Reaction from United’s win at Chelsea.
The victory mirrored Manchester United’s win at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup earlier this year; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men surrendered the majority of the ball to play the game on the counter, and were clinical enough when it mattered to earn a deserved victory.
Some will argue the win was fortuitous, arriving as it did through two goals that you can’t bank on with United these days — a penalty and a free-kick, with Marcus Rashford not always 100% convincing on either. With no Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial to complicate things, these duties were Rashford’s, and he gave a perfect example of delivering under just the pressure of a big game.
Some might argue that the goals arriving in the way they did hardly qualifies as clinical, at least in the way that they came as a result of the game plan, and that could be fair.
Frank Lampard certainly believed the numbers on possession and overall chances represented a game his team dominated. But Solskjaer can be satisfied that his side controlled this game despite having around a third of the ball; in a way, it was a masterclass in doing so, with his team tirelessly working to dictate the tempo. McTominay and Fred were simply outstanding, and whilst the someday return of Pogba to his day job (whatever that is) shouldn’t be dismissed on account of his superior ability, one can already raise concern that the midfield — finally looking functional — operates better as it is.
Solskjaer moved to a 3 man defence and this genuinely impressive, controlled showing will give him food for thought in terms of moving forward. In the games at Carrow Road and Stamford Bridge, he has played two different defensive shapes — in years gone by, United would have capitulated with the unfamiliarity contributing towards the crumble. Now they have looked, dare it be said, comfortable.
Much of this is due to the energy and freshness of some players. The engines of Wan-Bissaka, Williams, McTominay and James are making an incredible difference to the way United play. Solskjaer took a lot of criticism for changing the schedule last season and some have wondered if his training is responsible for the number of injuries picked up, such is its apparent intensity, so he must then be credited for it when the freshness makes such an impression on the way United play.
And what of Rashford, then, who is showing himself a man for the big occasion? I have written in these columns that I believe this to be a defining season for the forward, a period in which he grows out of the inconsistency to deliver more often than not. It was a sensational statement delivered yesterday.
It is a little bit unfair to compare his free-kick with Ronaldo’s against Portsmouth in 2008, though it is a compliment in some ways, as Rashford is clearly attempting to model his progression after the former United star. If last night was an indication that we are moving towards the Portuguese’s levels of consistency, then United’s season could pick up very quickly.
Since becoming Manchester United manager 11 months ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has won games at Spurs, Arsenal and now two games at Chelsea.
Those wins all featured clever tactical approaches from Solskjaer.
Worthwhile, and sensible, chances in the first team have been given to numerous young players, despite the insistence from some online football media that this hasn’t been the case.
Since the injury crisis has eased up, United’s admittedly horrendous form has ceased to be, and the team are playing an attractive style of football in a system that is fairly clear to see.
There is a clear disparity to see — we can say that at its best, there are still two or three issues (at least) with this United team that need to be fixed in order for it to challenge at the highest level. And when a couple of the components are unavailable, the standard can drop very quickly to a level that does not favourably compare with the weakest teams in the top flight.
As United are always only one defeat away from lurching back into mini-crisis, let us at least take these moments to give credit where it is due and recognise good management when it is there.
James the Brave
Daniel James is fearless and this quality must not be changed. One would like to see him protected more often but maybe there is something in the way the Welsh star throws himself wholeheartedly into his challenges.
Yesterday it was definitely a penalty again, but I can’t have been the only one wincing when his head bounced around (especially after his concussion scares on international duty).
I’m no medical expert but I wonder if it might be of value for him to have conversations with physiotherapists about possible ways he could protect himself from a permanent injury from the way he falls.
Paul Parker said on this week’s podcast that Brandon Williams should have played on Sunday, and further, that left back should now be his position to lose.
I felt it was premature. But seeing him play at Stamford Bridge with the same quality and composure as he did in Belgrade, with the same quality and composure as we have seen in the lower level sides at the club — and seeing that it does actually improve the team, which is the major criteria to fill — then maybe, you know, Paul is right. Who’d have thunk it, eh, a former professional full-back can spot one.