It wasn’t just on the pitch that Manchester United intended to strengthen this summer.
While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer added four new names (Tom Heaton, Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo) to his side in the transfer market, United made another two signings, bringing figures to the club that they planned to have great influence.
Justin Cochrane was installed as United’s academy head of player development and coaching in June and then the appointment of the highly-rated Eric Ramsay as the club’s first set-piece coach followed one month later. They were both significant additions.
United supporters might have taken a more keen interest in the news of the latter’s appointment in particular, though, because only Leeds (15) conceded more goals from set-piece scenarios in the Premier League than Solskjaer’s side last term (14), which was a particularly worrying statistic.
However, although Ramsay was tasked with improving United’s set-piece record on the training ground at Carrington, his work with the players is yet to translate onto the pitch as Solskjaer’s troops have continued to look weak when defending set-pieces this season.
Although United completed a remarkable comeback against Atalanta in midweek, with a full capacity Old Trafford being sent into pandemonium when Ronaldo’s match-winning goal hit the back of the net, Paul Scholes refused to celebrate in the BT studio.
Amid the ecstasy of completing a sensational turnaround under the floodlights, Scholes’ straight face was powerful and telling.
The former midfield legend explained his reaction was down to concern over United’s awful first-half performance and he was right to voice that in his analysis of the result.
United let in two sloppy goals in relatively quick succession against Atalanta in the first half and, rather frustratingly, the Italian side’s second goal, nodded in by Merih Demiral, was conceded from a corner.
The clocks are yet to go back and United have already conceded four goals from set-piece scenarios this season.
The same problems from last campaign have slowly crept back in, despite the work of specialist Ramsay on the training ground. This glaring weakness seems like an area Liverpool will seek to exploit at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.
Liverpool won 4-2 when visiting United last season, scoring two goals from set-piece scenarios and after the game Solskjaer said: “You never like to concede on set plays. We’ve done that too often, so we need to work on that.”
Yet nothing much has changed.
Ramsay’s appointment shows that Solskjaer stayed true to his promise that United would would ‘work’ on their deficiencies when defending set-pieces, however, there has ultimately been no semblance of improvement in such scenarios.
Liverpool will pose a threat from set-pieces on Sunday and if United concede from one then it’s almost unforgivable.
Real improvement is needed at the club regarding defending from set-pieces and it needs to come sooner rather than later.
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