Manchester United’s woes this season have been due to the absence of three main leaders in their squad, according to former Red Devils midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.
It’s been a rough start to the season for Man Utd, who sit eighth after 11 games in the Premier League. While they could be doing worse, the Red Devils will no doubt be disappointed with their record, having already lost times.
Although three of those defeats came against Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City, they were joined by home losses to Brighton and Crystal Palace at the height of the crisis.
Man Utd’s struggles haven’t been restricted to just the Premier League either. The Red Devils also lost their first two Champions League group stage games for the first time ever and just about scraped through a 1-0 win over FC Copenhagen last time out.
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There was another defeat in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, a comprehensive 3-0 loss to Newcastle at Old Trafford — having also lost to Man City at home by that scoreline just a few days earlier. The two-game losing streak was brought to an end with a 1-0 win over Fulham at the weekend, but even then Man Utd had to rely on Bruno Fernandes’ injury-time winner.
One of the more obvious reasons for Man Utd’s woes is their poor attack with just 12 goals in the Premier League and Fernandes as their top scorer on three. But Sabitzer believes there is something a bit deeper than that.
Sabitzer spent the second half of last season on loan with Man Utd from Bayern Munich, and played 17 times across all competitions, scoring three goals including two in the Europa League. He was a player used to plug the gaps in midfield, sometimes slightly deeper but often in a more advanced role just behind the forwards.
And he believes that Erik ten Hag’s tactics are getting lost due to the absence of some key players.
“I feel very positive about my time there and still talk to a couple of people,” Sabitzer told the Athletic.
“You ask yourself, ‘what’s going on?’ There’s a lot of noise, results are not good, they’ve had defeats at home, which almost felt unthinkable last season. And there’s still the unresolved situation of the ownership. You can see what that does to a team.
“I feel sorry for them because they’re all good guys, and extremely hungry for success.
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“Casemiro, Luke Shaw and Lisandro Martinez – they are leaders that provide structure and stability to the team.
“Erik ten Hag comes with up very specific match plans and patterns of play. But if you have too many important players missing and too many changes as a result, things get lost between the tactics board and the pitch. The rhythm of players coming isn’t right, processes aren’t right.
“In the Premier League and Champions League, you need your best players available. Everything feels a little laboured and uncertain now. They need their big guys to show up and change the course of the season, but I believe things can change quickly once they get important players back.”
Casemiro has missed four of Man Utd’s last five games across all competitions, lasting just 45 minutes in the EFL Cup defeat to Newcastle, clearly rushed back from injury too soon. Shaw has played just two matches at the start of the season before his injury while Lisandro Martinez isn’t expected to feature until the new year, after aggravating a foot injury he suffered in April.