OCTOBER : INVINCIBLE SCHADENFREUDE
October opened with some off-field issues taking attention away from the action on the pitch. News would leak out that Avram and Joel Glazer would attend the Future Investment Initiative in Saudi Arabia. The two were scheduled to attend the event in Riyadh last year, but the international scrutiny surrounding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi forced the Glazers and many other businesses to pull out. Many assumed their attendance last year would create an opportunity for Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, to make a bid for Manchester United and finally wrestle ownership from the Glazer family. Many news outlets have reported their attendance this year as a renewal of interest by bin Salman and a precursor to the sale of the club.
Is Manchester United headed for Saudi ownership?
Europa League (A) : AZ Alkmaar 0 - Manchester United 1
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s trip to Alkmaar would come at a critical juncture in the season, even a game that looked to be an easy win would represent a difficult challenge with his roster crumbling around him. He dealt with an absolutely brutal rotation in their last Premier League game, a 3-1 win against Norwich, dipping into the U-23 squad and playing guys he never thought he would have to. The only bright side was Antonio Marin scoring his first senior goal and earning a stay on the roster, with Tahith Chong and Daniel James out with injuries he gets a battlefield promotion to the second choice LW. He nearly played in this game with Anthony Martial suffering from food poisoning, but Martial made it back in time to start.
Arne Slot apparently went into this game just trying not to get blown out, and he managed to pull it off for most of the first half. United enjoyed a rather substantial percentage of possession and took (15) shots to keep Marco Bizot busy. Martial, who would unfortunately be caught vomiting on the sidelines during warm up, would break the game open at 32’ after stealing the ball off a passive Ron Vlaar. Bizot was literally looking the other way, much like Vlaar, and didn’t know what was going on until the ball was in the back of the goal. United would enter the half only allowing a single shot by AZ Alkmaar, but despite that it was only 1-0.
The second half was similar to the first, but this time AZ Alkmaar avoided fatal defensive mistakes and kept the game tight despite a rain of shots. Slot would be lucky to walk away from this one with a 1-0 loss, AZ Alkmaar would still be alive in the group and things could have very easily been much worse. Solskjaer was happy with the win, points are points and Liverpool is coming up next.
Premier League (H) : Manchester United 3 - Liverpool 0
The last time Solskjaer faced Liverpool they played to a 0-0 draw, and then Jürgen Klopp went on to win the Champions League and headed into this season as heavy favorites to win the league. United have an uphill climb, and coming into this game fans might have taken a 0-0 result if it wasn’t for the fact that Liverpool has had a horrible start to the season. Currently sitting 11th, and at Old Trafford, it seemed like United had an opening for a signature win.
“We hate them” laughed Solskjaer, with a wide grin “this is a big game no matter where we are in the standings, it always matters.”
It wasn’t apparent until much later in the game, but Solskjaer would make some tactical tweaks to try and limit the damage. No matter where Liverpool sit in the standings they would be exceedingly dangerous with some of the best players in the league if not the world. A balanced approach, as opposed to the attacking mentality used so far, and playing Mohamed Salah onto his weaker foot would be key to limiting their attack.
Perhaps it was the Stretford End, or perhaps it was Salah practically vanishing, Liverpool just never got going and things really started to fall apart after Marcus Rashford scored a great goal at 28’. Jesse Lingard threaded the needle with an amazing pass to Rashford right in a crowd of defenders and he managed to get his foot on it and deflect it past the diving Alisson for a 1-0 lead. Rashford made it two at 47’ and despite being up 2-0 against a hated rival, things really started going south for the long term. First Aaron Wan-Bissaka suffered a slight injury and come off for Ashley Young, and then things got really dark as Luke Shaw clattered into Adam Lallana and didn’t get up. Shaw had to be stretchered off, a damaged spine would keep him out 2-3 months and give Solskjaer serious heartburn.
Playing with backup backs didn’t seem to matter and United continued to roll right over Liverpool, more specifically Rashford continued to make Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip look bad on his way to a 9.3 and PoM honors. He would miss a chance for a hat trick late in the game, but Bruno Fernandes stepped in at 83’ to make it 3-0 for good. Nobody saw this coming, especially the media, and Klopp was more than upset for the majority of the game.
Rashford had a huge game when it mattered.
Europa League (H) : Manchester United 2 - BATE Borisov 0
The high of beating Liverpool 3-0 carried right through the next game, a 1-0 win over Brighton Hove & Albion that featured a patchwork of U-23 players and yet another injury. Losing Ethan Laird, for 3 weeks, to a pulled thigh put Solskjaer in a serious bind for BATE Borisov. With the group shaping up in United’s favor the second choice squad would play to the first team could be fresh for Newcastle and a Carabao Cup game against Nottingham Forest in a few days.
Solskjaer would be blessed with the return of Daniel James and Diogo Dalot, avoiding U-23 players would be a huge relief at this point in the season and Dalot has been pushing Wan-Bissake for first team starts. Even with the second choice squad, BATE Borisov didn’t really have a chance today. From the start of the game United’s high press was killing them at the back, time and time again United would regain possession in their third or force a wild pass from a defender receiving the ball from Sergey Chernik in goal. Chernik was very busy, seeing United get off a whopping (32) shots with (14) making him work. On the other end David De Gea could have taken a nap, BATE Borisov only managed a single shot in the first half and it sailed into the stands.
Mason Greenwood and Andreas Periera, the PoM, would score early and very late to put this game away. The primary gripe would be that a team in so much control should have put it in more than twice, but Solsjkaer isn’t going to complain about winning. Greenwood would come off late with an ankle bruise, but it would only cost him a few days of rest.