Manchester United travelled to Craven Cottage to take on Marco Silva’s Fulham after their disappointing Carabao Cup elimination at the hands of Newcastle on Wednesday.
Heading into the game, pressure was mounting on Erik ten Hag and his players to get back to winning ways after a number of poor results.
Ten Hag started Andre Onana in goal, with a defensive four of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Diogo Dalot ahead of the Cameroonian.
In midfield, Christian Eriksen started as United’s deepest-lying man with Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay alongside him in the middle of the park.
Rasmus Hojlund led the line with Antony and Alejandro Garnacho on either side. Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 1 – 0 win against Fulham.
Raphael Varane’s peculiar exclusion
In yet another game, Varane was left out.
Amidst suggestions of rifts in the background and dressing room unrest, it was reported that Varane is one of the players who may be unhappy with Ten Hag.
It was relayed that the Frenchman was not amused by the manager’s decision to leave him out of the game against Manchester City in favour of Evans and Maguire due to “tactical reasons.”
Varane did not feature vs. Newcastle in the Carabao Cup. United claimed that he was ill and that was the sole reason for his absence.
Conflicting reports relayed that the World Cup winner did not train and was not satisfied with his ongoing situation with respect to lack of game time despite being fit.
It was therefore surprising when the team sheet came out for the Fulham game and Varane was on the bench again.
It’s puzzling that Ten Hag gave the nod to Maguire and Evans once more despite Varane’s presence.
On more than one occasion across the 90 minutes, Maguire had to come off for treatment but even then, Ten Hag did not opt for Varane.
Not to say that Maguire and Evans have done anything particularly wrong when they’ve started together but few will disagree that Varane offers much more and is easily the better defender when in top shape and injury-free.
Varane only came on int the dying embers of the game for Garnacho, to ensure United got over the line.
United struggling to create enough clear-cut goalscoring opportunities
A noticeable theme of the game was just how much the Red Devils struggled to fashion enough goalscoring chances.
With the exception of McTominay’s disallowed goal in the opening 45 minutes, United barely created anything for the rest of the half – something that extended into the second period.
Most of United’s chances came about through trying long-distance efforts that frankly, didn’t trouble Bernd Leno who was mostly comfortable throughout the game.
Ten Hag’s men had a lot of possession but it’s disappointing they could not do much with the ball up until Fernandes grabbed the late winner.
United had Eriksen and Fernandes on the pitch, arguably two of the Premier League’s most creative midfielders but even then, chances were far between each other.
As has usually been the case, Hojlund cut a very frustrated and lonely figure up front. The Dane did not have much to pounce on.
He was visibly angry when substituted.
During the game, the away fans could be heard chanting “attack attack attack” in an apparent effort to get the players to speed things up.
United’s forwards have struggled to put the ball into the back of the net this term and while this has been down to poor finishing, another primary reason is that they’ve not been presented with enough opportunities to score.
This is something Ten Hag will undoubtedly be keen to sort out if he is to be successful in retaining his job as manager of the 20-time English champions.
Antony extremely poor again
Antony was easily United’s poorest performer against Fulham.
The Brazilian contributed next to nothing when he was on and it was hardly a shock that he was the first to be taken just minutes after the hour mark.
It has usually been said that Ten Hag’s continued selection of Antony and his favouritism for the player is one of the players’ major gripes with the Dutchman.
Consistently this season, Antony has failed to justify his inclusion in the starting XI and already, he appears to be another player United have wasted big money on.
Even Facundo Pellistri who only played a few minutes managed to do more than Antony did. The Uruguayan registered an assist for Fernandes’ goal.
It’s telling that when the 23-year-old came off, United fans cheered in response to the change made by Ten Hag.
There's a Brazilian winger on the pitch United could/should have signed: Willian in 2018.
United fans cheered as Antony was substituted. He has been abysmal again. #mufc
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) November 4, 2023
If United are to be a successful team going forward, they can no longer rely on Antony – clearly a very limited and one-dimensional player not suited to playing at this level.