Manchester United won another game of football, on Saturday at Old Trafford by a scoreline which is all too familiar now – after witnessing it for the sixth time in all competitions in eleven competitive games of the season so far.
Jose Mourinho’s side started the game on the front foot like they have, on a fair few occasions this season, scoring inside three minutes of the first half (Remember the 4th minute opener against Everton? I do too.), thanks to a vine-worthy turn from Marcus Rashford spinning Joel Ward out of his way, to put Juan Mata through in front of goal without the goalkeeper to guard it. One nil United and they never looked back.
There were so many patterns to this game that ultimately ended in a scoreline which has become very much part of the routine. But none more so than one Ashley Young whipping the ball with the inside of his right foot out to the far post, eyes closed and head down, only to find the marauding Marouane guide it ever so carefully into the net.
It was a throwback to their heyday. Fellaini getting goals from midfield threatening to hit double figures, with a spring in his step that outstrips everyone else’s.
A younger Ashley Young in his Aston Villa days, when he was so good that Martin O’Neill even opined that the ex-Villa wide player was ‘on par’ with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. He may have to reconsider that statement. But all said and done, Ashley Young, at 32, plying his trade in a position that is alien to him in the fastest league in the world, has managed to not only keep his place ahead of actual full-backs in the squad but he’s running away with it at a canter, turning in match-winning performances on a consistent basis.
So far, Young has made 5 appearances (4 starts), captained United in the Champions League, with two assists to his name already in all competitions. It was important that United needed good crossers of the ball, given the aerial threat they now possess in front of goal – bolstered by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and even Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling in set pieces, and Ashley Young is proving just why sometimes, it is wise to keep it simple and stick to the basics.
Since joining Manchester United, 36% of Marouane Fellaini’s goals in the Premier League have been assisted by Ashley Young crosses. Talk about usefulness.
Manchester United don’t play with inverted full-backs nor do they over-complicate it in front of goal attempting to pass it into the net after making sure every member of the team has touched the ball – including the goalkeeper, without interruptions. That is not to say it is pointless to go down that road, but that was not Manchester United, even when they were winning the league almost every year.
More often than not, Mourinho and United, stick to the fundamentals – keep the width and stretch defences, put balls into the box and the goals will come – and they have. United have already scored 21 goals this season and to put it in perspective they had only managed 54 last season and a measly 49 the season before that. But what United have got now in front of goal that they did not in the last few years is breathtaking pace on the break and bags of it – in fact the much favoured front three of Lukaku, Rashford and Martial now have 32 goals and assists between them and it’s only October.
Manchester United look a happier side, and they should be, given the results they have been getting in England and Europe – looking like a Manchester United team of the past – off the cuff and exciting rather than pedestrian and methodical version of the best part of last four years. And Ashley Young’s resurgence under Jose, is playing a vital role, in transporting us all back – to a time when football was plain and simple, and more importantly jolly good fun to watch.
Data via Whoscored, unless otherwise stated.