Reaction as United win at Norwich City in impressive circumstances.
After admitting the three man defence in recent games had been due to the injury crisis suffered at the club, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returned to a four man back-line and a midfield that had Dan James and Andreas Pereira doing the creating behind Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
The first half was, by some distance, the most bizarre 45 minutes of football United have played all season.
In terms of general play they probably put in their most impressive display of football. Chances were created, the defence looked solid and the movement was fluid. McTominay did his best to compensate for a weak-looking midfield and, in fairness, did; he was fantastic. Pereira, who has been so poor in recent weeks, seemed to take heart from his second half against Liverpool and put in arguably his best showing for the club.
When the first goal came it was no less than United deserved; McTominay’s finish was excellent. But then the game took a twist when VAR was used to double check an alleged foul on James. It seemed obvious that James was not fouled and that he was leaning in. To the bemusement of all, a penalty was awarded; it was a terrible decision.
The taking of the penalty was farcical. Martial scored on Thursday, so he’d be on them today, right? Wrong. Rashford took it — it was an effort as poor as the decision to award the kick.
Then, Rashford scored a magnificent goal after a stunning pass from James. The composure he showed to calmly finish was very impressive coming so soon as it did after the miss.
Before half-time there was another penalty. Fred’s wayward effort struck an arm in almost exactly the same way as the one at Paris back in February. This one was again unfortunate, less convincing than the Paris one. But it struck the elbow in an unnatural position. There was less of an argument.
United were somehow finding a way to make more of a mess than the refereeing. Rashford didn’t step up to take it — Martial took the ball. The camera panned to Solskjaer on the bench who said what thousands of us were thinking. “Rashy?” Martial missed; it was still less worrying than the manager seemingly not having a clue what was going on after the mess about this very thing earlier in the season. Just when his team were playing the best they had for months.
We waited to see how the second half would pan out and Norwich responded with spirit; predictably appealing for penalties when they got near the box. They might have had a valid shout for Ashley Young being sent off or even Aaron Wan-Bissaka being punished for a late foul.
Right when Norwich were putting up a fight, United killed the game off; Rashford and Martial atoning for the earlier nonsense by scoring one of the finest goals the club have netted for years. Reminiscent of Ronaldo and Rooney at their best, it was a reminder of the potential these two do have in their locker. Hopes will be raised after this display.
The late consolation goal was harsh on a defence who didn’t deserve it and a harsh lesson for McTominay in what a single error in an otherwise faultless display can do. Thankfully it was only a goal and not points that were gifted and so could prove to be an inexpensive lesson.
The League Cup is what it is, so hopefully people won’t get carried away whatever the result is; next week United take on goal shy Bournemouth and we’ll get another answer as to whether they are turning a corner or stuck on the same old roundabout.
So it’s been quite a turnaround for Ole, then, who surely has done enough to silence some critics after his decisions, selections and formations over the last week or so.
It’s not quite enough to say with complete conviction that he is the right man for the job but it is a reminder that he is not tactically inept, and maybe a reminder that the injury crisis at a squad that already has many problems probably had a big contribution to the recent poor form.
You wouldn’t have been surprised if Woodward had sacked Solskjaer after the Newcastle defeat but now there is at least some nice evidence for the social media fans, those who seem permanently afflicted with long-term memory retention issues, that there are some signs of promising progress if you have a little faith.
One theme of the day was how well United did and another was how much better they might have done if they had a midfielder with more presence and oomph about them than Fred, a left back more able to shift up and down the pitch, or a creative force with a little more guile (as impressive as Pereira was). That is not a disservice to those who played today, more a signal of hope that better can be achieved if Ole is allowed to continue to build.
Back baby back
Quietly, Lindelof was recalled to the team after suggestions he should be dropped. He did very well, even when it appeared obvious from Norwich’s early threat that they were targeting him aerially.
United have been severely handicapped by the constant chopping and changing of their defence since the summer of 2013; Wan-Bissaka and Maguire are safe from even the trigger happy opinions of the internet fans but Lindelof is not.
It was good to see him put in a quietly impressive shift, a reminder that individuals and partnerships are equally important. Tuanzebe’s time will come, it may well come at the expense of Lindelof in the long term, but for me it’s still the Swede’s position and it would surely be of benefit to United to keep trying to get as consistent a selection at the back as possible.