Manchester United were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by RB Leipzig, who progress to the round of 16 alongside Group H winners Paris ST-Germain. Late goals from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba were meaningless, as the Red Devils fell to a 3-1 defeat in Germany. So, let’s take a look at 5 things we learned from this match.
1. Manchester United’s Slow Starts Continue
Recently, Manchester United have began games slowly and their match against Leipzig followed the same pattern. Inside 20 minutes United were 2-0 down and were lucky that it was not more. Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be extremely concerned at his sides inability to put in a complete 90-minute performance. It seems now United are only able to turn up for certain periods of the game. Manchester United have made many late comebacks in the previous weeks but fell short in Germany.
2. Inconsistent Team Selection Costly?
Unlike last season, it seems that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unable to find his best eleven. Although, this may be predominately down to injuries to key players and poor form, Solskjaer has experimented with various formations and players but is yet to settle down with a familiar system. A regular starting eleven is crucial to consistent performances. United rivals Liverpool and Manchester City often have a set starting eleven that play most of their key games, which ultimately helps them have their fluid identity of football. Whereas, United week in week out look like they have no familiar playing identity.
3. Manchester United’s Defensive Disaster-Class
On countless occasions United have dropped points due to the defensive errors that this backline is susceptible to. At times, the firepower of the Red Devils will rescue the United defenders from their individual errors and therefore paper over the cracks. However, it is of paramount importance for United to bring in a new defender whether that be in January or the summer. Swedish international Victor Lindelöf has never been convincing, Harry Maguire is often exposed due to his lack of natural pace, Telles and Shaw are both better at progressing with the ball than defending and Aaron Wan Bissaka who is the strongest defensively is now also being caught out. The Red Devils lined up with a back five ahead of the match versus Leipzig.
All of Leipzig’s goals came from defensive blunders. Angelino expertly finished in the vacuum of space on the left side of the pitch and the United defenders simply could not deal with a cross and were not switched on. Similarly, the second goal came from a lack of defensive awareness. The third compounded United’s miserable night as Maguire failed to deal with yet another cross.
4. Manchester United Individual Brilliance Runs Out
On paper it seemed Manchester United would have too much firepower for Leipzig, who had numerous injuries to key players. Mason Greenwood spurred an early chance to get United level and then failed to play Marcus Rashford in on goal. Bruno Fernandes worked tirelessly throughout the night to create chances; however it just was not his night. He saw a long-range effort saved superbly by Gulasci, while his near-perfect free kick cannoned off the bar. Paul Pogba had a sublime little cameo, in which he almost brough United level in the dying moments. Moreover, this game illustrated that United rely mainly on individual brilliance and therefore it is imperative that Solskjaer finds a more consistent way of playing. As it was inevitable that this individual brilliance would run out when some of the players have an off night.
5. Another Manchester United Late Surge
One positve that can be taken away was the persistence of the players even though they were 3-0 down. United rallied late again as they had done in previous weeks. During the latter stages of games, the opposition are unable to cope with United. Recently, United have showed great character and intensity to grab crucial points in the dying stages.
Although, Solskjaer will want to prevent United’s slow start to games he will be impressed that his side are able rally late on to secure points. Many times, last season, Red Devils fans knew that their side was defeated if they conceded first in the match. Whereas, this season United have turned back the clocks and brough back Fergie-time. Mason Greenwood won a penalty, which was expertly converted by Fernandes and minutes later Pogba scored a header. From the depths of humiliation, United had earned themselves a lifeline back into the game. The successful late comebacks did come to a halt in Germany, however Solskjaer will have taken positives in the attacking intent shown in the last 15 minutes going into Derby Day.