It was perhaps ironic that the most glaring flaw in Manchester United’s team - a lack of width – would be highlighted against Bayern Munich this week. The Bayern team that gave perhaps the most devastatingly complete team performance at Old Trafford in 2010 was built upon the width of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, with a Swiss Army knife of tools to hurt opposition defences.
In the Allianz Arena on Sunday, whether by design or not, Manchester United looked devoid of attacking implements. The long ball down the middle, executed without success in the first half by Andreas Pereira, Ander Herrera and David De Gea found attackers isolated and shone a glaring light on one of José Mourinho’s great pet peeves: a lack of industrious wide men.
Mourinho has fought hard for the signing of specialists in wide areas, such as Willian and Ivan Perišić, players which would provide further attacking options. It was Ribery and Robben breaking from deep which hurt Manchester United in 2010 (and saw Rafael Da Silva sent off). It is also arguably Manchester City’s most effective attacking tool when Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling break from deep and leave opposition defences stretched.
Had Manchester United used wingers more effectively in their friendly against Bayern Munich, it would not have left their main striker (Alexis Sánchez and Marcus Rashford rotating) so isolated, as Bayern would have had the wide threat to deal with. It is worth mentioning that United made little effort to utilise Juan Mata in the game, though his lack of speed in a wide area hardly helped this.
What remains is an impasse between Mourinho and Ed Woodward. Woodward seems unwilling to invest large sums of money in players aged 28 and older. Woodward appears steadfast in the belief that United should target younger talent while also not wanting to castigate Anthony Martial from the side.
The Woodward argument could be that Mourinho has already has wide players. Mourinho has Martial and Rashford and the onus is upon the manager to coach the players effectively. Both players possess immense pace and terrifying dribbling ability. There is no reason why they couldn’t put in performances akin to Sterling or Sane provided they were given the coaching required. Mourinho has previously managed the likes of Robben and knows what is required in wide areas.
With the Mourinho experiment threatening to derail, it is time for the Manchester United board and manager to find compromise. Perhaps Woodward should grant Mourinho his wish of, an albeit older, wide player. Mourinho is the expert and should be trusted in his judgement. Having said that, it is also Mourinho’s job to coach his team effectively and most would agree that he has enviable raw materials to work with.
Only time will tell how Manchester United progress this year, but the fans will hope that the team can soon find their stride and attacking verve once the season begins in earnest.