While Manchester United's defence was one of the meanest in the Premier League the season before last, their fortunes certainly reversed during the 18/19 campaign. The organisation they had prided themselves on had seemingly disappeared, while individual errors were a theme throughout.
The change in managers did little to stop this slide, at least on a long-term basis. It became evidently clear that the personnel at the back was nowhere near the level required, leading to what will be major investment this summer.
The deal to take Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Old Trafford has already been completed, while moves are now being made to secure the signing of Harry Maguire.
Considering the vast amounts of money that will be invested in this pair, one would expect them to lead to a major improvement in the team's defensive fortunes. But as we will discuss, neither player is without their flaws.
How will they fit into the Manchester United system?
Solskjaer has been flexible in the way he lines out his team, but he has gravitated towards a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of his time in charge. He is not cavalier in attack like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp, and expects his forward players to do the lion's share of the work in this department.
This excellent video from Tifo Tactics outlines exactly what the Norwegian manager expects from his players.
Predicting United's strongest lineup for next season is no easy task. Their squad is very much in flux, both in terms of incomings and outgoings.
The Maguire deal is by no means done, with Leicester reportedly coveting Ā£90million in exchange for his services. However, with United having already placed a Ā£70million bid, you sense there is a strong desire to get the transfer over the line.
Midfield reinforcements could also be on the way, with Bruno Fernandes heavily linked. Sean Longstaff is an alternative option in that position.
Some players are also set to depart the club. Romelu Lukaku seems halfway out the door, and is unlikely to be first choice if he does stay. Paul Pogba is also angling for a move, and you would expect Mino Raiola will get a deal done for his man.
We anticipate that David de Gea will remain for now despite his uncertain contract situation.
The team is currently shaping up something like this.
That back four will be the strongest available to Solskjaer, with Victor Lindelof making some decent strides towards becoming a competent ball playing centre back over the second half of the season. He was given license to carry the ball out of the defence, something that was discouraged under Jose Mourinho.
You would expect Maguire to be granted similar freedoms. He has built a reputation for marauding runs from his own defence over the past couple of years, showing the type of adeptness with the ball at his feet we rarely see from centre backs.
Having two players will this ability should open plenty of avenues going forward for United.
It must also be said that Maguire's passing ability has been overstated in some quarters. He is an adequate passer, but often misplaces even short balls to his teammates. This is especially true when he is subjected to a press from the opposition.
He played Heung-Min Son in with a very loose ball in this example below.
This effort against Everton was even worse, considering he had a few different options on.
His 86% completion rate is acceptable, but far from exceptional for a central defender.Ā Maguire is not the high level ball playing centre back many will have you believe.
Wan-Bissaka defensive game is incredibly solid, but he is still lacking a little bit in attack. While he has flashes, he has yet to consistently make big contributions in the final third.
For those supporters expecting a Manchester version of Trent Alexander-Arnold, they will likely be disappointed. Luckily for Solskjaer, he will not expect the type of high volume attacking output from full backs that we see from the likes of City and Liverpool.
Wan-Bissaka and Shaw will be asked to join in on the attack at times, especially in sustained periods of possession. However, they will not be the ones required to push highest up the pitch, nor offer the outlet ball to start a counterattack.
They will overlap down the wings on occasion, but mostly they will linger behind the wingers to offer an alternate option as a crosser.
On many of the occasions they do wander forward, Jesse Lingard will be asked to drop that bit deeper and cover the wing.
While they will have a part to play for United going forward, it is in defence where Wan-Bissaka and Maguire will be expected to have the greatest impact.
Solskjaer likes to employ a high line, pressing his opponents up the pitch. Lingard and Rashford are key here. While it is not as pronounced as we see in some teams, it does compact the middle third of the pitch, often forcing the opposition to play long balls down the channels or on top of the United centre backs.
That scenario would play into the hands of Harry Maguire, who is dominant in the air.
