Go ahead in the first half, concede in the second, struggle to break down the inferior team. That has been the story since the return from the winter break. Sancho would open the scoring after a good opening period but United would be pegged back as Che Adams would slide the ball in off the post. It descended into a scrappy game after that, which United never managed to grab control of again. One might be passable, twice just. Three times, something needs to change.
When Rashford came back from his operation in the middle of October, he came back with a bang. A goal to bring us back level in the East Midlands against Leicester, before they would go ahead and win the game and then a goal to half the deficit against Atalanta in the comeback win. It was long overdue that he had a time to rest and recuperate as it was something he had very little of. As much as United had a depth of quality in the attacking position, the simple proclivity of running in behind is something that was missing without the Wythenshawe born player. For this season, outside of the winner against West Ham, it has gotten much worse for Rashford. It is not just the fact that he is no longer doing anything on the ball without substantiating a starting place in the XI but his work off the ball, when United are not in possession of it, has denigrated to such a standard that is practically at the same standard as Ronaldo. The difference is that Ronaldo has just turned 37. It is more than the twilight of his career, while Rashford should be gearing up for his prime.
He turns 25 in October, the youngster tag will no longer wash with many. So when you see him jogging back for the Che Adams goal, as Dalot was essentially hung out to dry, it just sticks in the craw that much more. Sancho and Rashford switched sides often and more interesting than the fact that the attacking threat went whichever side Sancho was on, the defensive security followed too. A chance for Armstrong in the second half, you can see Rashford walking as Shaw has to tuck in to help cover and the wherewithal to help out does not ring off in Rashford’s head. It is more alarming when you think of that Rashford’s work rate is one of his more impressive trait. It is completely in the toilet right now and a return to the bench might be best for him. He was able to do something correct at least with his assist for our goal but it didn’t colour the fact it was yet another shoddy game.
Only the opposite can be said for Sancho. Thinking back to that Leicester game, Rashford came on for Sancho and the latter was having a hard time of it. The purchase of Ronaldo clogged the attacking places more and even as the piece coveted by the Red Devils for three summers, he was finding it hard to nail down a place in the team. Now, he is amongst one of the first names on the team sheet. What’s more is that he has done it by displacing Rashford from the left wing berth. Before this stretch of games, his looked most comfortable on the right hand side, like his performance against Villarreal. But in Middlesbrough, Burnley and today, he looked at home. He has somehow found pace from somewhere that many questioned he was only able to show in the Bundesliga because of the lack of physicality and compression in their defensive blocks. Kyle Walker-Peters is as fast as any and the former Watford and Man City academy player was able to match him for pace on more than one occasion. The runs in behind caused havoc in the first half. He created one for Ronaldo that he should have put the ball in the open goal and failed. He had one saved by Forster that he may have put across and struck with his left to get more purchase on it. He would get on the scoresheet deservedly as Rashford would put one across for him as mentioned earlier. He played another to Ronaldo that he used to test the keeper. This coupled with the few mazy runs he was able to go on made for a good performance and more to build upon for the future to come.
Focal No Point
Rangnick’s upfront approach to his press conferences have been refreshing and alarming in equal measure. In his latest one, he made everyone aware that United would be looking for a striker in the summer, with Cavani likely to leave in that. The ongoing case with Greenwood and Martial going out on loan, with it looking like a precursor to his permanent departure, means that it was always going to be a pressing issue. The fact that Ronaldo just seems to get worse and worse with each passing game means that his future is also well in doubt. Not from a United perspective but more to do with him not believing the environment is conducive to him succeeding to the best of his ability, even if he is just 3 years away from being 40.
He doesn’t play that way though. And I mean that in the worst way possible. He still plays as if he were 25. He plays with an immaturity that is quite bemusing. The constant vacation of his central position to either go deeper to pull out wide is just depressing to watch. The man who you would most like in the middle of the pitch is never there through a stubbornness to play his age.