Stanisas had a shot which was blocked and he picked up the loose ball before nutmegging Harry Maguire, the most expensive defender in the history of the game, then somehow squeezing a shot home at the near post to beat David de Gea.
If there were fans inside Old Trafford they would have been stunned as both Maguire and De Gea were left scratching their heads in disbelief. Quite how Stanislas managed to score from this angle is a mind-boggling. It was great skill from the Bournemouth winger but also woeful defensive work from Man United.
The England international said the balls were out immediately. With United’s players having spent so much of their coronavirus pause keeping fitness levels high, there wasn’t a need for a ton of running (though there was some).
Maguire, like anyone, would’ve felt uncertainty in the air as he headed to Carrington, but was put at ease once he stepped through the gates.
“It’s been a strange few months, but it has been a protocol which the club has followed. It seems such a safe environment. It’s our first day back today, but it seems so safe and everyone is respecting it so well, so long may that continue and I’m sure no one will have any problems.”
He spoke more about how odd this all feels, as it will for anyone who is used to working a certain way and has to find a new normal.
“It’s really strange. Obviously it’s different circumstances for us all. It’s been a strange couple of months, so we’re getting used to it, but we’re in a different building at the moment. We’re not in the normal training ground building, so we’re not in our own changing rooms. It’s literally we get to the training ground, we put our boots on, we go out on the field, we get in our cars and we drive home, so it’s more just getting the physical work in. The socializing isn’t really there, so there’s no banter between the lads which I’m sure the lads are missing. But it’s nice to get the boots back on, put the training kit back on and, like you said earlier, get the balls out.”
Maguire finished by imploring fans to stick to the script when it comes to flattening the curve in the coronavirus pandemic.
“Be patient. We’re all itching to get back out on the pitch and we know that when we do get back out on the pitch it’ll be bigger and better than ever. I’m sure, hopefully, we can give you lots of things to celebrate about.”
Below we give each United player a grade, ranking and group them together based on their season(s) so far.
If a Red Devil is listed in this ranking it is because they’ve played in more than five games in all competitions.
Marcus Rashford: My goodness, has he delivered on his promise?! Six times a MOTM, the 22-year-old has 14 goals and four assists and he’s yet to get the chance to feast off Bruno Fernandes playmaking.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka: Has become a consistent force over two full seasons since a sterling 2017-18 cameo for Crystal Palace. The fullback has averaged 3.8 tackles per game and 2.2 interceptions for his career.
Bruno Fernandes: He’s just met the minimum five matches and it’s a terribly small sample size, but the Portuguese has delivered all the goods. Crosses, long balls, and short-smart combination play. Beautiful.
Scott McTominay: What would United’s season look like had this rusty nail of a midfielder not missed a 3W-1D-3L stretch which included 2-0 losses to Arsenal, Liverpool, and Burnley? The club also drew Sheffield United and Aston Villa, allowing five total goals in a week without McTominay in late Fall.
Harry Maguire: Just on the verge of an A, although VAR certainly doubly helped him in the win over Chelsea. The absurd price tag shouldn’t play into his grade, but maybe we’re docking him a bit.
Paul Pogba: The doubts over whether his injury absence is longer than the ailments demanded are a symptom of the sick when it comes to the coverage of Pogba, but the World Cup winner was quite decent over seven matches.
Anthony Martial: Despite Pogba and Rashford missing significant time with injuries and Bruno Fernandes not purchased until January, the 11-goal striker hasn’t gone more than four matches without a goal. He’ll make it work.
Fred Nemanja Matic
David De Gea: Is it difficult to believe that it has been almost two full seasons since the Spaniard completed a season that saw him perform as perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world? De Gea has been quite average this season.
Daniel James: Not bad for a first Premier League season, but the 22-year-old hit a lull around the festive fixtures and didn’t pull out of it until the past couple of matches. Fun fact: All three of his goals came in the first four PL matches, while his six assists came in an 11-match window between Oct. 20 and Dec. 29.
Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams: Don’t mistake the fact that the teenagers are extremely gifted and seemingly no-doubters with performances indicative of their ages (18 and 19). C is fine. The sky is the limit, and Williams has tempted the B range over his most recent appearances.
Luke Shaw Juan Mata Ashley Young
Andrea Pereira: We don’t get it. We just don’t. He’s tied with James for the most big chances created on United, but is one-dimensional. Yes players who take the most risks make the most glaring errors, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is giving the 24-year-old all kinds of patience. Will it pay off?
Jesse Lingard: It’s been nearly two years since he completed an 8-goal, 5-assist PL season that teased the future. The ensuing pair of campaigns haven’t gone well.
Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Diogo Dalot, Odion Ighalo, Marcos Rojo, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Axel Tuannzebe, James Garner
Newly-installed Man United captain Harry Maguire has told our partners at Sky Sports that he wants them to challenge for the title and not be content with a top four finish. That’s admirable, Harry, but is it realistic?
“I think you can see from the start of the season we look a lot more like a team, we can probably see where we want to go, where we want to head. I knew when I first came to Manchester United that Ole said to me loads and loads it’s a building process but we’ll be where we want to be. I can see where we’re heading and the style he wants to implement on the team,” Maguire said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of aspects we need to improve to get to the top of where we want to be. We don’t want to be challenging for this Champions League spot, we want to be challenging for titles. We know there’s still a lot of improvement to get there, but we’re on the right track and I’m sure eventually we will get there.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has tried to keep expectations relatively low since he arrived at Man United in December 2018 but with big money spent on Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and most recently Bruno Fernandes, there’s a sense the Red Devils are getting there.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a long way to go until they catch up with Liverpool and Man City to mount a serious title bid, but the signs have been promising. They are currently unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions, recording nine shutouts during this run and have beaten Chelsea and Man City (twice).
Below we take a look at where Man United still need to strengthen to become title contenders.
Where Man United need to strengthen to become title challengers
—– De Gea —–
— Wan-Bissaka — Maguire — ? — Shaw —
—- ? —- Fred —
—- ? —- Fernandes —- Rashford —-
—– Martial —–
Most of the back four is fine and this be a little harsh to suggest a replacement for Victor Lindelof is needed and a little too kind to keep Luke Shaw in there. Simply put, if United keep Lindelof and Shaw in their back four, they will probably be solid enough. Is that good enough? If you want to challenge for titles you have to have a back four capable of not making a mistake for months on end.
Defensive midfield is United’s biggest problem area. It is quite generous for me to keep Fred in there after a few months of decent displays following his 12 months of mediocrity. That said, Nemanja Matic is edging towards the end of his career, Paul Pogba’s future is uncertain and Scott McTominay is a great 12th man but is he anymore than that? Bringing in a N’Golo Kante type player is what United need to do to knit their midfield and defense together.
On the attacking side of things, not a lot needs to happen. Of course, bringing in Harry Kane up top would be a game-changer but are Tottenham really going to sell him to Man United and will Solskjaer really blow his entire transfer budget on a forward when he already has a handful who can grab close to 20 goals a season each? Probs not. Martial, Rashford will interchange as left wingers and central strikers, while Fernandes is their star playmaker in the No.10 role. The only spot that really needs filling is out on the right. Daniel James has been inconsistent, Jesse Lingard has lost his form and Mason Greenwood prefers to play up top. Bringing in a tricky winger who can cut in from the right would be ideal.
So, Man United are at the very least three players away from having a squad which could mount a serious title bid. A center back, holding midfielder and right winger would be a fine start to closing the gap on the clubs above them. There is a plan and that is promising but they still have a heck of a long way to go.
Man United haven’t won the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson returned in 2013 and the only time they’ve come relatively close since was the 2017-18 campaign when the finished a distant second to runaway leaders Man City.
“It is touch and go because he rolled his ankle and twisted his ankle. But hopefully he will recover quickly,” Solskjaer said. “I wasn’t going to rest him today. I didn’t give him the day off birthday wise. So I hope he will be fit.”
If Maguire isn’t fit to play then that leaves a huge hole in the heart of United’s defense. Victor Lindeelof and Eric Bailly will likely play alongside one another and then it is all about what formation United play.
In some of their bigger recent games against Chelsea and Liverpool they’ve deployed a 3-4-3 formation with Luke Shaw as a left-sided center back and Brandon Williams as a left wing-back to provide some more defensive stability. It is likely they will do that against Man City as they aim to sit back, soak up pressure and hit City on the counter. With City playing two false nines against United in a recent League Cup win, Pep Guardiola has plenty of options to try and bamboozle this United defense.
Maguire has really stepped up his game in the second half of the season following his $90 million arrival from Leicester City in the summer. He had a surprisingly slow start to life at United (we are talking 6/10 stuff, not bad but not great) but since he was handed the captains armband in January his performances have improved and he’s even becoming more dangerous at the other end of the pitch from set piece situations.
Defensively United have improved this season and that has been a big reason why they sit in fifth place in the Premier League table, three points behind Chelsea. They have kept seven clean sheets in their last nine games in all competitions and Maguire’s form has been a big part of that.
Let’s see how United’s backline copes without their main man against Man City.