The opening minutes of this game could have been the sorry tale of a sorry afternoon as the men from the River Trent raced into a two goal lead courtesy of Awoniyi and Boly. Eriksen was able to get one back in the first half after good work from Rashford. The second half opened more positively as Casemiro scored from close range as United showed great creativity from a set piece. The pressure from the Red Devils mounted and mounted. The sending off for Joe Worrall as he denied a clear goal scoring opportunity for Bruno Fernandes. A penalty conceded by Danilo saw Bruno finish with aplomb to give United a lead for the first time in the game. 3 points have been grasped but the worries have not been subsided as much as anyone would have wanted today.
After the Dortmund loss in pre-season, Christian Eriksen came out with words that spoke about how the difficulties of the tour as a whole. “We expected a tough pre-season, but for me, there’s probably been too much travelling around. Playing in different places but it has to happen.” The commercial requirements made it so that Man Utd travelled to 5 countries within 26 days to play 7 games. Of course, two of those were with heavily rotated teams by necessity due to the scheduling and the first two games, against Leeds and Lyon, were without much of the first team players. So in essence, that left 3 games for the first team to properly play and in one of those, Ten Hag decided to also play the second fiddle, with the first team coming on in the last 30 mins. The first 60 mins looked a lot better than the last 30 mins of that game.
The first team have carried on that level of performance into the season. There has been a level of lethargy that has stricken the team quite severely. Perhaps it is the fact alluded to earlier about the lack of games they have played but also, the amount of games that were played in the previous season catching up to them. The funny thing is that the heaviness of legs often catches up to you or fully shows its effects once you have taken that break. Towards the end of the season, as the United team finally started to have longer breaks between games, the weariness showed more than when it was a continuation of games for 3 months between December and February.
Much has been made of Casemiro’s performance this season but he has had too much work to do in covering the amount of space but also, this is a 31 year old with a lot of mileage on the clock coming off a monstrous season where his country made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup. His ability off the ball is paramount to the team as he is the only one with the intelligence and combativeness to compete in there. He is being given decisions to commit or cover when teams are allowed the chance to break through the middle. Of course there are times where he jumps into tackles and duels when it is better to cover but how many times is he going to have to decide on that choice?
The start of the game was one with a team that wasn’t awake. Rashford failing to track Awoniyi accurately from our own corner and then sleeping on a free kick saw us 2 down within 5 mins.
Resilience and Reliance
In the Premier League, Man Utd have only come from behind one time under Erik Ten Hag – an away win against Everton in October of last year. There has been other occasions in the other competitions but no more in the league. They have often melted away quite meekly when they do go behind and the lack of cutting edge up top is often a big reason cited as to why. All too often, the big players are the ones that are melting away meekly.
If there was anything that could wake them up for their weariness, it would be the situation they found themselves in at 3:05pm today and it needed the better players in our team to actively make this situation better. There has been a distinct lack of control in the first two games but between Forest getting their second and Eriksen halving the deficit, it was the most control United have been able to exert in possession this season.
It was circulated well and while still ponderous in the final third, at least it gave us the opportunity to push Forest back, thus allowing chances for us to shoot from distance, which was integral in the first goal. Rashford was back in his best position and he stood up his opponent to glide past him effortlessly to cross low into the box. The second was a well worked free kick, Fernandes and Rashford again heavily involved, as Casemiro tapped it in. Casemiro played the lovely first time pass in behind to Fernandes that saw Worrall sent off. Rashford again stood up his man to win the penalty that Fernandes duly tucked away.
If you were to talk about the 3 most important players in the team amongst a consensus, Fernandes, Rashford and Casemiro would appear in plenty individually and even in that combination. When they aren’t playing well, it is indubitable that Man Utd are not going to have a good game. They stamped their authority all over the game in the turnaround victory and getting them all to their sharpest and best is of utmost important if the objectives set for this season are to be achieved.