“We want to do it in the United way,” Erik ten Hag proclaimed before the start of the season. This concept was supposed to be “aggressive” and “dynamic” but most importantly it would “surprise” supporters.
After twelve matches in the Premier League and a seventh victory by a single goal, the most unexpected aspect is the lack of excitement in the football. Once again, United relied on a goal from Victor Lindelöf to secure a win against Luton – marking the third time this season that a center-back has determined the outcome.
Luton allowed United to have possession of the ball as much as they wanted, recognizing that they lacked the ability to effectively attack a team with five defenders and another four players in front of them. This strategy can often backfire, but United’s 65% possession gave them some control without much excitement. The prestigious reputation of Old Trafford is still enough to make visiting teams play defensively, especially since Ten Hag’s players seem better suited for counterattacks rather than quick, precise passing.
The upcoming international break will provide a much-needed break for everyone to celebrate the team’s victory. This win came as a relief from the pressure, as demonstrated by Scott McTominay’s two late goals leading to a comeback triumph against Brentford at Old Trafford. This was thought to be a pivotal moment in what has been a forgettable season. Similarly, their first Champions League win against Copenhagen, courtesy of Harry Maguire’s header, was expected to be a turning point. However, they have failed to capitalize on that success and now face a challenging task in qualifying for the knockout stages.
Old Trafford has been experiencing a trend of false dawns. The strategy of grinding out results in hopes of gaining a platform and confidence boost has only resulted in consecutive league wins once before this. They now face a tough challenge with a trip to Everton in two weeks, followed by a crucial Champions League match against Galatasaray in Istanbul.
In the match against Luton, Manchester United attempted 15 shots, but only four of them were accurate. Despite facing attempts from Rasmus Højlund and Scott McTominay, who has yet to score in nine Premier League games, goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski made two impressive saves to maintain a close score. However, overall, United played defensively once again.
Højlund spent most of the game on his own, but he managed to control the ball effectively and had the agility to create opportunities when the passes from the wings were suitable for a striker. Despite facing three defenders from Luton, he handled their physical play well as he continued to learn in the Premier League.
Christian Eriksen was positioned at the forefront of United’s defense, acting as the team’s quarterback. He was given space and time to make passes, but they were typically long and aimed towards a stationary forward line. Luton did not consider the Dane’s ability to control the game a problem because it lacked dynamism and aggression. Currently, there is no one in United’s midfield who can increase the pace of play. In front of Eriksen was McTominay, who brings a lot of energy but lacks precise passing skills, while Bruno Fernandes appeared restless with the ball.
The standout performer in the midfield at Old Trafford was Ross Barkley, who effectively controlled the ball in the middle of the field to evade opponents and create opportunities, but his passing and lack of support from his teammates hindered his overall performance. It is evident that the ex-Chelsea player may not be up to par to make an impact against a team with aspirations for the Champions League, however, a player with his abilities would make a valuable addition to the United team.
Whenever Alejandro Garnacho received the ball on the left side of the field, the crowd at Old Trafford became filled with excitement. The player from Argentina is undoubtedly the most threatening member of United’s team and currently serves as their primary source of attack. He cleverly pulled opposing players out of position, creating opportunities for his teammates, although they were unable to take advantage of them. Garnacho persistently continued to push forward on the wing, despite facing a challenging opponent in Issa Kaboré. This determination is a clear reflection of his strong mental fortitude.
Marcus Rashford has not been able to match his performance from the previous season, where he scored 17 goals in the league. In order to make room for Garnacho in the game against Luton, Rashford played on the right wing instead of his preferred position on the left. He was not very involved until Ten Hag allowed him to switch to the other side. This sparked him and he immediately became a threat, eventually setting up the winning goal from a corner, once again saving United through a set piece.
During his time in office, Ten Hag has proven himself to be a capable leader, but he must incorporate some flair into his work or the traditional methods of “the United way” will need to be reconsidered.