I chose not to write about Manchester United as long as Ole was in charge. There is just too much turmoil putting text to how we fans are living through the tumultuous performances in the last two months.
But there was an eerie calmness about this performance. It was as though United new that all they had to do was turn on the engine, put in first gear and begin the game. They refused to shift to a second gear. Organized, keeping a shape, all 11 behind the ball for most spells of the first half, Villareal enjoyed nearly 70% possession in the first 15-20 minutes. Return of Martial and Van de Beek is crucial.
Martial brings ice-cold calmness to the pitch with his ease on the ball and his distribution. As a player, he is far superior to a lot of them in that team and his attributes worry defenders. Van de beek was focused, stuck to his job, did a shift.
Scott Mc Tominay eased into the game. Fred gave his usual performance. Since Martial and Sancho were tucked in for most of the first half, the only way Villareal could get through to their midfield was with medium to long range passes. They did create the odd chances and when confronted, United did look shaky. Understandably with the poor run of form and the lack of clean sheets, the likes of Maguire were pretty tentative in keeping ball in possession.
It was more of United being happy to not have possession or have to play to create anything. I think Carrick got it spot on with dropping Rashford and Bruno. These are two players who are good flair attacking, but do not give as much in defense as Van de Beek and Martial.
Getting to half-time without conceding is a massive up on a European night. That made Carrick’s half-time talk easier. More of the same, and then we switch things with half hour to go.
He brought back the flair through Bruno and Rashford. Rashford’s arrival made Emery wary of his pace and as a result Villareal stepped back a bit. United pounced on this opportunity with a press and that yielded the opportunity for Ronaldo.
Sancho worked tirelessly and rarely played 90 minutes in a position that he was supposed to settle into right from the beginning of the season. Shaw’s concussion injury and Greenwood’s COVID made decisions easier for Carrick. By winning this big game and with a game in hand, United comfortably move into the knockout stages of the Champions League.
The organization, the commitment and the quality was there for all to see today as United went out with a plan to not concede and press for a late winner if the opportunity rose. I later on watched around 60 minutes of the game between Chelsea and Juventus. Seeing the scoreline, United should be worried of how Chelsea overpowered Juventus, but the fact is we do not have enough quality to play like Juventus, nor do we press like them. I expect us to make Chelsea earn their win this coming weekend.
Ole went with a formation that he thought would give them a draw at least. But apart from a solid initial 10 min, totally outplayed and outmuscled in the first half. Varane getting injured after making an early return suggests again poor management by a man trying to save his career.
Bailly was absolutely fantastic. So good to see him. Ronaldo has as always turned up twice to save Ole.
Bruno, Rashford, Maguire, McTominay all were awful today. Sancho and Van de Beek were such a fresh breath on the pitch. But what can we United fans do other than suffer this legends coaching.
Thumbs up to Ole for shuffling the pack for this game. The defence, of course, apart from Varane entirely changed thanks to injuries and unavailable players. But the midfield duo was most striking.
United started slow and safe. The United players have to learn to play with each other.
The set play for the equalizing goal was fantastic. Throwing in great players in the last 20 minutes won us the game. De Gea is the man of the match to keep us alive to win it in Fergie time. Greenwood should not have started this game. He is out of form now, his tracking back is abysmal, and he left Dalot to the dogs.
So there was no momentum to push that team forward. Villareal was literally keeping the ball dead in defence and then looking to play on the break. I felt I was watching a FIFA game. Many players I encounter play in this manner. Try to draw players out of position and then attack on the counter. Either way, I am ecstatic with the result!
I strained my back early morning yesterday during a HIIT routine. So after a 9 hour work shift, I just decided to stretch my back after dinner. I managed to wake up mid way through the second half of the game to see United trailing 2-0.
I was not surprised. The quality of the opposition, in their home turf, it was always going to be very hard.
But once the game ended, I went through analyses on different channels, I understood we started with a team to defend with pace on the counter.
Despite going down pretty early, the stubborn reluctance of Ole to change his plan A despite knowing it is wrong is what is consistently costing us. Learning to adapt to a botched plan is the main thing especially in Europe, decider group games. From a team that was cruising to win the group, to one needing ONLY a point in the last two games, United succumbed to two big defeats. The CV of both the teams going through this group clearly outshines us in form and recent seasons.
So how do we fix this? I doubt there is any way out. The club has lost its identity thanks to the hierarchy and is in a weird limbo. As a united fan, I am more than happy to just watch highlights rather than sit through 90 min of torture anymore. I have never seen a team consistently be so shit in starting games.
There is no hiding. Maguire is not captain material. He doesn’t evoke responsibility even in defence. De Gea is done. He no longer commands the box. Aaron with his unique skills has been keeping this line intact. Lindelof is more patchy than Smalling or Jones has ever been for United.
There is no consistent midfield setup. Too many squad players, too many different formations and configurations each game. Players unable to even settle into a playing routine.
Main attackers including Bruno and Rashford undergoing fatigue and injuries. Martial off color all season. Pogba making plans to move to next club. It is a disaster. I feel sorry for fellow United fans. I feel sorry for myself. But I will absolve from my pain by watching less and reading more about what this team is doing.