It was quite a shoddy display against the team that started the day bottom of the table. Much has been made of the fact that United will not face a top 6 until March but if there are going to play the way they did today, then they won’t see much joy from this ‘easy’ run. The goal was decided by Ronaldo winning the penalty and smashing it home to give Man Utd the slender margin. Two clean sheets to match the same record as the 14 before that.
The early parts of the season were characterised by an ever changing attack, outside of the presence of Ronaldo and Bruno. The wide areas were constantly being changed. It seemed like several were auditioning to make that spot their own. What’s more, with Rashford’s impending arrival from injury, it was only really one spot that was available because he seemed nailed on to keep his wide left berth. A goal in his first two appearances back made it likely that would be the case but the performances have been nowhere near good enough, 2 months since the Leicester game. While he was still able to replicate the numbers he got in what was another breakout season of 19/20, 2020/21 lacked the same play that captivated us. He could be forgiven as he played with not only a shoulder injury but an ankle injury he picked up whilst carrying the former. The summer break post Euros gave him time to recuperate for the first time in a long while.
The excuses aren’t there anymore and while it will take time to get back to full throttle, the stunning lack of basics being carried out was remarkably poor, particularly today. In the first half, only Bruno Fernandes had a higher possession loss rate than the Englishman (36% and 35% respectively). Loose touches that should be easy to control, simple passes going awry, dribbling into cul-de-sacs unnecessarily, holding onto it when simple lay offs would have sufficed. These are unfortunate traits that litter throughout Rashford’s game at the best of times but all of it showing today without any of the upside. It was a litany of errors. What made it worse was the reaction to the mistake was not a positive one. It was the sulking that has become a trademark of a Rashford’s possession concession, with poor effort in getting back. Others can be accused of not being able to cover the ground or having that body language as a default, which Rashford cannot. So it makes you wonder what exactly has happened and when, even. How he adapts on Rangnick will be interesting too. Currently, one of a pair up top, it doesn’t look like he enjoys it as well as he does out wide. Seeing as the interim sees the two behind as more No.10s than wingers, it would be unlikely that he goes there. Fortunately, Rashford possess a tenacity to run the channels and speed that is unmatched within the roster at United. He will need to use it better than he did today at Carrow Road however.
Turning over and over
After the positivity of Crystal Palace, this was anything but in the grand scheme of things. On commentary, a reason for the performance could be the change of coach imposing a training regime to get his charges up to his required standard and within this busy Christmas period to come, it might lead to a lot of performances that we saw today. Rashford’s paucity in technical security today was nothing something that his counterparts didn’t mirror. Outside of Sancho and, surprisingly, McTominay, the rest of the team moved the ball inaccurately and even if it did find another red shirt, it was following through treacle.
With a system as narrow as this one, it promotes the opportunity for combination play, which requires quick passing. The players were guilty of too many touches. With the two No.10s occupying the half spaces, it should mean that balls are constantly feed into their feet at the slightest opening. Only twice did I see, when Lindelof feed a pass into Bruno during the first half and McTominay to Sancho early in the second. It was incredibly ponderous but so much of it was very simple things not being completed. Rangnick repeatedly mentioned the word control in his first press conference in the media and I’m sure that what he was alluding to was being able to control the space without the ball. However, that’s one side of the game. Given that United will have more possession in 70% of the Premier League, being able to control the game whilst we have it is increasingly important. It becoming a basketball match where it is constantly turning over and over will not only make us more uncomfortable but will just tire the players out. More needs to be done on the training pitch in that regard.