How Manchester United fans wish their team would always play this way.
Arsenal rolled into Old Trafford boasting a 19-game unbeaten run on Wednesday night, a team in much ruder health compared to their hosts. United had drawn two straight league games at the beginning of a run of fixtures that manager Jose Mourinho said was the beginning of the team’s climb back into the top four.
Well, Wednesday’s 2-2 draw saw Arsenal stretch their run to 20, and United fell to eighth, still eight points outside the top four. But anyone at the stadium would have left thinking, more of the same, please.
Not so much David de Gea’s error, palming a saveable header into his own net, or Marcos Rojo giving the ball away cheaply and then deflecting it for an own goal.
But the spirit, the attacking mentality – if not always the quality – the sight of players like Ander Herrera celebrating United’s first equaliser like a madman, or Marcus Rashford running himself into the ground trying to track back, maintain United’s pressing game – another thing fans would love to see more of – and be an attacking influence all at once.
This was a United team that the fans at Old Trafford, and everywhere across the world, enjoyed watching. There was praise for Eric Bailly, who matched Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stride for stride in a couple of sprints – no mean feat – and kept the league’s top scorer off the scoresheet.
I have no idea why Ander Herrera doesn't start more games for us. pic.twitter.com/ap6vI4K7ZO— ¹⁰⚡ (@Rashford101) December 6, 2018
There was even appreciation for Rojo, who, one goal-conceding blunder aside, made United’s back three look much more solid, and looked like a player giving his all for the cause. The Argentine will always have that sort of howler in him, which detracts from his overall game, where he can be a fairly solid defender.
But effort like his, and that of young right-back Diogo Dalot on his full debut, and Luke Shaw, who has quickly become a fan favourite – and a Mourinho favourite, in a drastic turn of events – will always keep the fans engaged.
They do, of course, have to play quality football, and ideally quality attacking football.
But what United fans want most – what any fans want most – is the sense that their players are fighting for a cause, that wearing the shirts that those fans have grown up revering, and pay a lot of money to wear themselves, means something to the players.
Rashford, Jesse Lingard, even Anthony Martial, who can cut a surly figure sometimes but has stepped up his game and his commitment of late, have the makings of a hard-working, speedy, and potentially lethal front three. Herrera is a player who will always put maximum effort and passion.
🗣️ "Gary Neville must be thinking Manchester United have a right back for ten years."— Man United News (@ManUtdMEN) December 6, 2018
Jose Mourinho was full of praise for Diogo Dalot after the draw with Arsenal. @GNev2 #mufc pic.twitter.com/rHE6sluHSv
Bailly, Shaw, Rojo, Dalot, and Chris Smalling played with the intensity that a Mourinho defence needs. Hopefully, an improvement in form and quality will follow.
Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for players like Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, who fulfill opposite sides of the spectrum. Pogba is capable of brilliance but his effort comes and goes, while Lukaku has been out of form practically all season but has gone on the record saying he would “run through a wall” for Mourinho.
Perhaps the manager should be looking at ways to combine them into one player, so that he could always play a Pogba with Lukaku’s effort. If United can consistently find that balance themselves, this season may not end up being so glum after all – though they remain eight points off the top four, and 18 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
But Jose Mourinho was looking for “mad dogs” to ignite this team. On Wednesday, he found them.
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