After a confidence-building (or so we thought) three away wins in a row, United put on a performance to remind everyone (and maybe themselves) of exactly how bad they are or have been this season.
This is United’s worst league position at this stage of the season since 1986 (Sun) and their defeat on the south coast was well deserved after that performance. The Red Devils looked bereft of energy due to the number of games played by some of their players and it showed.
Aaron Wan-Bisakka, Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, Daniel James, Victor Lindelof, Fred and Scott McTominay played against Chelsea last midweek and they couldn’t hit the required heights needed to compete on Saturday. The ones who were brought in to bring ‘fresh legs’ to the side couldn’t galvanize United to anything tangible.
In United’s last two league outings, Anthony Martial has shown why some see him as one of the world’s biggest talents and why others believe he might not truly fulfil his potential.
Against Norwich, he was hungry, giving it all he had and he took his goal with great ease. You watch that game and you think “He’s a game-changer, he’s brilliant, he’s going to be one of the world’s best in not too long!” Then you see him against Bournemouth standing around, running with no ambition, not taking on anybody and playing like he was forced to.
On Saturday, he managed one shot the whole game and managed 27 touches (3 in the box) which was the least of any player on the pitch that day. Even David De Gea (32) and Adam Ramsdale (41) had more touches of the ball (via Whoscored) which brings room for much thought.
He is truly a frustrating player and won’t hide under the “inconsistent young talent” umbrella for much longer. He needs to turn up more.
Andreas Pereira had another “Andreas Pereira game”. He has consistently proven Solskjaer’s decision to trust him as the number 10 wrong and his promising display against Norwich is now looking like a glimpse to a future we might not see. At least not at this club.
On a day when United needed a creative outlet to unlock a deep defence, he didn’t have the tools. He only attempted one successful through ball the whole game and had a measly 60% passing accuracy (via Whoscored). Only the two goalkeepers passed at a worse rate. On more than two occasions, he got into decent areas to put a telling cross in but his delivery, much like his season, was poor.
The 23-year-old runs as hard as anyone, he is quick to press and push the tempo but a club the size of Manchester United won’t meet expansive teams every day. Some will dare them to find a solution and Periera, so far, is not that.
The remainder of the United midfield are not to be forgotten as well. In terms of creativity, United have one if the worst midfield players in the league. Scott McTominay and Fred are a hardworking duo which, in its own self, is a plus – one less thing to teach, but when it comes to that killer ball to unlock the defence, it is severely lacking from both players.
McTominay has been excellent, no doubt about that but sometimes, you can see him hesitate and not play the final pass this season because he lacks the confidence to do so.
On the other side of the midfield is Fred, whose performances are improving but his passing ability is more or less the same. He was safe and secure with the passing which is normally a good trait to have as a midfielder but a bad trait to have in this creatively timid midfield.
But there is always plan B right?
Well, in United’s case they have Jesse Lingard who has barely scored or made an assist this year so he is still finding his bearings on the pitch. For now, he shouldn’t be seen as a potential game-changer but sadly he is what United have. Juan Mata fits that bill too. He just doesn’t look like continuing at United or in this league for that matter.
Mason Greenwood is 18. Putting so much pressure on one so young is unfair. He could have scored on Saturday after his shot hit the post but labelling him as the difference this early in his career could hurt the young lad but it does not take away from the fact that he is immensely talented.
Is this normality for United? For now, yes but that question could be revisited when they have the full strength of the squad together for a run of games and also after the January window. Then, will we get a clearer answer?