Tuesday 20 August 2019

Red Devils 'buzzing' under Ole despite sluggish win against unlucky Hornets

Disappointing: Paul Pogba. Photo: Reuters
Disappointing: Paul Pogba. Photo: Reuters

Luke Edwards

If Louis van Gaal's attempt to rewrite history could be ignored as little more than an excuse by an arrogant man unable to accept he had failed as Manchester United manager, there was one element of his diatribe that lingered in the air after Saturday's fortuitous 2-1 victory over Watford at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal said a lot that deserved to be challenged as he reflected on his two-year reign as United manager last week, but the suggestion that football fans in England are more interested in analysing the result than the performance did cause pause for thought.

Honest appraisal: Solskjaer got the win but was unhappy with the performance. Photo: Reuters
Honest appraisal: Solskjaer got the win but was unhappy with the performance. Photo: Reuters

The Dutchman's attempt to repaint his time at United, offering the defence that his team performed better than their points tally suggested, conveniently glossed over the fact the style of the performance was generally the problem. Even when United won, it was difficult to enjoy watching them play, although that does not diminish the relevance of the wider point.

Against Watford, United were poor, dreadful even. They were outplayed for long periods - to such an extent that it resembled all those miserable, dysfunctional days under Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Break

With Paul Pogba jogging and drifting, Nemanja Matic loose and wasteful, Ander Herrera impotent and Anthony Martial at his ambivalent worst, United were as bad as they had been in their FA Cup defeat by Wolves before the international break, if not worse.

In their first game since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became their permanent, rather than interim manager, United reminded everyone why he was given the job in the first place.

It does not mean there should be any alarm bells ringing, or that Solskjaer's appointment was a mistake- of course not - but it will sharpen and refocus minds about the challenges ahead.

United are not as good as they should be. Or, to put it another way, they are not as good as results under Solskjaer suggested.

They have too many talented but inconsistent players and are some way short of being a side good enough to win the Premier League.

At best, they are the fourth-best team in the Premier League and that will never be good enough for a club like Manchester United.

There will be some who argue they are better than that because the best teams win when they are playing badly, but not like this.

Watford created more chances, had more shots, dominated territory and were consistently the more threatening side.

Solskjaer did not attempt to pretend otherwise.

"The feeling in the dressing room after was almost like a funeral," he said. "They (the players) were all sat there. It was very quiet, they were all disappointed in their performance at full-time.

"It's not like jubilation because we won and we got the three points.

"They all know that this was a below-par performance, which is great because you want players to be honest with themselves. We know we can play so much better and they can do better."

United scored a brilliant breakaway goal in the first half, Luke Shaw's curled through-ball to Marcus Rashford breathtaking in its precision, and added a second when Martial bundled home - at the second attempt - Jesse Lingard's cross, but Watford did not deserve this defeat.

They will play a lot worse and win and Javi Gracia knew it. Rarely has a manager sounded so upbeat after a defeat.

"At the moments we have the chances, we have to kill them," he said after Abdoulaye Doucoure's late goal. "But I'm not especially worried. We played well, dominated the game for long periods.

"They won the game and the result is the most important thing, but I'm happy with our personality."

Perhaps the biggest plus for United, though, was the defence. Shaw was superb, so too were Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at centre-back.

"We need to be resilient and I think we showed that," said Jones.

"We've got good character under Ole, fighting for each other. He's done a terrific job. I'm delighted he's here now and we can move forward and progress under him.

"The lads are buzzing, he's been a breath of fresh air for us. He's put the arms around the shoulders of people who needed it. His man-management skills are terrific and he's definitely what we need going forward."

In truth, though, United were always going to need more than just a new manager. It is going to be a fascinating summer. (© Daily Telegraph)

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