Manchester United vs Middlesbrough 5 Things We Learnt

Manchester United were eliminated from the FA Cup after losing on penalties to Championship side Middlesbrough. The Reds were in control for the majority of the match and took the lead through Jadon Sancho. However, they were unable to get that all-important second goal. Crooks got the leveller for Middlesbrough in controversial fashion. VAR saw nothing wrong with the goal and they had their equaliser. Neither team could be split during extra time and a penalty shootout would decide this encounter. Anthony Elanga missed his penalty in sudden death and United were out of the FA Cup. So let’s take a look at five things we learnt from this encounter.

1. Poor finishing costly against Middlesbrough

Manager Ralf Rangnick put out a strong side for this FA cup match. Immediately, United took control of this contest with Sancho almost opening the scoring within the first 90 seconds. He saw his looping effort crash against the crossbar and eventually go out of play. This was the story of the match. The Red Devils created many clear cut chances but they were simply unable to convert them. In the first half, Ronaldo saw his acrobatic effort saved and his penalty go wide. Fernandes should have also got himself on the scoresheet but his volley went from close range went miles over.

During the second half, Sancho put the ball on a plate for Rashford. But, the Englishman couldn’t hit the target. After the equaliser, Fernandes failed to give United the lead, hitting the post with the whole goal wide open. Elanga and Fred also spurred chances in extra time. Rangnick should have no blame for this defeat at all. The Reds created enough chances to win the game and their poor finishing ultimately cost them.

2. Penalty curse continues against Middlesbrough

United’s awful penalty record continued in this match with the Reds losing six of their last seven shootouts. Both David de Gea and Dean Henderson have failed to save a single penalty in the last two shootouts. The majority of the first team dispatched their penalties, however the senior keepers must improve in shootouts. If the keepers fail to save at least one penalty then it will pile immense pressure on those who aren’t comfortable at taking penalties.

In this shootout, Henderson’s inability to save a penalty meant that United could only win if a Middlesbrough player missed the target completely. Evidently, this did not happen and all the pressure fell onto the shoulders of Anthony Elanga. The youngster had never taken a senior penalty for United and looked incredibly nervous. Elanga fired his penalty over and his side were out. The blame should not fall on the shoulders of the young winger and instead questions should be asked of regulars Ronaldo and Fernandes, who missed costly chances.

3. Sancho impresses

One of the only positives United fans can take from this revolves around Jadon Sancho’s performance. Sancho was electric from the first minute and produced his best performance in red and white. Sancho was unlucky with his early effort that hit the bar and eventually saw his hard work pay off. The winger got on the scoresheet, grabbing his first goal at Old Trafford. Playing off the left, Sancho smashed a low shot, which deflected past the keeper into the corner of the net.

Throughout the game, the 21-year-old was a constant threat. He was direct with his runs and dribbling, while also causing issues with his playmaking qualities. The Englishman was unlucky to not register an assist after he set up Rashford with a great pass. Rashford couldn’t convert and the scoreline remained 1-0. Sancho went down twice in extra time due to fatigue and may have picked up a knock. Rangnick will hope he has the England international available for the game against Burnley.

4. Pogba returns against Middlesbrough

Paul Pogba made his return from injury in this FA Cup clash in an attempt to build up some match fitness. The Frenchman will be vital in United’s push for a top four spot and in their Champions League run. Pogba was very impressive on his return. His composure and strength on the ball will have caught the eye of the Old Trafford faithful, who will have missed his presence in the midfield. In this match Pogba was on the right of the midfield three with Fernandes in the other number eight position and with McTominay behind them. It is likely Pogba will continue in this role in the coming weeks.

The playmaker displayed his leadership skills in the build up to the shootout where he was seen galvanising the United squad. Rangnick will hope Pogba’s return can improve both the mood around the club and improve the performances of his side.

5. Focus on top four and UCL

With United’s exit from the Fa Cup, Rangnick must now cement his sides position in next years Champions League. He must also aim to get the Reds as far as possible in this years competition with a huge clash against Athletico Madrid coming up. Although, United no longer have the chance to win domestic silverware, they will have extra time to work on tatctics. Ralph must use this time to implement his style of his play. Despite this, he will be unable to give game time to fringe and academy players.  The Reds must now turn their attention to the league games against Burnley and Southampton as they look to salvage something from this underwhelming season.

Author: Rajan Sangha

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