If there is one thing that cannot be levied at the team is that they are not a team behind its manager. When it looks like all that is needed is one final dagger, they often pull something out of the bag to ensure that Ten Hag is able to continue for longer. McGinn and Dendoncker put the away side ahead and it looked like it was going to be a black Christmas like the season. The Red Devils came roaring back as a double from Garnacho and finally, a goal from Hojlund gave them the advantage. The news of INEOS being involved in its final straight and the win at the death gives a much better outlook for United fans than there was 3 days ago.
There are often small things that give a window to the landscape of the larger settings. A microcosmic representation if you will.
Set pieces can often be that window in the soul and mind set of a team. It is often a forgotten part of the game and has been looked down upon in recent years as more advancements have been made in way of open play styles of play but it is no surprise that the top teams are more likely at the top of set pieces chart offensively and the bottom defensively. Of course, occurrence perhaps play a big part in that but it is something you simply have to be good at in order to be considered anything good.
Within the space of 4 minutes, the Red Devils found themselves behind by 2 simply because they are unable to compete on set pieces. The performance, something I will come onto later, was not bad at all. The Villians’ style of play actually suits the current crop of United players because their high line means the likes of Rashford, Hojlund and Garnacho have space to run into. They had to do so knowing that they had to recover a two goal deficit because defensively, United were unable to switch on from a indirect free kick and corner.
Both from our right hand side, the goalkeeper was culpable in one and the defenders in the other. Onana for all of his proactivity with the ball at his feet, lacks it in his goalkeeping. Seldom do you see him completing defensive actions outside of his box, despite his aggressive positioning he takes up as a passing option. His command of the area is not the greatest and he looks unconvincing when he does come to claim high balls in the box.
So when you consider his lack of proficiency in doing it, it can be understood why he often sticks to his line. It was something that really stood out on the goal. The ball bounced right in front of him from a cross with McGinn and a better goalkeeper simply comes and claims rather than wait and pray to be saved. On the second, a simple peel round the back post after a mix up in marking allowed Lenglet the time and space to pick out Dendoncker, right in front of the net. The worst thing about it is that it happened again in the second half and if not for Diego Carlos heading over, it would have been exactly the same.
That is a window into the soul of this current Man Utd side. The landscape is that there is a soft underbelly where it doesn’t take much for this team to find themselves in bad situations.
Centre of Exuberance
A sign of good things is that Man Utd made all the running after the 27th minute. Despite being 2 goals down, it wasn’t the usual United where they looked out of ideas. Again, Villa’s high line contributed to that as much as anything but you still need to make something of it.
Two of the four changes made, Eriksen and Rashford coming into the side, was the other key factor. Lastly, the set up of Garnacho playing on the right and Rashford on the left helped tremendously. The fact that the latter has often been moved out of position to accommodate the youngster has always been strange but then you watch him play and couldn’t help but think, surely this is a player who could have as much or more impact on the right hand side.
As it turned out, there is no surprise that my prior thoughts rang true. Rashford looked back to his better half of himself. He was constantly running in behind and with Konsa playing at right back, he constantly gave the defender something to think about. An askew left footed shot came from a great first time pass from Bruno Fernandes and a sign of things to come in the second half. Again, a lovely move on the left eventually set Rashford free, who rather than take it on himself further, he played in Garnacho who went round the keeper and scored. Rashford probably played him in too early as the Argentine was offside so the goal was marked off. The combination happened again, over a short distance and with Garnacho only needing one touch this time, to start the revival.
Garnacho was the true spark of it. It was his best starting performance to be seen in a Man Utd top. His effervescent was there as always but it was channelled correctly because he had to simplify his game. He would go down the line onto his strong foot, away from bodies. Two he flashed across the box for Hojlund was an example of it. Even the second was from a move that he was involved in prior to the strike that was deflected into the net. One wonders why it took the manager so long for it to happen. The winner coming from Hojlund marked off a great evening. Both have been much maligned in recent weeks but they are two young players on the grandest of stages. Their development is in the brightest of lights and it is much easier to look away during the puberty period but if there is to be long term gain, the short term pain might have to be endured.
Carrington is a centre of excellence like little other. 8 players (Evans, Rashford, McTominay, Garnacho, Hannibal, Gore, Mainoo, Kambwala) that came through system were part of the 16 players that stepped onto the pitch tonight. Currently, it might be the exuberance from there that could pull the club from the doldrums. There is much to go yet before that is even considered.