Sancho is Great, but United need an Unbothered Metronome
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
For those mentally invested in the on again off again transfer of Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, you should already be emotionally fatigued and a bit ticked off - I am. I honestly am one more @FabrizioRomano tweet away from declaring absolute disinterest if we ever get to see those eagerly anticipated words - here we go!
As far as I am concerned, i am already sick of the tumultuous drama, and really wish Ed Woodward, Michael Zorc, and whoever the mysterious agent is that's mediating this orgy, get a room in some cheap cockroach infested hostel and hash this thing out till it's done. They should take their piss in the snow contest offline, so the rest of us can emotionally move on to other things.
Speaking of other things, our red devils willled their way into the Europa League semi-finals, a timely stutter penalty dispatched cooly by our Portuguese enigma Bruno Fernandes ensured that blushes would be saved on a day the Copenhagen goalkeeper, Karl-John Johnsson, was bit by a radioactive spider-cat, and produced a herioc 13 saves from our relentless bombardment of his goal. It's the most saves in a single UEL match since 2009.
Photo: Karl-John Johnsson finally beaten by Bruno Fernandes penalty in extra time.
Johnsson's absolute epic heroics made sure the game went goaless after 90 minutes. Greenwood did defy him with a pinpoint shot into the far left post, but VAR quenched the short-lived celebrations, as the goal was correctly wiped off for offside.
It was a match in which Copenhagen, mostly in the 2nd half, defended deep but our devils still found ways to create good chances. Mata chief amongst them, his cameo had a devastating and deciding effect on the course of the match. Mata finished with 91% pass accuracy, 2 out of 3 shots on target, but more importantly, 3 chances created - one of those really really big, as it found Copenhagen key tormentor on the day, Anthony Martial, who tortured their backline with dizzying runs and ankle twisting feints. Martial won another penalty via Mata's brilliance which he conjured in the brief 32 minutes of his time on the pitch.
Photo: Greenwood putting one past Copenhagen, was ruled offside by VAR.
Creating is happening. What Solskjær's men seem to be struggling with is executing their game plan of passing the ball from the back. It is now so obviously a prime target of opposing teams to try to disrupt this tactic, as they have been emboldened to believe, based on evidence to be fair, that United cannot do this consistently if pressure is exerted. So teams flood the midfield with 4 or 5 players who hustle, harry, and harrass once the red devil backline receives the ball.
Some furiously and energetically blitz like Chelsea did in the FA Cup semi-final, while other teams choose to take a more energy reservation approach by quasi pressing, whilst presenting a daunting blockade right in front of the United backline, effectively cutting off Solskjær's first band of players from the attacking band further up the pitch. FC Copenhagen executed the latter strategy to good effect, to the frustration of United bench and supporters everywhere.
Fred was picked in the starting line up, his capability to be stuck in, energetic, huff and puff with bullet sized perspiration flowing for the shirt is always unquestionable. So for me it was always a question of whether the untrusted Brazilian could consistently evade the stubborn Copenhagen blockade, bring out the ball from the back after recieving it from the defense or goalkeeper, and advance the ball by playing a positive forward pass. The answer, even if unfair, was no - Ole's withdrawal of Fred for Matic later on speaks for itself.
Photo: Fred stamping his authority on Copenhagen's Varela.
The damage done is two-fold. One is more apparent, if Fred loses the ball at the back as he is prone to do from time to time, it instantly turns the blockade into a punishing stampede, and had Copenhagen had more clinical talent United would be nursing quite a few regrets by now. The other damage inflicted is more insidious and slowly cripppling. Once the other pivot fails at providing the outlet needed, this almost always draws in Pogba to assume this duty.
It's only fair to point out that even Pogba at times gets caught out trying to get the ball up the field, mostly due to over elaborating or drop in concentration, but never due to lack of skill. He has the required talent, and even displayed some of that in the Copenhagen game. He has the strength, creativity and guile to navigate his way away from hot spots, his ability to deliver a ball accurately with ease is a reason he commands respect and is fawned over by envious clubs and fans. Carrying the ball does take away from his deeplying playmaking duties which United need. To be presently and sharply competitive in every phase of play, Ole needs both Pogba and Bruno at their optimum availability.
United's only other options are the one paced Matic who exudes veteran like calmness, or the younger but more fiesty McTominay who still needs to be battle hardened and has not completed the all round midfielder curriculum as of yet. Matic performs this duty fine, with the added utilization option of slotting in the middle of the backs as an extra defender. But he is normally mostly effective when opponents adopt the 2nd pressing style, his pace usually fails him against the other pressing strategy, when the more energetic gengen styled blitzing is used.
So without adequate options, before United bequeaths its entire treasure chest to Borussia Dortmund in pursuit of the young , hungry, and explosive Sancho. Solskjær should consider who he can recruit to his fledgling, but already impressive, project that can serve as an undaunted conductor in his midfield pivot. A player who would not be flustered by on rushing opponents, or a dynamic wall in front of him, and can deliver the ball with certain flight to make sure this United side keeps ticking and runs on time.