didn’t develop. Now you’ve gotta start again only the rest of the team is still at or just past their peak. You can sign some nice young players but even after giving them a few years to develop and gel, you’re now going to need to phase out the other parts of the team that are now old. That’ll add another year or so.
Will the club actually give him this kind of time? Who knows? They’ve been committed to plenty of long term plans in the past, only to pivot and throw it all away two years later when something new and shiny comes along. Then they wonder why they’re constantly in this position.
TSF: Paul Pogba is out of contract in the summer and is expected to be at a new club for the start of next season. How do you rate his time at Manchester and any guesses as to where he may end up this summer?
TBB: I’d give it about a five. Pogba was brought in and immediately had the most lofty expectations placed on him that made it almost impossible to live up to. The things he’s hated for range from the ridiculous to hypocritical to fair but taken to extremes.
He’s not perfect by any means. He was the victim of not having a good team around him. Too often he was played deep in a midfield two, a position he’s capable of playing but it’s far from his best position and prevents him from doing what he does best. Too often he was played in that deep position next to Scott McTominay or Mauroanne Fellaini, making it really easy for teams to shut him down (they’d just double/triple team Pogba because McTominay and Fellaini can’t play with the ball at their feet). Pogba was often the man the opposition focused on shutting down and it would hurt United that their other players weren’t good enough to make teams pay for leaving them open and have to defend more fairly.
For £89 million fans expected Pogba to dominate every match, which isn’t his style. He didn’t do that. He had some bad games along the way, but people act like he’s the only one that’s had bad games for United over the last few years.
Overall, over the six years United have taken more shots, have higher expected goals, and have scored more actual goals per 90 minutes when Pogba has been on the pitch compared to when he wasn’t. They won 54.74 percent of the matches he started and 47.67 percent of the ones he didn’t. The 0.21 difference in points per match extrapolates to them being eight points better with him than without. Even when he’s not on his game, he makes his teammates better, what more is a midfielder supposed to do?
He’s hated because his agent is an asshole (he is but who cares? You should see how much Mino fleeced the club when it comes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic). Or they’ll claim it’s because “he’s wanted to leave for three years” even though they sing for Edinson Cavani who wants no part in playing for United and comes up with every excuse in the book to avoid playing and go back to South America, while Pogba shows up to work every day despite all the abuse.
I don’t actually know where he ends up. PSG are the popular opinion because they have money, but PSG doesn’t seem to have the draw for French players that you would think it does. Pogba’s close with Mbappe so you have to think he knows exactly what’s going on there, and frankly, Mauricio Pochettino is likely out and it’s hard to see a new manager saying “Paul Pogba is the solution to our issues, we should spend tons of money on him.”
I can’t see Real Madrid breaking the bank for an injury prone 29 year old and the same goes for Juventus. Honestly for a long time I could see a scenario where he ends up back at United simply because they’d offer him the most money out of everyone else. But even if United did offer him the most money, at this point he’d have to be NUTS to stay given all the abuse being thrown his way. Go find a fanbase that’ll appreciate you and win trophies.
TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect Manchester United to use in this match and who is in your predicted starting XI?
TBB: God I have no idea. Who’s even available? Ronaldo might still be on a very understandable LOA. McTominay was on the bench against Liverpool so he probably comes back into the team because Matic has maxed out his mileage for the week. Though the fact that he didn’t come into the game when Pogba got hurt probably says a lot about how fit he really is. Alex Telles is such shit that Rangnick played Diogo Dalot at LB the other night, and when that didn’t work after 25 minutes he swapped him over with Aaron Wan-Bissaka who’s never played there in his life while Telles never came off the bench. Sancho comes back into the team and it’s hard to see Bruno getting dropped but... man I don’t know. There (almost) definitely will be 11 names on the team sheet though.
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
TBB: From a footballing perspective there is absolutely no reason Arsenal should lose this game. None. It shouldn’t even be close. Arsenal are a far better team.
HOWEVER. We can’t forget that United just got steamrolled by Liverpool and 24 hours later Arsenal got a big win at Stamford Bridge so we could be in line for some peak Barclays weekend action that serves us up a result that makes absolutely no sense. Plus apparently Arsenal are really bad in the early kickoff? If this match is decided based on football, Arsenal take it easily. If all the other “unnatural elements” decide to get involved, then anything can happen.
Thanks to Pauly and The Busby Babe.