Manchester United travelled to Rodney Parade to take on League Two side Newport County in an FA Cup fourth-round clash.
Before the match, it emerged that United would take on the winner of a replay match against Bristol City and Nottingham Forest if they managed to get past County.
Fresh off the back of a two-week break, Erik ten Hag started Altay Bayindir in goal with a defensive four of Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw ahead of the shot-stopper.
Casemiro started as United’s deepest-lying midfielder in a trio also consisting of Kobbie Mainoo and Bruno Fernandes.
Rasmus Hojlund led the line with Antony and Alejandro Garnacho on either side of him. Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 4-2 win against Newport County.
Ten Hag could have another player saga on his hands with Marcus Rashford
A few hours before the match vs. County, United confirmed in a statement that Marcus Rashford would not be part of the matchday squad to make its way to Rodney Parade.
The club explained that Rashford was left to train at Carrington and would miss the meeting against the Exiles with an illness.
However, Ten Hag hinted the opposite during his pre-match media obligations.
Rashford has been at the centre of controversy over the past few days after he reportedly told the club that he would miss a Friday training session at Carrington due to illness, only for pictures to emerge suggesting he was out clubbing in Belfast the night before.
Initially, it was thought that Rashford was only out partying on Wednesday evening, the night before the team had a scheduled day off on Thursday.
However, it was subsequently relayed that the England international was out both on Wednesday and Thursday night – including hours before training on Friday.
When asked about the issue before kick-off at Rodney Parade, Ten Hag said, “It’s an internal matter.”
The United boss then added, “I will deal with it.”
🚨 Ten Hag: “Marcus Rashford absence? It’s an internal matter”.
“I will deal with it”, he added. pic.twitter.com/DvCXn8cQwd
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 28, 2024
Unless the matter is resolved urgently, Ten Hag may find himself with yet another disciplinary issue on his hands.
Since the Dutchman’s arrival, he has cracked the whip on poor behaviour and lack of professionalism. Indeed, his stance on enhancing standards and the culture across the club has put him at loggerheads with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho – both forwards are currently not at United.
All eyes are on Ten Hag and club bosses and how they choose to respond to Rashford’s misdemeanour.
United attackers still not good enough
In yet another game, the United forwards were poor and their performances were mostly uninspiring.
United raced to an early two-goal lead against County, courtesy of goals from Bruno Fernandes and Kobbie Mainoo.
However, Graham Coughlan’s stars managed to get back into proceedings. A stunning volley from Carlton Morris that was deflected by Licha on its way into the back of the net halved the deficit.
County undoubtedly went into the break much more optimistic about their chances of causing a massive upset.
The League Two side did not have to wait much longer to restore parity, as they equalized two minutes after the interval through a brilliantly worked goal that was finished off by Will Evans.
Central to United’s woes were their attackers, who truthfully offered next to nothing.
The wing pairing of Garnacho and Antony was poor. Despite registering a goal and assist, Antony was uninspiring, as has largely been the case this term.
His display lacked in imagination, creativity and quality that would be expected of a United player coming up against a term in England’s fourth division.
The Brazilian had a number of chances to get on the score sheet and seemed like he couldn’t make anything stick – at least until he beat the County goalkeeper in the 68th minute. A shot from Shaw hit the post and fell on Antony’s path. The 23-year-old winger made no mistake from close range with his right foot.
While he may have finally broken his duck this campaign in terms of getting goal contributions, United fans would have wanted a bit more from Antony, especially in terms of his influence on general play. He didn’t make a strong case for inclusion in Ten Hag’s next starting XI.
Garnacho on the other wing was pretty wasteful. He constantly seemed to run into blind alleys and whenever cornered by his full-back, didn’t seem to have any idea of how to bail himself out.
The Argentine had some opportunities to square the ball but on more than one occasion, he elected to go for goal. In one instance, he drew the wrath of Fernandes and Hojlund, who gave him a piece of their minds.
More significant is just how little Antony and Garnacho created for Hojlund. The Danish striker was largely a ghost and never really got into the action – partially through no fault of his own. There just wasn’t much to work with.
Luckily, Hojlund managed to make use of the scraps at his disposal to score and subsequently seal the win for United.
Throughout this campaign, the forwards available to Ten Hag have struggled to have an impact and it’s very worrying they couldn’t do a bit more against an opponent of the calibre of County.
Multiple injury boosts for Ten Hag and the team
One of the most positive things from the game vs. County is the fact that multiple players who have been sidelined returned to action.
Casemiro last played for United in November, during a Carabao Cup defeat at the hands of Newcastle. He managed to get 81 valuable minutes under his belt against County.
Lisandro got a taste of minutes in the match vs. Tottenham Hotspur, but it was a pleasant sight to see him start from the beginning at Rodney Parade. The World Cup winner didn’t look out of place as he partnered Varane at the heart of United’s defence.
Shaw also started after missing a number of games while recovering from injury. The English full-back managed 82 minutes before being taken off.
Even better is that Amad Diallo, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Christian Eriksen were all on the bench. Evans and Maguire got some action as they came on in the dying embers of the contest.
Ten Hag has often blamed his side’s inconsistency on injuries to key stars. He will certainly be boosted by the multiple returns as the business end of the season approaches.