It was no different to the performance at Old Trafford in League Cup in October or the one at St James Park in April. The score line was 1-0 but it could have been 3-0 or 2-0 like the aforementioned games. United look as clueless as usual and bar the paint of the bar, Trippier would have deservedly put Newcastle ahead. They did go ahead as Gordon slotted in at the back post. This is a team that has injuries, just like United, yet the cohesion never leaves. A goal was correctly ruled out late on as an Antony strike was diverted by Maguire but I would have been as sheepish as Maguire was if he were not in the way and it stood because performances like that, when they are just another in a long line, is essentially a stay of execution. It is how United performed on the night. Just waiting to be executed and they got what they expected and are left as hapless as they have been this season.
The famous adage is that “You’re either coaching it or allowing it happen“. That attraction of Erik Ten Hag was the fact that he was supposed to be the manager who is able to stop the lack of basics being allowed to happen, as had been able to fester before his time here, and then coach on top of that. Since late February, it has been slow disintegration of the team that plenty thought, inside and out of the club, were finally progressing to a team that would be able to compete once again.
It has been a multitude of factors that has occurred where United now look the same mess that that they did a year and half ago but now with Ten Hag, those that are out of his control are not given as grace. It is no longer happening simply because you are seeing such basic errors, tactically, personnel wise and in man management, that it is not Ten Hag riding against the wave that is Man Utd but he is now the one driving that wave of negativity and dross.
Since the dismantling that transpired at Anfield, teams have clocked onto the fact that Man Utd will go man for man in midfield. On occasion, other players will be tasked with going man to man in other parts of the pitch but the middle of the park remains unchanged in that effect game to game. Having to follow you man across the pitch is tiring enough but it pulls everything apart when you do finally get the ball back. The ball has to be kept for a while so that players are able to get into their positions we take up in attacking organisation but this is a team set up to attack in transition so being a mess in that regard is just a case of jumbled thinking. There is little connection through the midfield because the players that are supposed to be in those spaces have been pulled apart.
Why is Bruno playing as the DM and Mainoo ahead because they are tracking their assigned man? The only one who seems to actual stay in position is McTominay, who has managed to get the licence of the mercurial number 10 where he can drift out to the right hand side to make overloads? The man who was on the chopping block to leave mere months ago is somehow a key figure in the plan? It is what he is coaching and it is what he is allowing to happen so when the eventual of his demise comes with it, he will have no one else to blame but himself.
To be fair to the midfield, at least they were doing tracking of some sort. Ten Hag is failing on the coaching part but now the players’ body language is just as jaded as the dark days. The performances of Rashford and Martial told the story. For Martial, it was a rare start given the fact that Hojlund was actually fit. It was surprising in fact because if there is a game that you would think is absolutely the opposite to what you want in the game, then this version of Martial is exactly that. We all know that he is unlikely to put in the yards when tracking runners, preferring to cut off angles and position himself. A lot was made of one instance in which Schar ran past him because it prompted Ten Hag and Martial to have a heated exchange about the fact it was allowed to happen.
Rashford, stationed on the right hand side, was probably worse and it looked more like a player that could not be arsed in tracking his man. Livramento’s ability to run off him was shown far too much for our liking. Punditry made it look like a player with his nose out of joint because he is playing out of position. All too often when managers are looking to coax something out of the team, he is the player that falls foul of being moved. The difference this time is that Rashford was not making much of a difference when he was playing on the left hand side earlier this season. He just added to his tally last week and only notched one prior. United are having a serious problem with putting the ball in the net but when all else fails, the basics have to be done.
Ten Hag clearly didn’t like it because those two were the first ones off the pitch. Funnily enough, Hojlund and Antony came on yet the same problem still persisted because the main issue was not the fact that Rashford and Martial weren’t doing their jobs. The main issue was in the middle of the pitch. Alas, this is not 5 years ago where the duo were one of the more likely to bring the club out the mire. With the form Rashford is in now and Martial has been for the past 3 years, it just doesn’t track.
If not for Maguire and Shaw, it would have been a loss reflecting the chasm that was between the two sides on the night. Shaw gave the ball away for the ball trying to play out when there was little there but United had enough time and players to cover for it. It was another duo that really let them down and truly, Shaw and Maguire were covering for that duo the whole night. It shows how well Maguire has fought his way into the team that even with the return of Shaw and his slotting in at centre back, Varane was still stationed on the bench. Both played well enough but it was not enough to gain any points.
The duo that they were unable to cover for were the sorry states of full backs in Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan Bissaka. It is embarrassing that a debate rages on about who should be a starting full back for Man Utd when in actual fact, neither should be. For the goal conceded, Dalot looks to stand his ground and not cover for the ball flashed across the box. He was a bag of nerves and out of sorts the whole night. Alike McTominay, the fact he lasted 90 minutes does not tell you anything positive about his performance. At the back post, Wan Bissaka lost his man once again. They test the patience of any fan and the sooner both are no longer a big picture in the team, the closer that Man Utd will return to doing anything of any sort.