Facing a side that have already been relegated with a -54 goal difference after thirty six games, Manchester United should have been brimming with confidence and intensity for their fixture at the John Smith Stadium.Not only that, but Scott McTominay’s speculative 8th minute shot which Jonas Lössl allowed to slip through his legs to give United the lead should have liberated United and set them on their way to an easy win against a side that have lost twelve of their last thirteen games.
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. There were positives, sure. United played on the front foot for much of the first half and played large chunks in Huddersfield’s half. Paul Pogba turned in a respectable performance and managed to hit the woodwork on two occasions. On another day, United might have scored more goals had they made their early dominance count.
Both Pogba and Alexis Sanchez looked hungry and lively in the early passages but the final piece of the puzzle always seemed to be lacking. Marcus Rashford had a dire afternoon and always seemed a half yard behind where he needed to be to make his chances count.
Manchester United were set up with Rashford at the tip of a diamond formation, playing ahead of Juan Mata and Sanchez. On Sky Sports commentary duty, Gary Neville suggested that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to formulate an attacking strategy for next season in order to finalise his summer transfer targets, having played every combination of tactical setup so far this season.
While much of United’s attacking impetus early on came from the left hand side, through Luke Shaw and Sanchez, it was frenetic in the worst possible sense. It was rushed, impatient and every ball seemed an attempt to jab it into the direction of a teammate as quickly as possible rather than taking their time and waiting for appropriate moment.
There was an abject lack of composure and ability to slowly build attacks in the manner that Manchester City have become so clinical. Perhaps it was a lack of harmony, a lack of confidence and an excess of individuality; but United’s periods of dominance in the game on Sunday were more a reflection of financial strength than cohesive team building.
It was this failure to capitalise on their early dominance that allowed Huddersfield to relax and grow into the game. For all Luke Shaw’s attacking prowess, Huddersfield took advantage in the first half of the space in behind Shaw which dragged Phil Jones out of central defence. At a time when Jones is surely playing for his Manchester United career, he had one of his worst ever United performances, on this occasion turning in another highlight reel of facial grimaces, misplaced passes and poorly timed tackles.
The arrival of Tahith Chong and Ander Herrera for Sanchez and Matic on the 53rd minute appeared to add fire to United’s attack but it was short lived.
Following a United corner, Luke Shaw mistimed his attempted clearance of Lössl’s goalkick, allowing Isaac Mbenza clean through to score Huddersfield’s twenty-first goal of the season in the 59th minute. It wasn’t a surprise and despite being already relegated, Huddersfield matched United for intensity and attacking play, ultimately deserving a share of the points. That same lack of harmony afflicted Manchester United following Huddersfield’s equaliser and they rarely looked like scoring.
The arrival of Chong in the second half was one of the few bright points of the game. Chong looked hungry and willing to chase every ball. It will give reason for optimism to Manchester United supporters. Not only in terms that there is a young promising player at United but that there is now a manager at the club willing to take a chance and play him. Because perhaps that’s what Manchester United need. Moreso than mercenaries who are reluctant to take control of a situation; such as Nemanja Matic who on many occasions today who seemed happier to shield an opponent than offer a viable passing option to his teammates, Manchester United now need people who are willing to work together and strive for the team.
In the final game of the season – an irrelevant game in the chase for fourth place – it would be an opportune time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to give game time to the likes of Tahith Chong and other young players with promise; players eager to play for United with passion and intensity, rather than the mercenaries unwilling to put in an honest shift for one of the greatest teams in world football.