To be fair, I don’t think the first half performance was bad, but I think on the balance of play the United boys could feel a little hard done by to be 2-0 down at halftime. Really good second half performance though by Manchester United.
Two moments of bad defending and we got punished both times. Aston Villa didn’t really have any other great chances in that first half, and we wasted a couple and was a shade unlucky with the offside.
However, the changes the manager made at halftime and during the second half were all spot on and exactly what we needed. It was great to see the players’ heads didn’t go down despite being 2-0 down. They still fought and played with heart and courage. Which suggests that the reports that 50% of the dressing room have stopped playing for the manager are wide of the mark. Or at the very least, none of the players who played yesterday are amongst the 50% who are downing tools.
Tactically, I’m not sure how much we can learn from this game alone. Villa play a high line and that suits our forward line. Up against a side that sits deep and stays compact, I’m not sure a front three of Rashford, Hojlund and Garnacho have the right mix of skills to create and score enough goals. Lots of positives to take from the Match though.
Rashford looked brighter after being benched for a couple of games, even creating good chances.
Garnacho has laid down a marker to be a starter on the right. His previous showing on the right have been underwhelming, but maybe that could be put down to a lack of experience. It’s always best to play inexperienced youngsters in their best position, especially when they are trying to make the step up to men’s football. Maybe now, with a little more experience under his belt, he is more capable of playing from the right, or maybe it was just a good game for him to play from that side due to how Villa set up. Either way, he should get a few more chances to play on the right for us to find out.
Mainoo showed he has the character to not let a mistake affect him. He cost us a goal in his previous outing, but was majestic against Villa. Highlighting not just his talent but his strong mentality and positive attitude. I really think he has what it takes to make it to the top. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is a starter for England at the next world cup alongside Rice and Bellingham in what looks like it could be one of the best midfielders at international level.
Antony was bright when he came on and was exactly what we needed at that moment. He added energy, just when it looked like it might dip.
Eriksen had a good game, and if we can get him fully fit and in form he will transform that midfield and enable us to actually create chances through midfield.
A special shout out to Jonny Evans as well. Who has been absolutely superb every time he’s pulled on the shirt for us. In hindsight, we probably never should have sold him. It’s a real shame that he wasn’t here during his best years. He was better than anyone we had during that time and would have been and should have been first choice for us during that time.
I certainly wouldn’t be against giving him another one-year deal to be our 5th choice CB next season. He’s a leader, and a model professional, who has a deep connection to the club. He has real value to the squad even if he doesn’t play. If he wants to do his coaching badges, then maybe he will be happy to stay and do them with us.
Finally, seeing Gore, Hannibal and Kambwala come on to see out the game showed real courage and belief in these young players. Which is ultimately what our club is all about. They may be getting these chances due to injuries, but ultimately that’s how most academy lads get their chances. What is great is that they are taking them.
Long term, I think Kambwala has the best chance to make an impact in the first team. Simply because we lack quality in depth at CB and could see several players leave this summer (at least two of Maguire, Lindelof, Varane, Evans will leave in the summer, maybe all of them). That might open up a spot as 4th/ 5th choice CB option for Kambwala.
Gore is the one who I personally think will become the best player. He just looks like such a well-rounded midfielder. He seems well grounded and prepared to work hard and has the right attitude. Unfortunately for him, I suspect we’ll make a couple of signings in midfield by the start of next season, which might limit him.
Also, I don’t see any manager as being likely to play both Mainoo and Gore in midfield at the same time. It’s such a key area and they both are very inexperienced. Which places him further down the pecking order than Mainoo. I think a quality loan out to a decent championship side is best for Gore. I think he’d do exceptionally well in the championship and would come back much more ready to take on a more prominent role in the first team as a regular squad/ rotation option.
Hannibal has so much talent, I just wonder whether he has the intelligence to make the most of it. He’s a bit too impetuous and acts without thinking at times. Although given that he seems to be a dead cert for a booking every time he takes the field, EtH showed great faith in him to bring him on against Villa when we needed to play with our heads and not our hearts. So maybe he’ll prove he can learn and adapt. If so, then he has the talent to be a regular squad player for us.
So many positives, the only negative is that we are still making too many silly mistakes in defence, especially at set pieces where we look likely to concede every time. The only saving grace is that it’s much easier to coach players to be better at defending set-pieces than it is to coach them to defend in open play or particularly when in transition.
So that is something we can work on and hopefully improve. I wonder how much of our weakness at set-pieces is down to the injuries and the constant chopping and changing of our defensive structure and personnel. Stopping any chance of gaining some consistency.
Either way, it’s something I’d be looking to address on the training ground over the next few weeks.
Written by Shappy December 27 2023 17:59:54
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