Manchester United may have thrashed Liverpool 4-0 yesterday, but according to Laurie Whitwell, there were five key elements to the performance.
Writing for the Athletic, Whitwell acknowledged the circumstances of the result, in which Liverpool essentially fielded three separate teams.
However, certain aspects of United’s game provide insight into what the Erik ten Hag era will look like going forward.
Sancho and Rashford’s positioning right and left was first among the observations, with the former having ended up spending much of last season on the left flank, away from the position many believed he had been signed to play.
“Having fun” is a good way to describe the former Borussia Dortmund man’s first half, however “he was effective too,” balancing backheel controls and clever combinations to great effect as he menaced the Liverpool defence.
On his favoured left flank, Rashford too was unlucky not to have a couple of goals inside half an hour, as he made far more positive runs than we have seen over the last eighteen months.
Sancho’s creativity on the right drew plenty of attention which opened up space on the left for Rashford – a feature that will be one to watch out for under ten Hag.
Whitwell’s second observation involved man-of-the-match Anthony Martial, written off by many (if not most) of the fanbase following a dismal loan spell in Seville.
Martial “put down the accelerator when chances arose … with an intensity Solskjaer tried to instil on a regular basis,” and the hope is that such intensity will continue under the new boss.
The People’s Person noted Martial’s impressive pressing game as well, particularly in light of Andy Cole’s comments regarding the forward’s workrate.
The performances of Fred and Bruno Fernandes drew praise from Whitwell also, who noted that while Bruno “is risk-and-reward with his passes” and Fred has a habit to “leave the midfield unguarded,” both were “well balanced in those aspects” in Bangkok.
“When confident he is a real asset,” Whitwell said of Fernandes and if he can recapture the form that saw him turn United’s form around back in 2019, Red Devil’s fans will have plenty to look forward to this season.
While Fred did drop deep, he was also incredibly proactive in counterpressing situations, and of course goal was “inspired, joyful brilliance,” that will take some forgetting.
Many were concerned with David de Gea’s tendency to stay on his line coming into the ten Hag era, however as Whitwell says “the frequency with which he came out of his goal” will have surprised some.
“The defence can play a higher line and forwards press further up” under a proactive de Gea, and while “it is not the Spaniard’s natural game” it is comforting to see the goalkeeper seeming to adapt so quickly to “a key pillar of ten Hag’s approach.
And just as The People’s Person did after the game, the Athletic had high praise for United’s young midfielders, who “performed impressively against what finished as Liverpool’s best midfield.”
Zidane Iqbal “looked smooth” while Charlie Savage “fizzed his passes accurately,” in a game that could only help their chances of first team opportunities or high-profile loan moves.
Iqbal “constantly offered for the ball in tight spaces” according to Whitwell while Savage “got so comfortable he even completed a Maradona turn.”
With so much to take away from such a rousing result, United fans will be hoping that these early positive signs can be built upon.