Five areas where it all went wrong for the Finnish manager at Tannadice.
For all the talk of full dissections required to find out what went wrong at United, the main reason is fairly simple: the signings they made were consistently not up to standard. Brian Clough once said the key to winning football games was picking good players and both Jackie McNamara and Paatelainen hamstrung themselves in this particular department by handing out deals to inferior talents. We’ve already looked at McNamara’s failings in the transfer department, though Paatelainen was arguably worse. At least the previous incumbent had the terrific additions of Nadir Ciftci and Andrew Robertson to point to, while Paul Paton ended this season as one of United’s more consistent performers. The best Paatelainen could manage was... well, the debate is completely inconsequential, none of them improved the squad to a tangible degree.
Sticking with a flawed formation
In a November defeat to St Johnstone, Paatelainen decided to trial a new system. It involved a back three, two defensive midfielders screening in front of the defence, two wing-backs patrolling the flanks and two attacking midfielders behind a lone-striker. It kind of worked. United had been poor in just about every game up until that point and, while they still lost to their visitors that day, they at least put in an improved performance, taking the lead through Billy Mckay before losing a couple of soft goals before half-time. It hinted at promise and, as a result, Paatelainen showed patience by selecting it again the following week. Again they played better and lost the game 2-1 after taking the lead, this time to Hamilton. This was enough to convince the United boss that this was the only system working sticking with for the foreseeable future. He made some minor tweaks to it, mainly switching from two attacking midfielders and one striker to two strikers and one supporting playmaker, but otherwise he kept faith until April 2nd when he broke out a 4-4-2 away at (funnily enough) St Johnstone. All in all, the 3-4-2-1/3-4-1-2 was used in 16 league games, bringing a grand total of three wins.
Failure to build any defensive solidity
Paatelainen inherited a poor defence so United’s struggles in this department are not solely his doing, a point underlined by the defensive record being marginally better under him (43 league goals in 25 games) than without him (20 in 10). However, the amount of times United surrendered the lead was incredible. In total 27 points were lost from losing positions, 21 of which came under Paatelainen’s charge. And it wasn’t just the amount of times it occurred, but the manner in which these goals were shipped. Most of them came from basic lapses in defence, allowing opponents routes back into the match without the need to exert themselves too much.
Two weeks in succession, Paatelainen witnessed one of his players walk from the field without his blessing, one of whom had the ball under his arm. Even without being privy to the nature of the Tannadice dressing room, this still suggests he didn’t have the full respect of the United players. Even if he did, he was still unable to rouse them when their backs were against the wall, with consistently poor displays when it mattered most, particularly in matches at Tannadice down the stretch.
Lack of improvement
While football is undeniably a results driven business, defeats can sometimes be forgiven if there are signs of progress. If a team is undeniably better from here to there, then a manager can be granted a stay of execution despite not reaching an objective. However, when you look at the last five games, with the exception of the first half against Partick Thistle, there’s not a single good performance among them. The last few weeks haven’t been much worse, if at all, than the final days of Jackie McNamara’s tenure but, crucially, they haven’t been any better either.