There was an eerie quality to the BT Sport analysis of Manchester United’s exit from the Champions League. At times the post-match segment was like watching a highly skilled Victorian parlour game as Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand accepted the challenge of describing the ineptitude of United’s start against RB Leipzig, the turgid team selection, the unchecked early gains of Julian Nagelsmann’s swift diagonal attacks – all the while managing not to mention the name of United’s manager.
Scholes in particular is a true friend in this regard. Ole Gunnar Solskjær could presumably stand on his studio desk shooting him in the neck repeatedly with a pellet gun, and Scholes would shrug and say, well, it’s undoubtedly some kind of pellet gun situation. Or, what I need here is a long-term not-being-shot identity, that’s the real issue.
And why not? Piling in on a manager is often a pointless exercise. This is a club with long-standing systemic problems. United are five points off the top of the Premier League. But the failure to analyse Solskjær’s role in United’s 3-2 defeat was a genuine omission.
This was a night where the most interesting single point of difference was Nagelsmann’s tactical supremacy in the opening 20 minutes. This period decided the match. It also flagged up the lack of clarity, of real champion-manager drive that separates Solskjær in this company, the moment United’s nice guy met a genuine cutting edge.
For 20 minutes at the start Leipzig ran straight through United. Nagelsmann’s team pressed and found no resistance, no stitching, no plan in response. Hindsight makes everything easier. But it was always coming from the moment the team sheets dropped. This was a United XI made to sit deep and play on the break – in the most literal fashion, with a back and a front and not much in between.
Faced with seven defensive outfield players, Leipzig lined up without an orthodox striker, leaving United overmanned in defence and outgunned in midfield. The double-pivot of Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay was primed for trench warfare, a Maginot line in front of the back three. Unfortunately Nagelsmann found a route through the Ardennes almost immediately, and his team just kept on pouring through.
With two minutes gone United’s full-backs had already been drawn into an outnumbered midfield. Angeliño was able to stroll through acres of empty farmland on the left flank and plant a fine left-foot volley low and hard into the corner. Continue reading