Ole seemed to have tempted fate as he said before the game that it was impossible that a game would end 0-0. It in fact did. Outside of Rashford’s strike on goal and Bruno dragging his shot wide when he should have put it in the back of the net, the game ran without much of an event. It was so bad that it could not even be branded a tight tactical affair. It was just poor play across the pitch, with shocking passing being symptomatic of the 90 minutes. 67 in 33 after two seasons of 66 in 38 means there is in fact tangible progress for this United side under Ole. The next few weeks could hopefully be the start of a winning mentality being instilled in this team. Today will be very forgettable however.
In the reverse fixture, a hallmark of that game was the fact that Fred and McTominay both probably had their best games of the season as their energy meant they were able to press high against Leeds unique man marking system in open play. While their defensive play positionally isn’t quite up to scratch, what they both do well is get about the pitch and break up play. In a way, it’s a game that is set up for them as there are open spaces across the pitch if they win their individual battles rather than coming up against packed defences where more subtlety is required. In that game, it ended 6-2 where United were able to trample all over the Yorkshire side and it could have been even more. Today, though it was a different prospect.
That game was almost a changing point for this Leeds team as they have been much harder to break down since then. Being much harder to break down, that dexterity we often lack against the deep block teams was needed. As per, Fred and McTominay weren’t great as they were not great at finding team mates in dangerous positions and were often passing side to side. What’s more, there was a lack of running with the ball, especially from the Scotsman. One of his greater traits is the fact that once McTominay gets up a head of steam, he is quite hard to stop. So when you are playing a 1v1 system all over the pitch, him being able to pick it up and run would be a great asset but it was not something we saw enough of today.
Due to the hard run of games coming up and how well this XI did in the game of Old Trafford, the lack of inclusion of Pogba was more understood than leaving out your most in form player should be. His non-presence was clearly felt though. He may not offer as much defensively but Pogba is built to destroy 1v1 system, with either his ball carrying and passing. The substitution of Fred last week and the movement of Pogba into the middle of the pitch was recognition of the fact that ideally there is a need for us to bring Pogba into the middle of the pitch more regularly but the lack of a suitable partner and fear of what’s behind that midfield two often makes it unlikely. It’ll be interesting to see what Ole does for the rest of the season with this.
Is he the Baddie?
24 goals and 14 assists in all competitions are quite sensational numbers and those numbers reflect the upturn in form since Bruno Fernandes has been a United player. In the last 13 games before this one at Elland Road, he has 2 goals, both from the spot, and 2 assists. These numbers are less sensational. What is very strange though is that the way in which he has played has not changed. In fact, you could say that his play in general has been less erratic than you would have seen in his pomp this season. He has almost played every minute during the season so it would be remiss of me to ignore that fact when I look at this ‘poor’ form he is in but is he really?
Today, it was going to be difficult as Phillips probably put up the best man marking brief since Herrera on Hazard in 2016/17. The Portuguese man was left very frustrated as he was followed touch tight across the pitch all game. It was as quiet a game he has had in the colours of Manchester Red. He wasn’t playing it as quickly as he has nor was he forcing the issue and it is something we need from him because of the aforementioned lack of quality in the starting CMs. So if he does settle into this regressive play then United lack attacking threat. But that shouldn’t be his problem. He shouldn’t have to be a mad maverick in order to make this United team tick. Nor should he have to put up ridiculous numbers in order to justify his sometimes crazy play.
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