Big Match

United need to 'Step It Up'

Juan Mata v Wilfred Ndidi.
Daniel James v Ricardo Pereira.

Johnsen says Red Devils have to sort out their defence, leadership and contract issues

Even after just four English Premier League (EPL) games, it would take a brave man to bet on Manchester United adding to their 20 top-flight titles at the end of the season.

After failing to win their last three matches, the Red Devils have five points and are eighth in the league, seven behind leaders Liverpool.

Former United defender Ronny Johnsen, 50, told The Straits Times that United have to sort out their defence, leadership and contract issues to challenge for a place in the top four and qualify for the Champions League again.

Johnsen, who won three league titles and the 1999 Champions League with United, felt that while new signings Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are good defenders, the back line need to understand each other better.

Ahead of today's home clash against Leicester City, he said: "It was the same when we had new defenders during my time. Players... need time to settle down, to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and how to complement each other's movement."

He added Wan-Bissaka is "difficult to get past in 1 v 1 situations, is quick, and is a good tackler", while the 1.94m Maguire "has good height which is an asset in both boxes... and the defence will get better when he and (Victor) Lindelof get to understand each other better".

"I'm convinced it will all work out, but it cannot take long," added Johnsen who, with former Liverpool midfielder Vladimir Smicer, will be at Chang Beer and Singtel Media's live screening of the Liverpool-Newcastle and United-Leicester matches at Club Street from 6.30pm tonight.

He noted that the Foxes have done well to be third, adding: "United need to step up. They have been sitting back and relying more on the counter-attack. They have to decide if they want to be more adventurous.


United need to step up. They have been sitting back and relying more on the counter-attack. They have to decide if they want to be more adventurous...

RONNY JOHNSEN, former Manchester United defender, on what needs to be done at the club.

"After dropping seven points in their last three games, the Leicester match is especially important because they need good results to back things up and restore confidence after a rocky start."

Much has also been made about the uncertainty around wantaway midfield star Paul Pogba and goalkeeper David de Gea, who has nine months left of his contract.

Johnsen hopes their futures can be sorted by January, but feels they should not be held against their will. He also conceded that besides the duo, there is a lack of leaders in the young and talented bunch.

"When the going is tough, you want leaders to show the way forward," Johnsen said. "From the outside, it can seem United lack leadership. I think Maguire can be that figure."

But he backed manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to restore United's glory days.

Johnsen added: "It is not easy to change things instantly. I hope he will get the time he needs to get the club moving in the right direction...

"With the talent he has in his squad, it is all about getting a string of results to boost confidence and move on... They showed signs of that in the 4-0 win over Chelsea.


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Match points: Manchester United v Leicester

Key battles 

Harry Maguire v Jamie Vardy

A clash of old teammates. Vardy provides a test if the £80 million (S$136.8 million) man Maguire merits his status as the world's most expensive defender. He has been a revelation under Brendan Rodgers, with 12 goals in 14 games, and while United prefer to play on the counter, if they get too far upfield, Vardy has the pace to catch them on the break.

 Key statistics

Juan Mata v Wilfred Ndidi

Mata is scarcely a perfect fit for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's brand of football but, with Paul Pogba sidelined, United may need his creativity and the Spaniard could fill the No. 10 role. Ndidi, who ranks fifth in the league for tackles and second for interceptions, has been excellent, showing why he is arguably the best defensive midfielder outside the big six.

Daniel James v Ricardo Pereira

James has flourished since joining from Swansea. Three league goals is already as many as Alexis Sanchez scored for United and he has a trademark strike, cutting in off the left to shoot with his right foot. So Pereira will have to be wary of the young Welshman. But the Portuguese is another Leicester player good enough for the top six.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2019, with the headline 'United need to 'Step It Up''. Print Edition | Subscribe