Same Ole Same Ole

Scott McTominay, David De Gea and Bruno Fernandes after Manchester United’s 1-1 draw to Crystal Palace. Photo:Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

At Selhurst Park this Wednesday, Manchester United proved that they still are not ready to win titles and trophies.

All too much in the recent past, United have shown a soft underbelly, an inability to respond to pressure when it comes to meeting raised expectations after a good run.

That was once again the case on Wednesday. On a good, winning run of form, on a high after beating Manchester City, United could not get it done against Crystal Palace.

Against City, the pressure was minimal. Everyone knows that City are an extremely good side- a side that whipped United 6-3 in the reverse fixture at the Etihad. United really just needed to save face in this fixture. A respectable loss, with fight and effort would have been the bare minimum- despite all the rhetoric of ‘setting out to win every game’. It’s City. Once United avoided an embarrassing result, that would have been acceptable.

But they won. A very resilient and organized performance and a clinical 4 minutes or so ensured that. This meant a combination of factors which increased the expectation and pressure for the Palace game:

-United on a winning run (while playing good football)

-Just beat the champions City (and don’t have to play them again in the league this season)

-One point behind 2nd place City, possibly going ahead of them midweek depending on results.

-Win against Palace and they cut the gap between themselves and Arsenal to 6 points before they meet at the Emirates.

-Consequently win against Arsenal and they move to within 3 points of 1st place

-If Fred and/or Casemiro play against Palace and either or both of them receive a yellow card, they will miss the game against Arsenal- a loss to United’s midfield.

And as has been customary in recent times, they blew it. All the talk and anticipation was too much for a team with some mentally weak and fragile players who never fail to disappoint when expectation knocks. And that fragility has in the past, and may again, be affecting the rest of the team.

A lot of these United players are accustomed to losing. They lose finals, they lose semifinals, they lose out on top 4. They have never (or seldom) won. They do just enough in the league to ensure that, overall, the season is respectable for them personally, regardless of the team’s position and performance.

And these players are the ones who are still here after enduring the majority of Mourinho’s and/or Solskjaer’s tenure. So, for me, the list is obvious but I focus on two individuals in particular- Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford.

Bruno is a phenomenal player- but is terribly inconsistent in possession. He makes perhaps equally the same number of bad decisions and good decisions on the ball. And any team will struggle greatly to win anything major with a player like that as the soul of your team. Great passion and energy, but prone to lapses of concentration or over- exuberance. Always vocal, but can’t reign it in sometimes. Can’t control or see out a game effectively with his passing or ball retention- he simply isn’t that kind of player. You always get the sense with Bruno that he plays in moments which often outshine the downside of his game. But that lack of consistency from a midfielder is massively detrimental to the rest of the team on difficult days.

All of these traits were on display at Palace. If you want to isolate two key moments out of the many, his run and finish for his goal- and his ridiculous loss of the ball that led to the Palace free kick goal.

Rashford was a baby when he won trophies with United. He was not then a pillar of the team as he is now and a lot of other players did the heavy lifting for him in terms of setting an example, being consistent, in-game thinking and awareness. Because he has grown up in a United team that has been the poorest in decades- he lacks so many of the aforementioned qualities that are pivotal to a TEAM, rather than just goals and assists.

The guy was absolutely forcing the game against Palace. He was double teamed on many occasions and always attracted the attention of more than one defender. He had the ball, yet he seldom passed it in and around the box. His foolish immaturity was still on full display for everyone to see- he wanted to keep his scoring record going. At almost any cost he wanted to take on defenders and burst his way through to make sure he scored- so that he could continue his scoring run. To hell with his other teammates- he had to be the guy. Ridiculous.

He lost sight of what brought him that string of goals in the first place- playing the team game. Not forcing it when it simply wasn’t on. By the second time in that first half when he got double teamed and failed to get past the defenders, he should have told himself to look for the passes to his teammates in and around him. Why? Because if he is attracting two defenders, then there is space elsewhere to be exploited by a teammate.

Look at United’s goal- the two Palace defenders closest to him are both watching him, despite Eriksen being right in the vicinity. He attracts this attention, realizes Eriksen is in space for a good run and lays the ball into his path. This eventually resulted in a goal. Someone with better football IQ might tell himself; ‘Today may not be my day, but we’ve just scored by me attracting the attention of their defenders which allowed me to pass to my teammate in a better position. Perhaps I should do that more consistently’.

But he does not. I’m not saying he had to pass the ball every time, but for goodness’ sake he did the opposite. The lad refused to play anyone in or to even try that in the 2nd half if he was facing the Palace goal. Attribute it to whatever you want, but as soon as Place equalized, he immediately began passing off the ball and looking for runners, realizing suddenly that maybe that was a good idea, because he was blowing it.

It is infuriating. He was selfish and greedy and is clearly playing for a new contract. In fact, his entire run of good form this season can be attributed to him playing for a new contract at United. That is, sadly something we’ve seen so often in the recent past. And it is a situation he has been surrounded by his entire life so he probably feels it is normal. Several players, in this current or a recent United squad, can be accused of that, so it’s not hard to see where the tendency comes from for Rashford.

His best mate Lingard- same situation. Martial, Lindelof, Bailly, Jones, Smalling, both Shaw and De Gea (in the past AND currently), Pereira, McTominay. All of these had significant rises or bursts in form during seasons where they were in negotiations for a new contract.

Mark my words- as soon as Rashford gets his nice, new, bumper contract, this run in form will die down. As it has done with all the others.

Ten Hag will be perhaps the best coach in the world if he can still keep Bruno and Rashford in the starting eleven and make United into title winners again. Because he has quickly begun to weed out the rest of the bottle jobs like Maguire, Lindelof, McTominay and slowly, but surely, Martial.

Another sign of failure is the disappointment on everyone’s face when Casemiro got booked at Palace. Ten Hag was quick in his presser to point out that when United beat Arsenal earlier in the season, there was no Casemiro. That should have been the attitude of all. It shouldn’t have affected anyone in the squad. But it did. From that moment on in the game, United had already lost in terms of mentality. You felt the big dip in attitude, which probably contributed to the result at Palace and almost as sure as night follows day, Arsenal have already won that game on Sunday.

And, to prove the point, who was the first player over to moan and complain and look defeated when Casemiro got booked? Captain Bruno Fernandes. Weak, fearful and overly emotional. Indicative of a team that wants to ride the back of a few individuals to success and not reach up and grab it for themselves when it really counts. Bruno should have been moaning at Rashford for being greedy for the majority of the game, but was he? Of course not- because Rashford is on form and he was overly relying on him to get them to a winning position- as was the rest of team. That is why nobody else had the gall to have a word with Rashford despite his ridiculous performance. That of course, probably fed Rashford to continue doing what he was doing, because nobody- in game- let him know to stop playing the fool. A cycle of mediocrity in mindset by all involved.

My biggest worry is that this has already dripped down into the rest of the team, new boys and youth players included, which is a recipe for disaster in future if Ten Hag is not careful.

United need this new investment through new, powerful owners ASAP. Ten Hag needs his own team with his own players to avoid the poison of the past continuing to affect the future.

Ten Hag needs to get this team into the Champions League through finishing in the top 4. A trophy would be nice, but, as the Palace game has shown me, these players still aren’t ready yet to be front runners or to deal with pressure.

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