Manchester United’s quarterfinal match against Norwich City reinforced some things that we already know.
The drop off between United’s A team and B team is significant. Bruno Fernandes can only be so good when it’s Scott McTominay and Fred who are in charge of getting him the ball, and when he’s trying to set up the likes of Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard. Diogo Dalot is pretty bad.
United slogged through a poor game where everyone looked rusty, even though many of these players were playing at least their second game in a week.
They finally managed to get a 1-0 lead because even their B players are better than Norwich City – though not by much – but it was nullified by a Todd Cantwell (transfer target!!!) equalizer.
Given the plan was probably to rest of the first teamers, United ended up having to play Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, and Nemanja Matic for 45 minutes to an hour, though I don’t think that’s a necessarily a bad thing.
There was one thing that came out of this match that was very good, and certainly something United could build on.
They scored a late winner.
Not just that they scored a late winner, but they reacted positively to something going wrong.
At the end of last week I wrote about how United’s biggest problem this year isn’t scoring against teams that sit deep, it’s overcoming adversity. To sum it up, United have conceded the first goal 13 times this season. They’ve only won one of those games. They’ve clawed back a draw five times. They’ve only won eight points from losing positions this year – and in most of those games that losing position was only a goal down.
That piece only focused on when United fell behind. But what’s happened this year when United have been ahead but conceded an equalizer?
This chart looks at every game this season (less Astana away for obvious reasons) where the match has been tied at any point other than 0-0.
Remarkably, it’s much of the same. United have been on level terms with both teams scoring 16 times this season. They’ve only won five of them (one of them on penalties, so they didn’t win, they merely advanced).
Dig a little deeper and it looks a bit more grim. The Chelsea game was swung on a stunning free kick. Tottenham they pulled ahead with a penalty. Only Newcastle and Norwich did their winners come from open play.
When adversity strikes, or things don’t go to plan, United really don’t fare well.
As I mentioned last week this is a mentality issue. United have the youngest team in the Premier League. Lacking experience makes it harder to turn things around. Too often the players drop their heads when things don’t go their way.
It puts a lot of responsibility on the veteran players to lead the way here and, Saturday against Norwich was a positive sign in that regard.
The goal came when Paul Pogba played a clever ball into the box. It bounced around and Harry Maguire was there to smash it home.
It wasn’t pretty, but that’s what you need to look for when you’re fighting for late goals.
United have been missing this for most of the season. They’ve only scored an equalizer after the 70th minute four times this year. It’s not a coincidence that Paul Pogba was heavily involved in two of those and he’s been missing for 90% of the year.
It’s also not a coincidence that United have scored late equalizers/winners in two of their three games since the restart – the two games Pogba hasn’t started.
The goal against Norwich is important, because this issue is a mental thing. You can tell people over and over again “just be ready, the chance will come,” but until they see it, until they do it themselves – you’re never going to fully believe it.
The more late goals you score the more that belief grows within you. “We’re going to get our chance and we have to take it. I know this because it’s happened before and it’s going to happen again.”
This goal against Norwich stepping stone there. It’s not problem solved, but it’s a lesson. Your chance will come, you need to take it. Now the only question is was this an aberration or will United build on this?