Ashley Young was one of the last traditional English wingers. Much like Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, Young boasted an abundance of pace and loved to run fearlessly at opposition defences. Back in the mid noughties, when he broke through at Watford, managers were still clinging to formations that relied on fast wide players to whip crosses into a target-man. While inverted wingers and overlapping full-backs gradually became the prevailing mode of providing width, Young was once in his element.
Despite being a gargantuan 15 points behind likely champions Manchester City, José Mourinho’s team has been on an upward trajectory this season. The Reds are among the top scoring sides in the league, while also ranking near the top for total clean sheets. Mourinho’s men face an abundance of criticism and scrutiny, but it would be foolish to ignore the positives despite City’s lead. Yet, there are opportunities for improvement in each third of the pitch over the second half of the campaign.
After an extended festive break Ed & Paul have five games to review, including a disappointing run of results in both league and cup before the turn of the year. That changed with United’s victory over Everton at Goodison Park and an FA Cup win against Derby County.
Jesse Lingard is an enigma. He is neither neatly pigeon-holed as a creative fulcrum, nor a traditional winger. The Warrington-born midfielder is neither quick nor slow, shows inconsistent flashes of technical brilliance, and his only truly reliable quality is to put in the proverbial shirt. Throughout his Manchester United career, whether in the academy or with the seniors, Lingard has never been the outstanding player on the pitch. He is one of many cogs in a whirring machine.
“It is as bad as a defeat,” admitted José Mourinho after Leicester City scored a last-minute equaliser at the King Power Stadium on Saturday night. Manchester United created the best chances and spent 20 minutes with a man advantage, yet left the East Midlands feeling despondent. Two disastrous results inside three days will do that. As for José: he threw his players under the bus. Twice.
Nothing in life is guaranteed. When Luke Shaw signed for Manchester United in summer 2014, by the newly appointed manager Louis Van Gaal, the club assumed it had purchased the best money could buy. The deal followed Shaw’s surprise inclusion in the England World Cup squad in preference to Ashley Cole, one of country’s finest left-back’s in the English game. Shaw’s 57 appearances for Southampton, some under Mauricio Pochettino, demonstrated enough potential to persuade United to spend £27 million on the left-back, making the 19-year-old the most expensive teenager in world football. It hasn’t worked out as hoped.
There have been three occasions on which Manchester City has visited Old Trafford with the clubs occupying the top two spots in the Premier League. Yet, the latest instalment has an entirely different narrative to it than those that proceeded.