In the end, the nadir of Solskjaer’s time should have shown that poor performances will eventually give you the results you deserve. 14 shots in the first 45 minutes is the most Man Utd conceded since December 2018. 8 were from outside the area and the overall xG was 0.68 but it was more than Wolves deserved when Moutinho nestled a lovely shot in the bottom corner. Bruno should have put the home team ahead when his shot crashed against the bar but it would have been against the run of play. In a way, the performance was perhaps more concerning than the result because against poor teams or today’s opponents, with a severe lack of goal threat, United have looked like their equals. Rangnick quickly needs to find a solution.
The main reason that the previous manager was able to hold onto his job for as long as he did was because that even through the shaky periods, of which there were many, the idea of a cultural reset loomed large in the background, as it had done for Ferguson in those formative years before the domination began. However, the product on the pitch, while wins between February 2020 and May 2021 racked up, wasn’t too impressive in terms of performance. It was a far cry away from the quality we had seen of the past winners and challengers in this recent era.
What made it so marked is a team so bad at doing the simple things were able to continue to win. Today, we saw all those things rear its head at its ugliest. I couldn’t remember a United performance where the ball was treated with such cheapness. McTominay, Cavani and Matic were the most culpable. It is more infuriating to see a ball played short to a team mate than it being played too far in front. Constantly, passes were being under hit when played to the supposed recipient. Even worse, when there was a cul de sac of gold shirts surrounding the players, barely did they interchange quickly and switch out to the other side because just by the sheer virtue of there being a number of players around the ball, there would spaces on the other side. Only one time I could remember and it ended up in a move where a Wan Bissaka cross narrowly went over the head of Ronaldo. In respect though, the spacing on and off the ball was that of U14s. Running after the ball in no structure while Wolves had the ball and constantly running towards the ball when we had it.
It got much better in the second half, with a good tactical tweak from Rangnick. It became more of a pseudo 3-4-3 in possession, as Shaw tucked to a LCB role and Sancho taking up a wide berth as a LWB. It stopped the outnumbering of the midfield by matching up similarly to Wolves. The introduction of Bruno, even though Greenwood coming off was a very strange decision, did lift things a bit and the Portuguese should have put United ahead.
All Going Left
The removal of Solskjaer coincided with an upturn in form for Jado Sancho. A goal in Europe and the league, Villarreal and Chelsea respectively, and two big involvements in the win over Arsenal finally saw some hope that he was growing into a United shirt.
Since then, it has been back to the same flatness that we saw before. Refusal to go 1v1 against his opponent constantly, turning back and playing the east pass, simple concession of possession when it was easy to keep the ball and just general timidity. The last two games, he has been back on the left and he looks as terrible as he did under Solskjaer. The decision to switch him back there under Rangnick is a very strange one, especially when the system is as narrow as it is already. Playing Sancho and Greenwood on the wrong side just feeds into more infield vision. But there needs to be less excuses and more of Sancho pulling his finger out and doing the things that made him such a fixation for the Red Devils in their three year pursuit of him.
The biggest news in the line up was the fact that Phil Jones would play for United for the first time in 708 days. For his first appearance in just under two years, he actually done remarkably well. For the goal, he may have headed wide rather than back out but it’s a small mistake really because the fact that no one was there covering the edge of the box is a bigger problem than anything.
As mentioned earlier, the substitution of Greenwood was incredibly curious. Quite frankly, Cavani’s influence in the game was anonymous and at times, his looseness in possession was actually a negative. A man supposedly forthright in his convictions, he has taken the easy line so far. Only changing for a dead rubber in the Champions League and a poor performance against Newcastle. Rather than take off the Uruguayan, the young Englishman came off and he was the brightest spark in the attack.