Reaction as United get their first away win since March.
So, that was hard work, both on and off the pitch; Manchester United laboured to a victory over a team who deserved something from the game and only didn’t because they were the worse of two poor sides.
United started with James Garner and Brandon Williams, adding a romantic nostalgia to an occasion almost 62 years after Munich where the Busby Babes played their last game in this stadium. But it would be unfair to criticise today’s team in comparison, and that is partly because that was one of the greatest sides in the club’s history.
One troll pointed out a fact at the start of the season when the bare statistics revealed that United’s run of form was as poor as it was post-Munich.
As tasteless as it was, it does at least put into perspective the level of expectations we ought to have of this team. The post-Ferguson transitions have gone wrong, and United are as far away from a title-winning team as they have been since 2013.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect better; of course we should, and not least because a number of these players are enjoying the benefit of faith based out of expectation of their potential and ability.
You would have expected United to come and comfortably defeat this Partizan team whose main attacking hopes rested on the shoulder of a man discarded from Old Trafford almost a decade ago whilst Bebe was given a fair shake.
Both sides hit the woodwork, both could have had a penalty, both were poor over ninety minutes. United’s penalty could not be challenged as unfair, with Brandon Williams surging on the sort of run that those who have watched him progress are used to seeing, before he was hauled down. It was clever attacking play, the sort of play we are not used to seeing from Luke Shaw or Ashley Young.
Up stepped Anthony Martial who will be relieved that people will mostly only remember that he scored in this game, instead of dwelling on how poor and peripheral his performance was. Let’s hope it is only ring rust, both us as a club and Martial as a player, who can barely afford to allow himself to coast for the next few months. You get the impression it is a crucial period.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went for the same formation that he used against Liverpool, which at least suggested he may stick with it moving forward. But if he was hoping to see some momentum in continuity, he — as were we all — were instead ‘treated’ to seeing an all-too-familiar lethargic performance.
Not quite back to square one, but at least, a lack of conviction in the belief that this is going to be the way forward. Solskjaer is not the first manager since Sir Alex Ferguson to discover that playing more men at the back does not mean safety in numbers; often it can mean quite the opposite.
A win is a win, and in a results business, this was a crucial one in the composition of this group and how it can allow Solskjaer to work with his squad in the coming weeks. Hopefully that will come with a benefit, because other than the victory (and another impressive Williams showing) it is difficult to find positives from another dour outing.
A helping hand
Phil Jones was brought out of what must have felt like semi-retirement to play on the right side of United’s defence.
Jones is the player who, it was not-too-discreetly suggested by one United fanzine at the weekend, is not exactly flavour of the month in the dressing room; his performance certainly seemed to suggest that was the case.
The former Blackburn man knows his time at the club is coming to an end; his time as a regular already is. Celebrated players before him have trodden this path and they have understood their gradual removal from those responsibilities does still come with one duty, and that is to help the new or young players coming in.
Jones was careless, making numerous sloppy passes which put young players in difficult situations and taking chances that were uncharacteristic even for him.
This is a lesson to those who have been keen for lots of wholesale changes to senior players, because this is the result when one who has been almost completely marginalised is brought in. Jones didn’t help Wan-Bissaka, or Garner, and he did not bring the sort of European experience he has in his locker to help Maguire either. It made a mockery of the sort of compact and experienced unit Solskjaer had hoped three centre halves would bring.
Jones’ committed attitude over the years has often made him a likeable player even when it was obvious things weren’t quite going to go his way. This, however, is a very disappointing footnote to a career at United which started with such positivity.