I imagine if European competition existed in 336 A.D., the Byzantines — still caught up in their opulence and conquests during their years as part of the greater Roman Empire — would also draw to an Eredivisie side on a Thursday night.
Mid-table Premier League team and plucky underdogs, Manchester United, whiteknuckled it on defense to thwart the Eredivisie’s third best side, AZ Alkmaar, to a 0-0 draw in The Hague. It was appropriate that the match should take place in the same city as the United Nations’ International Court of Justice because everyone involved with the Manchester United midfield should be brought up on charges of fraud and cruel and unusual punishment.
Without further adieu, here are three things that we were forced to learn during United’s latest clown show.
Continue to trot out De Gea in the cup competitions if you’re going to start an entirely new backline
The only regular defensive starter to feature against AZ Alkmaar was the recently suspect Victor Lindelöf whilst Marcos Rojo and Diego Dalot appeared and Brandon Williams made his first career start for United. While it was exciting to see Williams make his first start and Dalot return to the squad as injuries and poor team-building plagues the fullback position for United, the excitement quickly faded as we watched the AZ forward line find space all across the United defense.
Saving the early defensive deficiencies was the surprising decision to play David De Gea. The Spaniard has not been a constant in United’s cup competitions; famously he sat on the bench in favor of Sergio Romero in the Europa League Final with a Champion’s League spot in the balance. However, De Gea found himself between the posts instead of Romero and against Romero’s former club no less. De Gea was conscripted into service early thanks to the struggling backline and the evening’s captain made a diving save to keep the game level at 0-0. DDG would come up big with saves in the second half as well to save a point for United in the Netherlands.
The midfield trio of Fred, Nemanja Matić and Juan Mata should never again see the light of day
AZ Alkmaar was more than comfortable playing triangles in the middle of the park thanks to the combo of Fred, Matić and Mata. The lack of pace and athleticism in the midfield allowed AZ to build up through the middle while United were stuck having to play exclusively on the wings without much of anything through the center thanks to its midfielders’ impotence. Matic looked stiff while Fred couldn’t make accurate forward passed which, in turn, hurt Mata’s ability to try and create at the top.
Clearly, the trio was not ideal and was purely a necessity after United just played against Arsenal on Monday, but the team would’ve benefitted greatly from having the likes of Scott McTominay who could at least make a forward run instead of standing like a Serbian statue and making lateral passes.
Thanks to his shockingly new levels of poor passing, Fred should be legally compelled to payback everyone who had to watch this match on pay-per-view. Furthermore, he can thank his lucky stars that VAR is not in the Europa League after his foul in the box on a corner kick that would surely have awarded a penalty to AZ Alkmaar. I don’t know how much Fred makes in wages per week, but I’m supremely confident that United will be on the hook for a portion of it when Fred eventually moves to the Serie A.
United’s entire U-23 team will play a Premier League match before January
Those in charge of the United roster will get their wish from the summer. They will get to play the youth. But not on their terms.
United have played six matches since Sept. 14 and will play a seventh match in less than a month on Oct. 6 against Newcastle United. The state of squalor that the squad’s depth was left in was immediately concerning during the closing weeks of the summer transfer window. Yet, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was marched up to the podium and forced to claim that he was satisfied with the moves made by the club’s leadership.
So, of course, as United played one of the fugliest lineups in recent memory out of necessity and not choice, they watched Jesse Lingard pull up after a run, and the midfielder held his hamstring as he walked off the pitch; United would finish the match with 10 men.
Lingard joins the list of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, and Eric Bailly who will surely be out for Sunday’s match against Newcastle. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Daniel James have all missed time this season and very likely will not make it to the winter window unscathed.
The games are coming thick and fast as United plays in three competitions with midweek fixtures and this team will continue to breakdown as it’s forced to compensate more and more for the sins of failed squad building. Only the soccer gods know what will truly become of this team if the likes of a McTominay has to miss time.
This squad needed refreshing months ago, it still needs refreshing, and it probably won’t get all the reinforcements it needs in January to avoid a possible relegation battle. There are no silver linings to be found in Carrington right now.