The great forward lines are never just made up of great players. They are part of a great system, their roles are clear, their contributions to the team different from one another.
Manchester United quite clearly do not currently have a great forward line. Jose Mourinho lambasted his side, namely his attacking players, for a lack of “creativity” and “dynamism”. He was completely correct to do so.
Some of the blame lies at Mourinho’s feet. Each week Man United are sent out with attackers who don’t appear to know quite what their role is and how it is different to their teammates. Mourinho insists he gives his attackers freedom. Freedom to play, or freedom to fail?
However, while there is a deeper issue there, one thing is clear after a 1-1 draw to Wolves. Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard playing together is not viable in this system.
Both players are individually talented and important. They are quite different players. Yet with the ‘freedom’ given by Mourinho, they’re stepping on each other’s toes. Consequently, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is isolated and United are left taking long-range shots from outside the box to try and beat a team, and more specifically on Saturday, Rui Patricio.
This is not a long-term strategy, nor an effective one. Sanchez and Lingard are two players who have been poor in their last few fixtures. Yet they remain starters for the Reds. Mourinho must have the nerve to drop Sanchez. Lingard is a player he is not opposed to dropping, but Sanchez is a big name, and was a big signing, and is a highly-paid player.
Lingard, meanwhile, offers a great deal even during poor games. The Englishman’s movement and work rate lends itself to a Mourinho team and to United.
Nevertheless, both deserved to be dropped based on current form. Anthony Martial made three key passes after coming on as a substitute, more than Sanchez and Lingard combined in their time on the pitch as starters.
Both were drifting aimlessly into spaces, occupying the same areas onhe pitch. United must play wider, not to fulfil some mythical ‘United way’ that is made up by critics of first David Moyes, then Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho. There is a United way, but it doesn’t have to include width. But United need width in order to stretch teams, expose frailties in their defence.
Narrow play doesn’t allow Lukaku the best opportunities, it doesn’t allow Luke Shaw to be at his best, or Paul Pogba for that matter. Mourinho must change things up, because Sanchez and Lingard are coming in to play narrowly each time they’re on the ball, ad every time they’re off it, too. It leaves United as a predictable, easy-to-deal-with side.