“We intend to execute it the United way,” declared Erik ten Hag prior to the season’s commencement. This approach was expected to be “forceful” and “vibrant,” but above all, it would “astonish” fans.
After twelve matches in the Premier League, United has managed to win by one goal for the seventh time. However, what is unexpected is how uneventful the football has been. In their latest game against Luton, the points were only secured by a goal from Victor Lindelöf. This marks the third instance this season where a centre-back has been the deciding factor in United’s victory.
Luton allowed United to have possession of the ball as much as they wanted, understanding that they did not have enough creativity to pose a threat against a team with a defensive formation of five players and four more in front of them. Inviting pressure can be risky, but United’s 65% possession did give them some level of control, though it lacked excitement. The iconic atmosphere of Old Trafford still influences visiting teams to play defensively, especially with the personnel available to Ten Hag appearing better suited for counterattacks rather than quick passing.
The success will be a cause for celebration, providing much-needed relief before the international break. This was similar to the reaction when Scott McTominay scored two crucial goals in a comeback victory against Brentford at Old Trafford. It was expected to be a turning point in what has been a forgettable season so far. The same was anticipated after Harry Maguire’s header secured their first Champions League win against Copenhagen, but they have failed to capitalize on it and now face a difficult task in advancing to the next round.
Rephrased: Old Trafford has seen many false dawns lately. The idea is that by struggling for wins, it will build a foundation and boost confidence. However, they have only managed to win back-to-back league matches once before this and now face a challenging journey to Everton in two weeks, followed by a crucial Champions League group game against Galatasaray in Istanbul.
In their match against Luton, United attempted 15 shots, but only four were accurate. Although Thomas Kaminski made two impressive saves from Rasmus Højlund and Scott McTominay, who has yet to score in nine Premier League games, the team overall played defensively.
Højlund spent most of the game on his own, but he managed to control the ball and create opportunities when the ball was delivered well from the sides. Despite facing three Luton defenders, he handled their physicality and continued to learn from the experience of playing in the Premier League.
Christian Eriksen took up a position in front of United’s defensive line, acting as a quarterback. He was given space and time to make passes, but they were often directed towards a stationary group of attackers. Luton did not see a problem with Eriksen controlling the game, as it lacked both dynamism and aggression. Currently, there is no one in United’s midfield who can increase the pace. Playing in front of Eriksen was McTominay, who brings a lot of energy but lacks precise passing skills. Meanwhile, Bruno Fernandes appeared antsy when in possession.
Ross Barkley was the most energetic midfielder seen at Old Trafford. He effectively moved the ball in the middle of the field, causing problems for the opposing team and creating openings. However, his passing and lack of support from his teammates hindered his performance. It is evident that he does not possess the level of skill needed to make a significant impact against a team aiming for Champions League success. Nonetheless, a player with his abilities would be a valuable addition to the Manchester United team.
Whenever the ball reached Alejandro Garnacho on the left side of the field, Old Trafford erupted with anticipation. The Argentinian is undoubtedly United’s most formidable player and currently their primary offensive force. He skillfully pulled opposing players out of position to create opportunities for his teammates, although they were unable to take advantage. Garnacho demonstrated perseverance as he continued to press forward on the wing, even in the face of challenges from his opponent Issa Kaboré, showcasing his strong mindset.
Last season, Marcus Rashford scored 17 goals in the league, but this year he has not been able to match that performance. In order to make room for Garnacho against Luton, Rashford played on the right wing instead of his usual position on the left. He was not very involved in the game until Ten Hag allowed him to switch to the opposite side. This change seemed to energize him and he quickly became a threat, eventually assisting in the winning goal from a corner kick – showing that United once again relied on set pieces for success.
During his time as coach, Ten Hag has proven to be a capable individual, but he must incorporate some flair into his strategies sooner rather than later in order to fit the standard set by “the United way”.