Jack Grealish could not have had a better audition, if that is what it was and proves to be.
He made Aston Villa tick and Manchester United scared – their only response to his guile was to kick him at every opportunity.
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Grealish fits the profile that the Old Trafford recruitment gurus are keen on. Young, British, and with an ability to affect a game. John McGinn’s energy and industry will not have been lost on them either.
Both players benefited from a confidence and belief on the pitch that, again, drained out of the likes of Andreas Pereira and Fred. Grealish has been involved in more goals than any other British midfielder this season in the top flight and is the most-fouled player too, but the quality of his finish and footwork will have won some admirers from the Stretford End.
Jose beckons again – but is he to blame?
After speaking to Manchester United fans at Old Trafford following the Villa game there seems to be a common belief that there is just not enough quality in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad. It would seem that supporters are burdened with the same resignation that David de Gea had when I spoke to him last week.
Suddenly, this week looks like a pivotal one after two draws against promoted sides which saw United ship five goals. Sheffield United and Aston Villa both had sets of players who knew their roles and stuck to them, the identity of those sides was evident and yet it is still not apparent what United’s method is.
Call it poetic justice, karma, or anything you like, but there is almost an acceptance among the United faithful that Jose Mourinho will not lose upon his return on Wednesday as the hosts’ central midfield options may be swamped by a Tottenham side chasing a fourth win in a row under the Portuguese.
Scott McTominay would certainly make a difference in the centre of the park and Paul Pogba would improve the quality too but, in the meantime, Solskjaer is persisting with Pereira in the engine room; his best moment against Villa a pinpoint ball to Marcus Rashford which demonstrated both his talents and his flaws as the side’s midfield enforcer.
The sobering reality is that the performance against Dean Smith’s side had a week’s worth of intense preparation behind it. While United’s next generation shivered in Kazakhstan on Europa League duty senior players remained at Carrington ahead of Villa’s visit. The response to that week of hard work on the training pitch was flawed until the team rallied after their manager’s half-time words.
And so Jose beckons again, but how culpable is he for the current situation at Manchester United?
If fans are telling me the players are not good enough, how much blame does he deserve for pinpointing some of them as targets and then spending mighty sums on them?
Fred’s current plight at Old Trafford is just one example – this was a player Mourinho was desperate to sign but United supporters are not sure what he does, what he is good at, and why he cost more than £50m.
One thing is certain – Jose knows the weaknesses of this Manchester United squad more intimately than most and will hatch a plan to exploit them this midweek, all the while basking in what will probably be a generous reception upon his return and reminding everyone who will listen just how impressive it was that he claimed a second-placed Premier League finish with many of these players.
Solskjaer needs wins
As is becoming a tradition this season, none of the players stopped to talk to journalists in the mixed zone after the Aston Villa stalemate.
The questions that need to be asked now are certainly not easy ones but what struck me on Sunday was how young some of these players who are shouldering the weight of the club’s past and its uncertain on-field future actually are.
Victory over Villa would have seen United climb to fifth in the Premier League. The draw means they are still eight points off fourth place and a massive 22 points behind leaders Liverpool.
Manchester United need to win football matches. They needed to beat Sheffield United and, while the circumstances of that initial recovery were impressive, they did not leave Bramall Lane with three points. They needed to beat Aston Villa but, again, in the first half, found themselves chasing players who had been plying their trade in the Championship last season.
There were jeers from the home support upon the final whistle on Sunday – not many of them but it was enough to register. Solskjaer now faces United’s toughest back-to-back fixtures this season, with just one win from the last four Premier League outings and a growing sense that no one knows what to expect from these players.
The Manchester United manager will speak to journalists on Tuesday morning at Carrington ahead of a week in which he now needs to mastermind at least one win to lift the gloom and the scrutiny upon him.
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