All is rosy for Manchester United at present with the club firmly in the top four mix and positively flying under the governance of Erik Ten Hag.
Finally it seems, after a decade of under-achievement following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils have rediscovered their mojo and subsequently – naturally – optimism is high at Old Trafford.
A good deal of their substantial advancement can be attributed to finally having a solid centre-back pairing while ahead of Varane and Martinez, a combative but classy midfielder prowls in the form of Casemiro, putting in assured displays that evoke Roy Keane from back in the day.
Up front meanwhile, a rejuvenated Marcus Rashford is scoring for fun.
Indeed, it is possible to go through the whole set-up and highlight individuals who look transformed under the studious Dutch coach, that is until you gaze out towards both touchlines and find a problem still persists, one that frankly has gone on for so long it cannot be diminished as a coincidence.
Bit passive this half but for many it’s just fitness minutes so it’s understandable. Biggest takeaway is how much United struggle for goals without Marcus. Not much goal threat from the wingers.— UnitedMuppetiers (@Muppetiers) February 1, 2023
Why are Manchester United wingers so routinely struggling to live up to expectation?
It is a shortcoming that is richly ironic given that United are historically associated with having flying wide-men; tricky, pacy wingers who got proverbial bums off seats and entertained as much as they racked up impressive stats.
From Giggs to Ronaldo, to Kanchelskis, the Ferguson era was lit up by such players, key personnel who informed United’s title hopes and heavily influenced the football betting.
Before them there was Steve Coppell, and before him there was of course the great George Best.
Yet, their tormenting of full-backs at the Theatre of Dreams feels like a distant memory now as the club’s £95m summer signing Antony persistently flatters to deceive, all step-overs and little substance down the United right.
The Brazilian was devastating at times in the Eredivisie last term but has proven to be a huge disappointment in the Premier League to date.
Elsewhere, Jadon Sancho’s travails continues, an attacking superstar-in-the-making whose 114 direct goal involvements in 137 appearances for Borussia Dortmund had him coveted across two summer windows by the Reds.
An underwhelming debut campaign in English football, however, has only got worse this term and currently the 22-year-old is a peripheral figure under Ten Hag. In truth, he’s a shadow of a shadow of his former self.
Between them, these seismic signings cost £180m but if the problem began and ended with the pair their failings would be little more than a sub-plot.
Alas, there is a pattern.
Furthermore, it is a sustained one, and if it started post-Ferguson perhaps it’s apt that the club’s winger woes originates from Ferguson’s last ever signing, Wilfried Zaha.
After losing his powers at Old Trafford, Zaha returned to Crystal Palace where he’s been brilliant ever since.
Manchester United urged to consider re-singing Wilfried Zaha #mufc https://t.co/rTJWb2jCam pic.twitter.com/fBajjwLR6u— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) February 5, 2023
There followed Angel Di Maria, who went from being world class to ordinary at a stroke of a pen, while Memphis Depay hardly fared better. If anything, the player who scored 20 times for Barcelona two seasons ago fared much worse.
Dan James is another, and who can forget Alexis Sanchez? Pretty much anyone who watched his abject showings in the North-West, that’s who. Anthony Martial meanwhile – bought to hug the touchline – is clearly better served as a striker.
What’s the betting we’ve left someone out, so great is their number, and the theory goes that the pressure to perform for such a big club, on such an iconic stage, is so monumental as to be suffocating.
The expectation to be the difference-maker weighing heavy on the shoulders.
If so, then Ten Hag’s next remit, after forging a cohesive unit at United is evident. He must set his individuals free, ending the club’s winger curse in the process.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*