It could also expose one of his weaknesses. His lack of pace is troubling, and could spell danger against teams with pace up front. If they can play the passes correctly, he could be exposed.
Last season against Manchester United, his lack of pace was badly exposed despite the relatively little amount of space in behind. He completely missed Rashford's run, resulting in a goal.
This sequence of play against Chelsea is almost identical, although Leicester were saved by the crossbar on that occasion.
That is certainly a hole in his game, with poor positioning and a lack of pace limiting ability to recover costing his team.
Here he attempts to track the run of Christian Benteke, hardly the quickest player in the league. He is outpaced, and eventually needlessly fouls the Belgian despite being in a relatively safe position.
This is certainly something to keep an eye on.
We saw the effect Virgil van Dijk has had on the Liverpool defence, and while we know Maguire is not at that level, he will have to address these flaws if he is to have the impact United are hoping for.
They are banking on the upgrade at right back to be even more pronounced. Having suffered through a rotation of Ashley Young and a past his best Antonio Valencia the past couple of seasons, Aaron Wan-Bissaka should be a breath of fresh air.
The 21-year old's defensive statistics are simply outstanding. Judging solely by his stats, there is an argument to be made that he is amongst the best defensive players in Europe at the minute.
Deal agreed! š¤
Manchester United are reported to have reached an agreement with Crystal Palace to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka for Ā£50m š°
He's one of the Premier League's most exciting full backs š pic.twitter.com/TergBLQ1lp
ā Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) June 26, 2019
Footage of him in action is even more impressive. He is not shy of a bruising tackle, while his speed and physicality make him a difficult proposition for opposition attackers.
ā 15 of the finest Aaron Wan-Bissaka challenges for you all to enjoy. #CPFC š¦ pic.twitter.com/a4v9I5mMl6
ā Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) April 2, 2019
Of course this does not tell the full story. Stats can sometimes be misleading, and context matters. Crystal Palace defend deep and invite the opposition onto them, hoping to utilise the pace of Wilfried Zaha to launch quick counterattacks.
This style will no doubt lead to pronounced defensive stats, as the back four are asked to carry out these duties far more frequently than players in more attacking teams. While it is encouraging that Wan-Bissaka is thriving in this role, it will be interesting to see how he copes with defending in a more open team next season.
As for those tackles, as impressive as they are, they should also concern United supporters.
As AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini once said: 'if I have to make a tackle then I already have made a mistake'. It is noticeable that Wan-Bissaka has already been beaten by the opposition attacker and is forced to make a desperate challenge in most of the above clips.
He can recover in those predicaments no doubt, but he seems to be caught out of position quite often. This is something that will become even more pronounced as he plays in a team that is not set up as defensively as Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace.
As this late own goal in the European U21 Championships shows, his decision making can be improved upon.
Englandās #YoungLions concede in the 95th minute to lose 2-1 to France in their opening game š“ó §ó ¢ó „ó ®ó §ó æ
10 man England held out for so long before this Wan-Bissaka OG. So unlucky. pic.twitter.com/EvPU0w4wTj
ā VERSUS (@vsrsus) June 18, 2019
Wan-Bissaka has all the gifts you would want in a full back, but he is far from the finished article. That is a good thing considering he is already playing at a high level. But as a player with less than 50 first team appearances to his name, his transition to playing for a club with sky high expectations may not be seamless.
Still, at least he's not Ashley Young.
In summary, these two players should make a sizeable difference to United's defence. They fit well with Solskjaer's style of play, and possess many of the traits that he wants from players in their respective positions.
However they do come with risk. Neither is a sure thing.
Maguire's lack of pace is a bit of a concern, while his ability on the ball has been grossly overstated in some quarters. He is a quality centre back no doubt, but he is not the complete package.
Wan-Bissaka could be on of the top right backs in the game down the road, but there is still plenty of room for growth. There could be up and downs over the next couple of years, and patience may be required. Still, he is a project worth investing in, even for the lofty price that was required to do so.
It will certainly be an interesting season ahead at Old Trafford.