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Manchester United needs to eat its vegetables again

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Chasing splashy signings instead of proper team-building is at the heart of United’s current malaise

Chelsea FC v Manchester United - Premier League

Dessert is sweet and provides instant gratification while vegetables tend to be more bland. However, as your mother surely reminded you at dinner countless times, vegetables are good for you and provide the essential vitamins to build a strong, healthy body.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013, United has opted to forgo the vital parts of team building and eat dessert instead. The team has been quick to drop stupid amounts of money on splashy names but clutch its purse strings when it comes to purchasing positional players that lack marketability and sex appeal.

Following a 3-1 demolition to its most important rival, Liverpool — a loss that more closely resembled the final stand at the Alamo than a football match — it’s clear that Manchester United is in need of sweeping changes. For those not up on their American history, every defender of the Alamo was killed.

Going into Christmas, United is 0-3-2 with a goal differential of -7 to the other members of the Premier League’s Top Six, and United’s own positioning at the top is in jeopardy to clubs like Wolverhampton and Everton.

In the Northwest Derby, Liverpool earned 64 percent possession, outshot United 36-6 and earned 13 corner kicks to United’s two. The majority of the match was played in United’s defensive half as the Red Devils tried to hold onto a 1-1 draw with white knuckles. Then, Liverpool’s offensive-minded substitute, Xherdan Shaqiri, broke United’s back Bane-style with a brace that surely marked another beginning of the end for José Mourinho.

Outside the derby, United has conceded more goals before Christmas this season than it did all of last season. The continued ineptitude exhibited by United has persisted as Paul Pogba can’t even make an appearance off the bench, Romelu Lukaku plods along the attack like a bull in a Chinashop, and Alexis Sánchez is out for the foreseeable future with an injury after also failing to crack the lineup for weeks on end.

This club’s proverbial body is malnourished, weak and now ravaged by infections that requires wholesale changes to return to proper health.

The war of personalities and importance to the club waged by Mourinho and Pogba has been nothing short of poison for the dressing room. Mourinho’s narcissism is caustic and Pogba’s inability to make the starting XI — with all the weight of his transfer fee and World Cup performance — is hamstringing the team’s potential. As the future continues to look bleaker, the removal of either Mourinho, Pogba or both seems like a necessary change to fix the attitude of the entire team.

We here at The Busby Babe have driven this next point into the ground ad nauseum, but I’m going to drive it a little further. Ed Woodward needs to be removed from making football decisions; forcibly if necessary. A director of football, who’s job is solely to scout, acquire and sell talent, work with and check the manager, and drive the overall performance of the team on the field, must be the first priority of the club’s ownership. Woodward must be relegated to managing the team store or negotiating a kit sponsorship with another mediocre American car manufacturer.

It’s been Woodward that gorged himself on dessert and failed at so many transfers, scoffed at prices for competent but unsexy midfielders and defenders, and extended and enabled Mourinho.

Woodward was willing to drop mad stacks on Pogba but couldn’t also muster a “measly” $32 million for N’Golo Kante who transferred to Chelsea from Leicester in the same summer? This past summer was a shambolic saga of inquiring about every defender in the world but not signing a single player. This perception of impotent dealmaking has to be changed so that the club can conduct proper business again.

Once a director of football is in place, the team needs to do serious assessment of what kind of football it wants to play and which players are in the building that can facilitate that style of play. Those unable to make the cut need to transferred to other clubs and the fees acquired need to be used to bring in new players. At this point, it is not beyond the pale to inquire about a Gareth Bale-like transfer for Pogba that could provide the funds to completely reshape the team.

After watching what United displayed on the pitch at Anfield, and remembering the evolution of the Jurgen Klopp era on Merseyside, the team needs to recapture supporter’s affection with watchable, tactical football. Sacrificing a year or two of playing in Europe to develop youth talent may be exactly what the team needs to reboot. Liverpool fans fell in love with Klopp as the team played to swashbuckling 3-2 and 4-3 results. Sure, Liverpool had a leaky defense at the beginning of his tenure, but Klopp has consistently evolved his side into one of the best attacking teams in the world that now has solid defense and has only conceded seven goals to open the 2018-19 season.

United finds itself in an awkward position as the club sat on its hands and waited for the team to descend into complete chaos heading into the January transfer window. Making a permanent, midseason change at manager is a minefield, but Liverpool and Manchester City proved with the signings of Klopp and Pep Guardiola that a world-class manager could be acquired outside of the summer.

The club should view the January window as an opportunity to begin rebuilding the foundation and restore hope in the supporters. The Premier League title is lost as United sit double-digit points behind Liverpool and City who will trade haymaker for haymaker in their heavyweight prize fight for the title in the second half of the season.

However, United miraculously made it to the knockout rounds of the Champions League and could still prove its competitiveness in Europe. Maybe, if we’re lucky, United has maneuvered in the shadows and managed to stay uncharacteristically leak-free in its search for a DoF and will announce that person’s signing before the turn of the new year. In that same hopeful scenario, the DoF will trim some fat off the team in the transfer window and make one or two acquisitions to help aid the Champions League effort.

Until these events transpire, we will wait for the changes that can hopefully restore the club to its former glory, continue nagging our beloved Red Devils to eat its vegetables to get healthy, and analyze potential new managers while Mourinho postures for his next job despite having the United crest on his chest.