Ralf Rangnick’s second game in charge saw some wholesale changes. United were confirmed as Group F toppers after the win against Villareal and this was some much-needed game time for some of the fringe/academy graduates and rest for first-teamers.
Rangnick stuck to the 4-2-2-2 formation. The personnel would’ve caught most fans by alarm. Dean Henderson made his second start this season in all competitions. Nemanja Matic partnered Eric Bailly at centre-back. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were deployed at full-back. Juan Mata and Donny van de Beek made up the double pivot. Amad Diallo and Jesse Lingard were in the double 10 roles with Mason Greenwood leading the line alongside Anthony Elanga.
There was a great vibe before the game, with Robbie Savage’s son Charlie Savage making the bench and then being subbed on in the 89th minute. Zidane Iqbal followed him, going on to become the first player of South Asian descent to represent the Red Devils. Doing it in the Champions League made it an extra special occasion.
Ralf Rangnick has been emphasizing control in his press conferences but that wasn’t the story of these 90 minutes. The impressive first-half showing from the Reds against Crystal Palace might’ve exceeded expectations.
United looked bright going forward, though, with Amad Diallo and Mason Greenwood looking especially impressive. United’s bright start was rewarded with a sensational volleyed goal from Mason Greenwood in the 9th minute after some good work from Nemanja Matic, Anthony Elanga, and Luke Shaw in the build-up.
Juan Mata also showed that he still has a pass in his locker despite looking out of place in this deeper midfield role. United weren’t as compact in this game and showed sporadic signs of their new pressing identity but it was unlikely to ever be cohesive enough with such a line-up.
They were punished for the same by Fabian Rieder in the 42nd minute, who blasted the ball from range after a misplaced pass from Donny van de Beek. The Dutchman had a decent outing but will feel frustrated by that. His pass was intended for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who had a difficult evening and was later stretchered off the pitch following a collision with the advertisement hoarding.
United had a couple of great chances to score another goal with the likes of Mata, Elanga, and Amad coming close but Guillaume Faivre was in inspired form and denied the Reds. United fizzled out once the substitutions came into play. Tom Heaton also made his United debut, 20 years after first joining the club.
Shola Shoretire and Teden Mengi were also subbed on and got some valuable minutes that’ll help them in their development. United are on a decent run at the moment with some renewed enthusiasm and can go into the game at Carrow Road against Norwich with spirits high.