It was a double header not seen in my lifetime but this was the second time the Roses Derby would be played in the space of 4 days. After the helter skelter treat we got at Old Trafford, the game at Elland Road was much more attritional. Until Rashford headed in from Shaw’s cross, there was very little quality in the attacking phase for both teams. Going from a player who would close his eyes when he would head it to one who is leaping like a fish to slam it into the net is the type of progression we have been waiting to see from Rashford. Garnacho came on to add the exclamation point so that we come away with 4 points from 6. The games are coming thick and fast so hopefully we are able to chug on with the same success.
One of the biggest issues on Wednesday night was that Leeds compactness was contrasting to the way in which they usually play and the tight front six they employed made it incredibly difficult for United to build effectively through the thirds. Without Casemiro as well, our distribution was well blunted and our best periods during the game came from effective transitions and down the sides rather through the middle.
That was with our full complements in the defensive department. With respect to the amount of games coming up, Ten Hag decided to rotate and it saw Shaw shift inside one with Malacia in the LB position. The manager clearly saw the problems we had both in building from the back and stopping Leeds being able to crowd out the middle to force transitions as Malacia played as an inverted full back to aid the protection that was given to the defence. It helped in a sense but another problem cropped up in that the movement of the ball around the back was incredibly slow. The introduction of Maguire, who takes too much time to decide what he is going to do with the ball has been noted several times, and the unfamiliarity of Shaw in a partnership with him made for a quite stodgy build up from the back.
Fred and Sabitzer, once again, found it so difficult to gain space in the middle. Both of them are not first phase builders in the sense of Casemiro and are better being the connection between the midfield and attack. They are not good at taking the ball with their back to goal and being able to swivel out of pressure if it is applied by an opposition player. In the second half, it was the Austrian who took it upon himself to try and provide an option out the back for the defenders but even when he did get it, he didn’t trust himself to turn on it and ended playing wall passes straight back. Martinez coming on as a sub helped somewhat to improving it but Leeds just over covered on him so that Maguire would be the one on the ball. Interestingly enough, the goal came from a time that Sabitzer actually travelled with the ball, built a bit down the right before switching the play to Shaw. It was something missing throughout the game and the fact its occurrence led to the goal made it all the better.
Live And Die By Big Decisions
In the end, for a manager, you are judged by on the decisions you make and more so on the big ones. So far, on the whole, Ten Hag has gotten enough big decisions correct that the fans are more than willing to be on the side of him whatever he thinks is best. The reaction to the line up today showed that with the doubts of the rotation but acknowledging that he has built up enough equity to make those decisions. It helps when the substitutions you make reward you with goal contributions.
On Wednesday night, Sancho came on to score the goal that allowed United to go away from the game with a point. He replaced Garnacho, who had a very difficult game against Ayling, but still should have left with a goal or two. Today, he came off the bench to effectively end the game with the near post finish. It was not just that though. When the board went up, many would have thought that it would Weghorst going off so that the team would be rejigged so Rashford went through the middle. It was Sancho though, with recognition that this was his first start in a long time. Weghorst essentially became the 10 with Bruno going wide right. The Bruno change is something that has happened throughout the season and it has had mixed results. Today, it gave us a bit more control but Weghorst going into the 10 also done that as well. It was the best performance he has had since signing and it does play to his strengths with having some to hit in behind. The Garnacho goal showed that as he, Garnacho and Fred had a quick combination before the Dutchman was able to release Garnacho into space. Unorthodox but it worked.