Reaction as United struggle to get their Europa League campaign off to a good start.
One of the topics of conversation on this week’s podcast was whether or not United could afford to do what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ultimately decided to do; make wholesale changes. We’re reminded ad infinitum that the Europa League is a competition for rotation but that is normally only the case for teams that can boast the sort of depth to do that.
United have the numbers but do they have the quality to afford to take such games for granted? It may well be a lesser competition but it’s still a European game. The club have such a strong and rich history in continental competition, and the prize on offer is significant enough, that results and reputations do matter.
Astana were unadventurous for the entirety of the first half and happy to counter in the second; they were comfortably as weak as their reputation suggested, and United’s arduous work in breaking them down was entirely indicative of their current quality from the players on show.
The experience of Mata and Lingard brought a greater composure and impetus, and it must be remembered that these are two players United fans by and large are rarely complimentary about starting in the first team. Gomes and Chong were a little weak; in the end, it was Greenwood who had the most quality and that eventually told.
As on Saturday, Solskjaer gets a pass on this one because his team won the game. As on Saturday, it was not entirely convincing, and on tonight’s evidence it was a little more concerning. There may well be nine changes again for Sunday’s game; if the performance doesn’t change for the better, the result will likely be worse.
By public demand
Solskjaer went with Gomes, Greenwood and Chong in attack as well as Tuanzebe in defence. Even the club’s official twitter account referenced the fact that so many people have been asking for these changes. And while the brighter moments invariably included some of these players, the standard of the opposition and the infrequency of those good moments revealed much about the sensibility of throwing them all in against a better opponent, like some were hoping for against Leicester on Saturday.
The terrible restructuring of the U23 system in recent years, doing away with the old and traditional reserve team passage to the first team, means games like this, and Rochdale next week, act as replacements. Tonight they had an opponent who was more than happy to let them have as much of the ball as they wanted, and they never really got into it, Greenwood’s special moment not withstanding. It was maybe one change too many with the balance a little too wet behind the ears.
You can look to the Galatasaray dead rubber game of 1994 if you want a comparison, if you’re old enough to remember it. Are the kids of today as good as the Beckhams or even the Davies’ of yesteryear? Are the experienced players of today as capable as the Cantonas or Keanes of leading them through? The disparity in the latter quality is arguably much greater than the former, making it a far more difficult acclimation.
The seniors underwhelming
How alarming is it that United can play Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo and defensively they look the least secure of the defence, allowing such a poor team to have as many openings as they got? (Rojo did look promising in attack in the second half, giving Solskjaer at least the indication he may have a good choice to make, at least until the defender injures himself or someone else again.)
How concerning is it that Fred and Matic were allowed so much time and space by such a poor opponent, and that they did nothing with it?
Some may be tempted to say United won so these complaints should not matter, or be vocal. Some might say Matic and Fred were decent. But you really do have to consider the quality of the opponent more when you are assessing the performance of the senior players and until the substitutions, those performances were found wanting.
The man given the task of leading the line tonight was Marcus Rashford, who moved to the left for large portions of the second half. It was not his finest outing, with two huge chances fluffed in the first half. The trajectory of his career is shaping up to be at its most crucial point this season with the growing expectations and increased prominence in the team. Of course, we want to see improvement. We still have to expect evenings like this, but they should be fewer and further between if he is to fulfil those expectations of a potential which has already been richly rewarded in advance.