It wasn’t the most convincing of performances last evening but Ralf Rangnick would have taken a clean sheet and a passage into the next round in a heartbeat. United have now conceded only 4 goals under the new manager who has brought some defensive solidity over the festive period and will look to build on another positive result. In this article, we’ll go over some key takeaways from performance.
Some pressing, very less control
For all the hype surrounding Rangnick’s desire to control games, we’ve barely witnessed sustained periods of controlled possession in the seven games under him. There is a lot of work that needs to go in and the feeling around Old Trafford at the minute is that the German has barely scratched the surface. However, we did witness some good spells of pressing against Villa in the first half that resulted in a couple of decent opportunities in transition but nothing close to the level Rangnick will hope to achieve.
There was a moment in the first half where the front four pressed in unison, but there was absolutely zero support behind them and Villa were able to play through with ease. That particular play would not have pleased Ralf. While summarising the performance the manager was happy with the fight and response United showed after the Wolves game. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but one that will give Rangnick some belief to work with.
Scott McTominay can strike a ball
Scott McTominay had one of his best performances of the season. The midfielder started the game well with quite a few clean cross-field diagonals that found Rashford and Shaw with consummate ease. On either side of his headed finish, the Scottsman also unleashed some of the cleanest ball striking we’ve seen at Old Trafford for some time. It was a continuation of his performance against Burnley where he had 4+ ferocious shots from outside the box. If Rangnick can get McTominay closer to the box on a more consistent basis, there is potential for space opening up around him as a result of defenders making an effort to block his strikes by pressing intensely. United fans will hope that he builds on this performance and goes on a consistent run.
Rashford needs an arm around his shoulder
We witnessed Marcus Rashford put on one of his poorest performances in a red jersey last evening. Very rarely do the Old Trafford faithful cheer or celebrate when one of their own players is taken off, but the cacophony of cheers that went up when Rashford’s number came up on the board summed up his evening succinctly. He struggled to find passes that added value to an attack. He dawdled on the ball far too long before losing it eventually on multiple occasions. Rashford even misplaced the simplest of passes. With every passing touch, the frustration across the stadium could be felt even more. His unwillingness to attack a 50/50 rebound after Greenwood had his shot saved was the last straw.
There is something seriously concerning about his form this season. Perhaps Rangnick has to figure out a way to get him beyond the last defender and through on goal. That’s when we have seen him excel this season evidenced by his inch-perfect finishes against Leicester, Atalanta and Tottenham. What was even more concerning was his body language which seemed to be all over the place. This was a man with 70 goal contributions across all competitions in 2019/20 and 2021/22. His ability has not vanished. He can still play. Some of the senior figures in the squad need to take him to the side and have a conversation with him. He needs all the support and motivation possible because Manchester United are way better of with Rashford on song. Taking him off the limelight for a few games could also do the trick.
More individual errors
United managed to keep a clean sheet but there were far too many ‘heart in mouth’ moments for anyone’s liking. Lindelof, Fred, McTominay, Greenwood, Rashford were all guilty of giving the ball away in dangerous situations, a trend that’s only gotten worse as the season has progressed. Missing square passes is inexcusable and the coaching staff need to straighten up the players a bit. De Gea had another good shot-stopping performance but his inability to sweep once again came to the fore when his reluctance to come out gave a couple of opportunities to the Villains.
Manchester United have now played 10 games since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked. It’s safe to say, the terrible run of results has been addressed (6 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss), but there is a lot left to be desired of the performances on the pitch.
Written by Anubhav Sarker| Feature Image taken by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images) |
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