|One of the lone positives from United’s trip to Alkmaar was United’s young left-back, Brandon Williams, who made his first senior start for the Reds on Thursday night. Photo from: MEN.|
Manchester United’s struggles continued on Thursday night in the Netherlands, with the performance very much resembling the state of AZ Alkmaar’s temporary pitch: sloppy, rough, untidy. The Reds will come back home with a draw, which, all in all, is not the worst result — but the performance once again left much to be desired.
As the final whistle blew after what was a very lacklustre game in which United seemed closer to losing than winning, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men failed to register a single shot on target — further emphasizing the evident problem’s in the final third, and once again raising the question of how did the board get away without signing a centre attacking midfielder and a striker in the summer? Looking at the team’s regression since the Chelsea game, it just seems like complete incompetence from the people in charge at this point.
To give the team some credit, they have done okay in the past few games to break into the opposition half, but that’s about it. That’s where all the issues really begin. There is no poise, creativity, fantasy, or even the will to go forward once United get within reaching distance of the opposition box. The final ball has been non existent, the finishing of the minimal chances created in Anthony Martial’s absence has been dire, and there just aren’t enough signs of these things improving anytime soon.
Long gone are the days where United under Solskjaer as the interim manager were playing fearless football, winning the ball back with the high press, and creating countless chances while showing the urge to kill off opponents even once they took the lead. Something has changed, and it is just impossible to point out what exactly that is, but this team, although still similar in personnel, is very different. We have seen glimpses of what they are capable of during Solskjaer’s early days, and it now seems like that fire has been fully extinguished.
Looking at the other side of the coin, the aforementioned personnel required to play any type of structured football is just quite simply not there right now. With the ongoing injury issues, United are relying on two teenagers to lead the line in a tough away game. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, away days in Europe are never automatic wins. In an ideal world, with the appropriate squad depth, there would be more experienced leaders around the likes of Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood, making the transition into first team football easier for them. But instead, because of the constant failures in United’s recruitment and beyond, we are now relying on those two to lead the line and carry the deadwood, surplus to requirements players such as Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata.
The near future is all of a sudden not looking very bright for United, in spite of the promising youngsters coming through — and credit to Alkmaar, who with a young team of their own, created plenty of chances and should have really won that game if not for a few solid stops from David De Gea, and a decent shift from the back line as a whole. They, for one, will be pleased with a hard earned clean sheet. But other than the defensive improvements, there is a ton of work to be done throughout this football club.
David de Gea – 8
A surprising selection ahead of United’s regular cup stopper, Romero, but nonetheless a good outing from the captain on the night. Came up good with a few saves to keep United from further embarrassment that would have come with losing.
Diogo Dalot – 7
Not fantastic defensively, but very promising going forward down that right flank. Put in a few decent crosses and looked like United’s liveliest threat for most of the game.
Victor Lindelof – 7
It was good to see Lindelof put in a more assured performance on the defensive side of the ball after some aerial struggles as of late. Read the game well and lead the line to a clean sheet.
Marcos Rojo – 6.5
Made the most mistakes in terms of giving the ball away out of the whole back line, but as a whole not a terrible performance. Dealt with incoming set-pieces quite well.
Brandon Williams – 7
A very promising full debut for the young left-back. Never looked phased and did well particularly when defending the dangerous right hand side of Alkmaar’s attack. There’s definitely more to come from him going forward, but United could have the next left-back for years to come already at the club.
Fred – 3
That could be up there with one of Fred’s worst performances in a United shirt. It felt like he misplaced every ball he played. It was a rough viewing, and it’s hard to imagine that the Brazilian did himself any favours in terms of the squad’s pecking order in the already slim midfield.
Nemanja Matic – 5
Whatever expectations you may have for this version of Nemanja Matic, chances are you probably got your full money’s worth on Thursday night. Static, not winning any balls back, taking forever to get the ball out of his feet going forward. Not very productive at all.
Juan Mata – 5
Every time Juan Mata steps on the pitch these days, he demonstrates just how much his legs are gone. Despite the Spaniard’s best intentions when signing the new deal this summer, he just doesn’t seem capable of playing at the highest level anymore. He never looks to bring the ball forward anymore, and when he does, the opposition defenders eat him up with ease. It’s hard to watch.
Angel Gomes – 6.5
Not a great performance from Angel, but he wasn’t exactly working with a whole lot either. The lack of movement up front definitely doesn’t help a player who wants to be creative, often forcing Gomes to go backwards against Alkmaar. The positive is that he always looked to try and make something happen.
Daniel James – 7.5
Himself and McTominay have been by far United’s best players this season. It is crazy to see how much United are relying on a 21-year-old from Swansea to create something, anything, to keep the team afloat. Another solid shift put in by the Welshman on Thursday who seemingly played up front for a big part of the game.
Mason Greenwood – 6
The quietest young Mason has been since making his debut, probably. But in his defence, as a striker, it must be a nightmare to play with the supporting cast that he has to play with. The 18-year-old got zero service. Not even any scraps to feed off, forcing him to drop deep a few times to try and get in on the action. A disappointing night at the office for him more than a bad performance.
Marcus Rashford – 6
Didn’t really change much after coming on. He got on the end of one ball and arguably should have won United a penalty. Also managed to sneak in his trademark free kick into Row Z from an impossible angle.
Jesse Lingard – 5.5
Had United’s best chance of the game after being slotted in by McTominay, but hit it narrowly wide. Should have really hit the target with that snapshot, and then pulled his hamstring chasing down a loose ball, forcing him to exit the game early.
Scott McTominay – 7
United’s most consistent performer this season by far. He’s showing more flashes of his offensive prowess recently, despite being played mostly as a defensive midfielder. After the screamer against Arsenal, the Scot found Lingard inside the box with a lovely through ball almost immediately after coming on against Alkmaar which should have put them ahead. One of the very few consistent positives for United these days.