OLE’S SLOPPY UNITED OUT­CLASSED BY ART

THREE CLEAN SHEETS IN 21 GAMES ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE - By TY­RONE MAR­SHALL

WITH just over half an hour played at the Emi­rates, when a quick Arse­nal free-kick found Sead Ko­lasinac in space near the penalty area and able to drive at United, Vic­tor Lin­de­lof waved his arms in protest at the lat­est mo­ment of por­ous United de­fend­ing.

Five min­utes later the Reds play­ers were wav­ing the arms at Lin­de­lof, caught sleep­ing at a cor­ner to al­low Sokratis to score the Gun­ners’ sec­ond and ef­fec­tively end the con­test be­fore half-time.

Lin­de­lof was far from alone in see­ing his name on United’s rap sheet at the Emi­rates.

Aaron Wan-Bis­saka didn’t do enough to stop a cross com­ing in for Ni­co­las Pepe’s opener. Harry Maguire was poor in pos­ses­sion and rarely looked the leader United hope he can be, while Luke Shaw was given a tor­rid time by Pepe.

Af­ter Satur­day’s shut out at Burn­ley, this was back to the lev­els of de­fend­ing we’ve come to ex­pect from the Reds this sea­son. That clean sheet at Turf Moor was only United’s third in 21 Premier League games this sea­son. Only Norwich City and Tot­ten­ham have kept fewer.

Yet United have a first-choice back four that cost a com­bined £186m, with a goal­keeper be­hind them who not so long ago was in the dis­cus­sion for the best in the world.

When United spent £80m on Maguire and £45m on Wan-Bis­saka it was hoped that they were the fi­nal pieces of the jig­saw.

Add in Shaw and Lin­de­lof, it’s a back four that are all un­der 26. Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer would have hoped that he had boxed off at least one area of his United re­build.

But mid­way through the sea­son there is lit­tle sign that is a long-term de­fence that can be re­lied on.

The way Vir­gil van Dijk has trans­formed Liver­pool’s de­fence has changed what is ex­pected of cen­tre-backs and how much they’re val­ued at, but Maguire’s im­pact hasn’t yet been the cat­a­lyst for the rev­o­lu­tion that United hoped.

Be­fore the sea­son be­gan, Sol­sk­jaer was dis­cussing the sign­ing of Maguire and made it clear what he ex­pected from such an out­lay on a cen­tre-back. He said: “I don’t want to com­pare us to Liver­pool or Harry to van Dijk. But I know Harry is go­ing to have a mas­sive im­pact on us, yes.

“Al­ready this week when he has been in, you can see the im­pact he has got as a pres­ence in the group.”

There’s clearly an elite level cen­tral de­fender there and his part­ner­ship with Lin­de­lof has shown oc­ca­sional prom­ise, but it’s not been con­sis­tent enough and too of­ten they’ve not played like a part­ner­ship at all.

The best de­fences have com­bi­na­tions and part­ner­ships that el­e­vate the col­lec­tive above the in­di­vid­ual.

United have had it with Steve Bruce and Gary Pal­lis­ter, with Rio Fer­di­nand and Ne­manja Vidic, but so far there’s been few signs that Maguire-Lin­de­lof are head­ing for mem­ber­ship of that club.

Part­ner­ships take time to de­velop but too of­ten this sea­son the back four have played like ex­pen­sive

in­di­vid­u­als rather than a fine­ly­tuned, £186m ma­chine.

Against Arse­nal there was too much space be­tween them to ex­ploit, while Wan-Bis­saka and Shaw had their hands full with the wide play­ers with lit­tle sup­port com­ing their way.

Bran­don Wil­liams has emerged as a threat to Shaw’s sta­tus as the first-choice left­back at United, but the more se­nior man looks to be win­ning the race for now.

But United’s back four are not pro­duc­ing the goods on a con­sis­tent enough ba­sis. Clean sheets are the back­bone of any suc­cess­ful side and United sim­ply aren’t keep­ing enough of them.

The sum­mer spend­ing spree was sup­posed to have solved United’s de­fen­sive is­sues, and this quar­tet may yet emerge as the long-term back four, but im­prove­ment is re­quired, not just in­di­vid­u­ally, but col­lec­tively.

Three clean sheets in 21 league games isn’t good enough.

Vic­tor Lin­de­lof had a tough time against Arse­nal

Boss Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer tries to get his mes­sage across to his play­ers at the Emi­rates last night

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