United have a loose philosophy and style of play, based largely on their electric front five. But they entrust too much to good feelings and blind faith
To lose one semi-final might be considered unfortunate. To lose two a coincidence. But in United’s third unsuccessful attempt to grease their season with silverware could be identified a clear pattern running through the club. It is not a problem that can be solved by signing Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish. Rather, it is something more systemic and deep-rooted, a malaise that took years to set in and may well take years to cure.
It is the lack of anything remotely resembling a process, a plan, a blueprint: something that sustains you through the tough parts, that gets you over setbacks. Here, against the wily Sevilla, it manifested itself most clearly in the lack of composure, an inability to concentrate for the full 90 minutes, on the inability to find solutions on the pitch, on Solskjær’s unshakeable faith in his starting XI, to the point that he resisted a substitution until the 87th minute, despite his side’s increasing fatigue.
Marcus Rashford had a poor game after winning an early penalty. Bruno Fernandes faded from view after converting it. The full-backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams looked increasingly adrift as the game went on. And perhaps tellingly, it was a loss of possession high up the pitch by an exhausted Mason Greenwood that led to the move from which Sevilla scored their winning goal: the final act of a team that, in more ways than one, had run itself into the ground.
Of course, United have a loose philosophy and style of play, based largely on their electric front five with its multiple options for cutting you to pieces. But insofar as they possess a strategy, it seems to consist largely of letting their gifted individuals do their thing, and entrusting the rest to timing and self-expression, good feelings and blind faith. Here again, as in their other losing semi-finals, against Chelsea in the FA Cup and Manchester City in the League Cup, Solskjær and United discovered that momentum is not a tactic.
The temptation will naturally be to curse their luck, to lament the string of missed chances that might have put them out of sight at the start of the second half, to praise the Sevilla keeper Yassine Bounou and file this away as a simple failure of shooting. Yet for United the alarming part of this game was not the failure to take advantage of their dominance but the ease with which they surrendered it after about the 55th minute: running out of legs and running out of ideas. Continue reading