A match that had incredible implications for the top four and was played that way. The first half went for both sides without a shot on target. The chances were still slim in the second half, but at least shots were fired at the target. The best chance fell to Fred, who shot at Areola. As time shifted to full-time, Martial passed a ball to Cavani who was pulling towards Rashford when he was sitting in an empty net. An anxious VAR guard made it so much more breathless, but Stockley Park confirmed the goal so the celebrations started again and continued when the final whistle blew shortly thereafter. An incredibly important 3 points that takes Man Utd back to the top four.
In the four match states that exist, the two that have been most talked about are just after we lost the ball and just after we got the ball back. Since United are the stature of team that is in England, it is after that initial period when we are unable to build fast attacks that we have been missing the most since Ferguson’s retirement. The attacking organization phase, where the opponents are lined up in their deep block, closing the gaps. Therefore, the emphasis is on the Red Devils to move the opponents enough that gaps open or that we can handle the ball within the narrow spaces between their defensive lines.
United do not have that type of staff in abundance and those of that quality are either injured (Pogba), out of sorts (Martial, Lingard) or are not given a chance (Van De Beek) so when we have finished possession, we are solely dependent on our ability to move the ball quickly and accurately. Of course, with Rangnick’s philosophy, the main goal is to get the ball forward in the least number of passes possible, but that’s just not always possible. Having to make short passes to provoke the opponent to leave spaces unattended is almost as effective as the long pumps in the canals or hopeful 50/50 Hollywood passes. Unfortunately, the latter two regularly play Man Utd’s plays more frequently than they should. It has less to do with stray passes, which is a whole other issue worthy of its own section, but that’s for another day. It has more to do with the fact that even when passing is completed, it is not with the intensity or ingenuity that can move the opponents out of these spaces.
If you have Fred and McTominay, who can never be blamed for their efforts, it will always happen. Bruno himself is the man in charge of sprinkling the fairy dust and often tries the hardest fit, even when an easier one will suffice. Ronaldo Elanga and Greenwood are more goal-oriented and will not produce the combination game often enough to cause opponents like West Ham a problem. The Hammers were remarkably comfortable in the final third, as evidenced by the fact that our first shot came on target in the 50th minute. It is not just the long lapse of time before that shot that illustrates our difficulty in finding creative ways, but the way it came about. It was a ripple that Fred put through in a quasi 1v1 rather than any clever play. Bruno’s brilliant cross in the first half, one that his international compatriot missed little, was the best we could conjure up on our own. United have conceded less, even though De Gea is still working more than he should, but with the range of attacking talent, Rangnick needs to get a more cohesive tune from the players. This is our most stacked part of the field and the one we will get across the line in the top four race.
Given the talk of the group issues and our supposed expenses in this window and the next, the words of Mourinho re-entered the ether during his tenure as Red Devils manager. One of the things he said in 2018 was that one of his summer signings would be a long-term signing. He was talking about right-back, Diogo Dalot. Since then, United have re-entered the market to sign another young full-back in Wan Bissaka. The trip spent on the former Porto man almost triples. He suffered from injury problems, problems that were there even during his days at Porto. His injuries have meant that in his season he was loaned out to AC Milan, he has managed to get two fewer appearances in a season than he has done in the previous three at Old Trafford. Rangnick’s arrival, however, caused a revival for him. He has played the majority of the games since early December and he has performed to such a level that the man brought in to play in front of him will find it difficult to get back on the team when he recovers from his illness.
Of course, the added security in possession and the ability to take it past a man are the obvious advantages of playing Dalot over Wan Bissaka, but surprisingly, his defensive work was actually more rounded than the former Crystal Palace academy graduate. A feature of Wan Bissaka’s game is that he excels in 1v1 duels. He knows it, so does his opponent. So usually you see Wan Bissaka slowly walk out to his husband to lure them into a 1v1 battle, that he will inevitably win. This tactic ruins everything when they play an early cross or pass that takes him out of the game. A fullback’s job is to get out to stop the cross and Wan Bissaka fails to do so as often as he should. Dalot showed that ability today, as well as the ability to be truly turned on when the ball is hit from the other side to head away. He has now played 4 games on the seesaw and hopefully this will continue for the foreseeable future.