|Ander Herrera celebrates another special Manchester United goal|
At least the hemorrhage has been curbed if only for a few days. Manchester United have played a game of football in September and not lost. Perhaps it was necessary that the level of opposition dipped to League One so as to get United back on track but even that was not without wobbles along the way last night.
Whilst in Cup football the result is all that matters, United cannot claim to have found long standing solutions to prevailing concerns about them during the performance last night. For starters, Wayne Rooney. The question remains and drags on even though it's becoming something of a boring topic. In truth, it is hard to ignore when he is the embodiment of Manchester United's current plight.
Included in the starting line-up as a striker for the sole purpose of giving him confidence against lesser opposition, the England captain cut out another luckless if not sorry display. There was the missed sitter in front of a very wide net to tap into. There was the loss of possession that eventually cost United a goal. There was the straying out of position, deep into midfield to get a sense of involvement when the ball continuously evaded him up top. Indeed, on one occasion, Wayne could be seen picking up possession in a position that linearly was between Blind and Smalling-- the centre-backs!
The uncertainty about his playing position is not simply down to him. His manager for instance told us that Wayne was not a midfielder in his books but was just off the main striker---a number 10. Last night, he was deployed right up top, having served as wide midfielder (never mind the team sheet) on Sunday at Vicarage Road at least according to his actual position on the pitch. The captain's position in the first team may be uncertain but what is certain is that Jose has a few decisions to make to get his team selection right for Saturday lunchtime.
What will have made his team selection harder for the next game is that Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera had impressive performances last night. Each got a goal, but more importantly complemented each other in the middle of the Park. Herrera, in particular displayed the shoot on sight qualities that are desperately lacking within the current first choice set-up. How Jose rewards those performances whilst keeping his captain in the team will make for interesting team news this Saturday.
It would of course be unfair to suggest that United's problems begin and end with their captain. Far from it. Whilst dropping the captain would solve a large of the puzzle, there is an inherent structural problem within the side that goes beyond him.
Manchester United have struggled to retain possession against opposition that have pressed them high up the pitch. Southampton, City, Watford. Because the fear reigned in by Louis van Gaal after losing possession still exists, many players are uncomfortable when faced with the threat of losing possession. As such, United are generally uncomfortable on the ball when being hunted all over the pitch. Rather than take up spaces to create options for players in possession, there is a general fear to take responsibility on the ball hence the finger pointing to the safe choice which is usually back into defence. Therefore United have been forced to wait for 'comfortable possession' before they start an attack. That allows the opposition to get back into position which makes it very difficult to break down especially when you have individuals that are not excellent at retaining possession.
This has made it difficult for Jose to play to his strengths--punishing the opposition in transition. It is this weakness that calls for the utilisation of talents within the team that are better off at retaining possession. That way, at least United could be afforded greater control over opponents that press high up the pitch. Zlatan's pace means that defenders are not necessarily worried about a ball over the top and yet United's midfield has been found too slow to run off the attackers from deep. All seemingly very obvious shortcomings with available solutions. But hey, I'm the Blogger here. Others have actual qualifications in this industry. Anyhow, it's a very small matter of City in the fourth round of a competition whose name changes almost each season.
It's three straight home games over the next couple of weeks before another International break. A chance to turn a corner perhaps?