In the end, a terrible first 10 mins was the difference today. In them, Leon Bailey managed to ghost past our backline for Aston Villa to go ahead in 7 mins. 4 mins later, Lucas Digne shot a great effort from a free kick. A lucky deflection of Jacob Ramsey meant that we would go in only one behind at the break after we grew into the game. The half time whistle came at the wrong time as it stopped our momentum. Villa regrouped and struck the final blow as Ramsey made up for his ‘error’ by restoring the two goal advantage. Back to the drawing board before we face these same opponents again in the League Cup in a few days. A bad day all round.
Since the drubbing at the hands of our neighbours, United had only conceded one goal from one play in the Premier League – a curling effort from Alex Iwobi. Jorginho also put one past De Gea but it came from the penalty spot. Including the Europa League games, it was a run of 7 games where the defence had found a sturdiness. West Ham last week tested it and probably should have gotten a goal for their efforts.
In the end, their Claret and Blue neighbours managed to do the job for them. Within the first 10 mins, The Red Devils found themselves two goals behind. It means that within 45 mins of football this season, Man Utd have conceded 9 goals (2 in 10 mins against Brighton, 4 in 25 against Brentford and 3 in 10 against Man City). It speaks to a tendency to get overawed when the momentum is against us and that is because at times, the players play with an unneeded edge to their play.
Bruno Fernandes, unavailable because of suspension today, spoke earlier in the season how when they went behind against Brighton, the old wounds of last season opened up and made the players go into their shell. Different manager, different season and plenty of new players so there should be less of that. There has been but it looks as if that is still a big issue. For two goals, Martinez, who has been excellent on the whole, was at fault for sloppy bits of play. One led to a free kick that came from Shaw having to bail him out, at the consequence of a yellow, that Digne stuck away brilliantly and the other that Ramsey arrowed into the top corner. It’s both concentration and mentality issues that plagued those goals.
However, the susceptibility in midfield has been something I have been uncomfortable with all season and it stems from Christian Eriksen. Casemiro’s introduction to the team has added so much in giving steel and protection to that backline, something we have been crying out for. He cannot do it on his own though and with Eriksen beside him, he has to do more work than he should. The Dane has clear quality on the ball, as shown from his good switches of play constantly through the game but the way he plays isn’t like a central midfielder and it is because he isn’t. The feel for the game that a central midfielder should have isn’t there. The way he plays can be mistaken for being controlled but really, it is the only pace he plays at. He can play through the lines but often it is when he is under little pressure. He finds it difficult to wriggle out of pressure with good dribbling ability but this has never been his game.
Added to that, he is tantamount to a cone when United do not have the ball. He gets played around with such frustrating ease and it unsettles the whole team. With Bruno out, Ten Hag could have added in Fred and pushed Eriksen forward. Fred, as I have talked about many times here, isn’t my favourite defensively either but he puts up some sort of resistance. Bringing in Van de Beek, who isn’t the most athletic either, made the midfield battle very easy for Villa. With the way the Villains played, the wingers dropping into the half spaces, it was just too much for us to deal with and it cost us today.
In the Premier League, it is hard to think of a time that Ronaldo has started this season and the team has looked as fluid as it does without him. Today, he wasn’t even bad but neither was he good. His general play is abrasive at best but that is not what he is in the side for anyway. It is to gobble up chances and the one he hit into the ground that Martinez diverted with his foot is one that he should be finishing. You can take the former when the latter isn’t happening. But his presence unbalances the team tactically and mentally. The constant need to look for him from other players just undoes a lot of decent approach play that has been on show this season. An extra pass will do more than just swinging crosses from poor position but with Ronaldo in the box, it is important to look for him. Of course, the lack of a press, ability to hold up and link up diminishes the team. How it will be solved is something that manager will have to figure out.
Garnacho started and scored in mid week so was deserving of his start today. Out of all the attackers, he played the best and if it weren’t for his age, he would have stayed on the pitch. He had an effort parried away by Martinez and was a general threat in the mins he was on the pitch. What is annoying is that it took Rashford off the left wing because alike the Argentine, he prefers to play that inverted role from the left side. Rashford played on the right and was as anonymous as he usually is when he plays there. At times, managers use Rashford’s versatility against him because he has a Swiss Army knife set of offensive abilities but he is still stunted on that right hand side. It is something that irks me and should stop but there is a real lack of players who can play on the right outside of Antony, who still has the injury that he picked up against Sheriff.