United draw a blank vs. Newcastle – How we move forward.

Following a difficult midweek fixture to Cypriot minnow Omonia Nicosia, in which Manchester United eventually ran out 1-0 winners, Newcastle United provided yet more frustration for Erik Ten Hag. It was the second game in a row in which United struggled to break a low block. Omonia employed a 5-3-2 while Newcastle played a well-drilled, flat back-four with 5 active midfielders in front shutting out spaces. It means United have scored just once in 180+ minutes of football.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes cut frustrated figures on Sunday Afternoon vs. Newcastle United (photo by Daily Mail)

Read on to find out some key takeaways from this intriguing but ultimately disappointing afternoon of football for United.

Sancho is trying to find his groove

Jadon Sancho is beginning to find his feet in Manchester. He gave a convincing display vs. Newcastle and has scored three goals in 12 games this season. Against The Magpies, his quick-thinking in defensive phases particularly impressed. In the 42nd minute, United gave the ball away and were forced to quickly retreat. Sancho, pictured here in the centre-circle. made a crucial sprint back to cover the marauding full-back Luke Shaw’s absence.

This clever bit of defensive work proved crucial. Newcastle’s captain Kieran Trippier was early favourite to get to the ball. Sancho’s pace and tenacity allowed a potentially dangerous attack to prove harmless. He ended up smartly winning a foul against his fellow England international.

This duality of defensive and offensive responsibility is a mainstay of Ten Hag’s United sides. No one player is immune to this responsibility. Proving you are capable and willing to provide it grants you a feather in your cap in Ten Hag’s eyes.

Sancho, 22, still ranks too poorly for an elite player in terms of shots (1.23 p/90), assists (0.1 p/90) and key passes (1.57 p/90). The increasingly crucial ‘pressures per 90’ metric ranks him in the bottom 20% for attacking midfielders and wingers in the league. These are aspects of his game which will be the deciding factor in the success or failure of his sophomore season at Old Trafford.

Fred’s performance was lacking

After losing his starting role to Scott McTominay this season, Fred started the 0-0 draw on Sunday. McTominay was suspended for the match. Casemiro’s arrival has forced Fred further out of the picture. This game served as a reminder of what Fred does and does not offer.

Frustratingly loose in possession and without a cutting edge either in front of goal himself or providing chances to his teammates, it was a day to forget for the Brazilian.

Here Fred squandered a decent bit of play from United, fluffing his lines and kicking it harmlessly behind for a goal-kick. A player with more composure and technique would have easily squared this to the oncoming Ronaldo for an easy finish. This was a common theme for Fred throughout the game.

A gilt-edged chance presented itself to Fred in the 88th-minute through excellent work from Rashford. Rashford had forced the ‘keeper out of his box and squared it to the late-arriving Fred who needed only to hit the target. Astonishingly, Fred let the ball roll to his standing foot and sent the ball wide of the mark. This rounded off a definite game to forget for Fred and, crucially, an afternoon which manager Erik Ten Hag would do well to remember.

Varane is crucial to United’s defence

Varane put on another stellar performance at heart of United’s defence. Injury has scuppered his involvement in recent weeks. With the Frenchman seemingly back fit, his manager will be happy that he was able to help United get a crucial clean sheet.

A late breakaway for Newcastle could have produced a very nervy finish. A 4-on-3 situation had begun. But for wonderful positioning and an integral interception from Varane, Newcastle’s Ryan Fraser would have slotted in Chris Wood for a clear cut chance. It’s the kind of active, engaged defending which was in short supply during Harry Maguire’s disastrous slump in form in 2021/22’s season, which culminated in United worst defensive record since the 1970s.

Manchester United enter an intriguing and telling week. They welcome in-form Spurs to Old Trafford on Wednesday before travelling to the capital to play Chelsea. Both will provide fans a real opportunity to peer into United’s future. This season’s record vs. the ‘Top 6’ has been mixed. Two propelling wins vs. Liverpool and Arsenal were met with a disappointing 6-3 loss to rivals Manchester City.

A week from now, after these games, United’s long-term prospects will be a lot more clear. There is potential to end this run anywhere from 14th to 4th. Two wins could see United occupy a champions league spot, which could be manager Erik Ten Hag’s objective come the end of the season.

Author: Sam Talbot

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