Recently, United have been quite boring to watch. Tonight was no different. Up until the 89th minute, both teams had one shot on target. United’s came from Matic, which Guaita was able to tip round the post for a corner. Luckily, it could have been 0 points but for the Henderson brilliantly spreading his body to block the shot of Van Aanholt. Outside of that, it was a very poor game to watch and just continues the disappointing limp to the end of the season as United face their city rivals on the weekend, who will be looking to coronate themselves as champions.
The Regressors of the Progressive
The only shot on target in the first half was a speculative effort from Matic, perhaps being inspired by his great winner in this same fixture three years ago, that took a deflection, making the save from Guaita even more impressive. It took until the 77th minute, a skimmed James header, for the first effort in the second half. We saw tonight that outside of Bruno Fernandes, the creative sparks in this team are few and far between, a recurring theme since the turn of the year. As mentioned in the Chelsea review, the Portuguese international is at his best when he is constantly getting the ball within the lines and able to pick out runners. Of course, the way in which the Eagles set-up was always going to frustrate Man Utd as a low block is one of the most effective ways to make sure that this United side do not get clear sights of goal. Because of this, the full backs are the ones that are going to get most of the ball. Last season, this would have been a major issue as Shaw and Wan Bissaka underwhelmed in those departments. However, those two, varying in the degree in which they have improved, are contributing more in the offensive phase than ever before. Shaw in particular, was able to pick out James in the box in the second half, with the Welshman unable to finish. Wan Bissaka, but for the intervention at the back post by a Palace defender, would have had an assist as Cavani would have struck into an open net.
Nothing can surmise the bluntness of the United attack quite as well as the fact that four hours passed, during tonight’s game, since United last scored a goal in all competitions. That includes the end of Newcastle, Real Sociedad and Chelsea games prior. 53 goals in 26 games is ample. Exclude the two stonking wins of Leeds, and Southampton, 38 in 24 looks less favourable. But 37 in 17, the seventeen being against non-top six sides, it shows that scoring against the lower sides has seldom been an issue for the Red Devils. In the past month and a half however, it has become a bigger issue. Burnley and West Brom were able to keep the scoring down to just one goal, United getting a win and draw respectively. They squeaked past Fulham with a Pogba wonder strike. Everton and Newcastle presented 3 goals in each but it was only in the Everton game where an ample amount of chances were made. It was in that game that Pogba’s injury was suffered and since then, the team as a whole have suffered.
Chicken or the Egg
So with the team unable to get the ball into the back of the net, is the fault of the attackers? Well, The lack of Bruno’s presence already being touched on, the other attackers did not set up to the plate. Normally, Rashford is able to conjure up some sort of magic to unlock the opponents’ defence on at least one occasion but the rearguard in front of Guaita proved too stubborn for him. Greenwood, outside of a sharp turn and shot that narrowly went over the bar, was extremely quiet and was an anomaly amongst what was building up to be good form for the young forward. Cavani in his first game back had a header but was starved of anything substantial before he was replaced to protect his aging legs on the way back from injury.
As stated though, the service in to these players, our most dangerous and likely to win us the game, was quite horrible to say the least. Two passes from Fred that were supposed to find a team mate on the left hand side being easily cut out, when it was easier to find the target, summed up how well the passing was in the United first phase. Prior to the game in the press conference, Solskjaer spoke about how United manipulate space at length and the paucity that his team do this hinge quite critically on the fact that United’s ability to move the ball with any real intensity or accuracy undercuts most of the progress that they try to make into the opponent’s defensive third. In each unit of the team, you could hope that the level of ability to spray passes and retain the ball under pressure would be rectified in the window because as much as coaching can help, there will always be a cap on how much that can improve.