The most frustrating aspect of Manchester United’s weekend defeat to Aston Villa was that fans felt like they had seen it all before.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side failed to make their attacking quality count as they struggled to breakdown the Aston Villa low-block, looked vulnerable to trickery on the counter-attack and then eventually lost the match after failing to defend a basic set-piece routine.
Perhaps it was an ode to Johnny Marr’s appearance at the other Old Trafford later in the day that United ensured there was Panic on the streets of Stretford after such a dire display left many wondering if their Premier League title dreams were premature.
With one-dimensional play and frustration building Solskjaer finally looked to change the game when he rather reluctantly introduced Edinson Cavani from the bench with less than 10 minutes of normal time to play.
Solskjaer had been deliberating how to change the match throughout the second-half but saw his options limited after injuries to Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire saw his side limited to just one attacking switch.
Cavani, Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic were the three players regularly occupying the touchline as the match dragged on and in an ideal world Solskjaer might well have introduced the Serbian as well, such as he did to successfully change the game at West Ham a week previous.
Instead it was the Uruguayan who came on as United adopted a disjointed 4-4-2 formation in the hope having two experienced strikers on the pitch would result in a greater threat on the Villa goal.
It was the combined central threat of Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba in the opposition area which led to Kortney Hause’s handball for the late penalty kick as Dean Smith’s side struggled to deal with the long-ball threat – and in another world United’s late formation switch might well have brought instant results.
Just because United failed to get anything from the match it is easy to suggest their late gamble failed but with a bit more fortune it might well have paid off, it remains a Plan-B approach which is worth considering when circumstance requires.
Solskjaer had already hinted at it in his pre-match press conference by insisting Cavani and Ronaldo could play together in an attacking duo and the formation also has the added bonus of by-passing their flimsy central midfield by focusing on direct passing from out wide.
However, to make it work more effectively the approach will likely be defined by the extra attacking threat provided by their full-backs given the inverted nature of their wide men.
Shaw’s early withdrawal didn’t help matters given his replacement Dalot was also inverted playing on the left side of defence while Aaron Wan-Bissaka remains an inconsistent attacking threat, but is getting gradually better despite plenty of criticism.
Stats from WyScout show it is actually Wan-Bissaka who has provided a more consistent output than his full-back partner this season with a crossing accuracy of 44.4 per cent in contrast to Shaw’s astoundingly low 5.9 per cent success rate.
Wan-Bissaka also has a 87.6 per cent short-pass completion rate to Shaw’s own 83.6 per cent, though the left-back leads 50 per cent to 41.2 per cent in regards to long pass accuracy.
In order for United to make the most of their main attacking focal points in the box they need a combination of creativity from their inverted wide men which is complimented by support from their full-backs, there is clear room for improvement.
Even in weekend defeat Cavani and Ronaldo proved they can cause concern as an attacking duo, now it is down to Solskjaer and his full-backs to get the best from them.