A game that had incredible implications for top four and was played in such a way. The first half went without a shot on target for either side. Chances were still at a premium in the second half but at least shots on target occurred. The best chance fell to Fred, who shot at Areola. As time ticked over to full time, Martial played a ball through to Cavani who squared to Rashford as he put into an empty net. An anxious VAR wait made it that more breathless but Stockley Park confirmed the goal so the celebrations began again and continued as the final whistle blew shortly afterwards. An incredibly important 3 points that takes Man Utd back into the top four.
In the four game states that exist, the two that have been spoken about the most are just after we lose the ball and just after we regain the ball. Being the stature of team that United are in England, it is after that initial spell when we aren’t able to construct quick attacks that we have been most lacking since Ferguson’s retirement. The attacking organisation phase, where the opponents are set up in their deep block, closing off the gaps. Therefore, the emphasis is on the Red Devils to move the opponents enough that gaps open up or we are able to handle the ball within the tight spaces betwixt their lines of defence.
United do not have that type of personnel in abundance and those that are of that quality either are injured (Pogba), out of sorts (Martial, Lingard) or are not given a chance (Van De Beek) so when we have settled possession, we are solely reliant on our ability to move the ball quickly and accurately. Of course, with the philosophy of Rangnick, the main aim is to get the ball forward in the least amount of passes possible but that is just not always possible. Having to make short passes to provoke the opponent to leave spaces unguarded is almost as effective as the long pumps into the channels or hopeful 50/50 Hollywood passes. Unfortunately, the latter two frequent Man Utd’s play more often than it should. It is less to do with errant passes, which is a whole other problem worthy of its own section but that’s for another day. It is more to do with the fact that even when passes are completed, they are neither with the intensity or ingenuity that can move the opponents out of these spaces.
When you have Fred and McTominay, who can never be faulted for their endeavour, this is always bound to happen. Bruno himself is the man charged with sprinkling the fairy dust and often tries the hardest pass, even when an easier one would suffice. Ronaldo Elanga and Greenwood are more goal orientated and will not produce the combination play often enough to cause opponents like West Ham an issue. The Hammers were remarkably comfortable in the final third, as evidenced by the fact our first shot on target came in the 50th minute. It is not just the long passage of time before that shot that elucidates our troubles in finding creative avenues but the way it came about. It was a ricochet that put Fred through in a quasi 1v1 rather than any clever play. Bruno’s brilliant cross in the first half, one narrowly missed by his international compatriot, was the best we could conjure of our own accord. United have been conceding less, even if De Gea is still being worked more than he should, but with the array of attacking talent, Rangnick needs to be getting a more coherent tune out of the players. It is our most stacked part of the pitch and the one that will get us over the line in the top four race.
Given the talk of the squad issues and our supposed outgoings in this window & the next, the words of Mourinho during his tenure as Red Devils manager have been entering the ether again. One of the things that he said in 2018 was that one of his summer signings would be a long term signing. He was talking about the right back, Diogo Dalot. Since then, United went into the market again to sign another young right back in Wan Bissaka. Almost triple the outlay that was spent on the ex-Porto man. He has suffered from injury problems, problems that were there even during his days at Porto. His injuries meant that in his season on loan at AC Milan, he managed to get two less appearances in a season that he did in the three before at Old Trafford. Rangnick’s arrival has sparked a revival for him though. He has played the majority of the games since the beginning of December and he has performed to such a level that the man who was brought in to play ahead of him will find it difficult to get back into the team when he recovers from his illness.
Of course, the added security in possession and ability to take it past a man are the obvious benefits of playing Dalot over Wan Bissaka but surprisingly, his defensive work has actually been more well rounded than the ex-Crystal Palace academy graduate. A hallmark of Wan Bissaka’s game is that he excels in 1v1 duels. He knows this, as does his opponent. So usually, you see Wan Bissaka slowly stalk his way out to his man to entice them into a 1v1 battle, that he will inevitably win. This tactic all goes to waste when they play an early cross or pass that completes takes him out of the game. A full back’s job is to get out to stop the cross and Wan Bissaka fails to do this as often as he should. Dalot showed that capability today, as well as the capability to actually be switched on when the ball is crossed in from the other side to head away. He has now played 4 games on the bounce and hopefully, it will continue for the foreseeable future.