It was bound to happen at some point. A loss is not the end of the world. Two in the week isn’t either. But this is Man Utd. It doesn’t take much for a crisis to ensue. What is really bad is the fact that on the balance of play, the most United could be happy with is a draw. Villa were well worthy of the 3 points today. Kourtney Hause, in today simply because Tuanzebe was ineligible, came up with the winner from a corner. The game before that late winner was very much in the favour of the West Midlands club. United had chances of their own, Fernandes smashing his penalty into the upper tier of the Stretford End in the last minutes the best of the lot. Maguire and Pogba came close with headers but it was not enough. Games come thick and fast so it will have to be shaken off in the same fashion.
Much of the heightened expectations that United see this season comes from the array of offensive talent that has been curated by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The front four in the mid week was Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial. Even if Sancho only came this season, if you spoke to United fans just two years, they would think that is one of their strongest attacking options. Such has been the progression of what the manager can pick from, that is very much a second string. This was without Cavani and Rashford as well, given they were on the injury table. So when it was the same front four that started the Premier League West Ham game.
But the fluency in the attack wasn’t there. The Villains were stepping onto the Red Devils whenever they tried to build from the back and you know that when that happens, Man Utd have a real struggle in getting out. It meant that the front line was starved of service. Fred and McTominay were seldom on the ball because the space was mainly in the wide areas and those two are not the best in that department of the game. So there were reasons out of their control which made the game much harder for them but on their individual performances, they covered themselves in no galore at all, particularly on the left hand side.
In an effort to get Pogba into the team without compromising the defensive structure, the left wing has seen Pogba there more and more. It has worked with varying degrees of success, to sublime of Tottenham away and Leeds at home to the disappearing acts of Liverpool away, right wing that day, and Man City at home in the League Cup. Today, with Villa playing 3ATB, it meant that the pocket he liked to come into was well covered with the presence of Ezri Konsa. Matty Cash was able to run off the back of him multiple times as Pogba and Shaw, before his departure, were unable to work out who was going pick him up. The sloppiness in possession crept in and the control he can bring in the final third was lost as United were turning over the ball before they could even get into the final third.
Ronaldo was an increasingly lone presence and Bruno fleeted between solid moments to some farcical concessions of possessions. Greenwood was the brightest of the pack and was able to get several shots off but his radar seemed to be askew as he often dragged shots wide or failed to get the requisite power in the shots. However, like when he came on in the mid week, if United were going to get a goal, the youngest of the attacking quarter looked the most likely avenue. That is quite the compliment but probably more damning of the attacking unit in general.
Jaded and Fatigued
Last week, I put the spotlight on Shaw after his game vs West Ham where I spoke about his poor start to the season. Maguire has also been guilty of it. Both featured heavily throughout last season, as they played game after game. The run of games they built up got them in a grove and the momentum contributed to strong finishes to the season, particularly with Maguire. They also played in the Euros. So their slow start to the season is more than expected. Probably another expectation is the fact that they would be more susceptible to injuries. Both of them came off today and from the looks of it, they both had the look of muscle injuries.
Before they came off however, they continued in their poor way. Maguire gave a ridiculously crap pass to De Gea, that the keeper diverted into the path of Watkins, who couldn’t convert. Shaw, in typical fashion, when he had been done for pace, took a man down. His lazy defending was also culpable in the chance that Targett missed at the back post, where he initially lost the ball. Then McGinn played it into the space that Shaw failed to run back into to cover. Cash swept across the box and Targett missed when it seemed easier to score.