If you’d have told me even just a few weeks ago that United would be sitting here on February 13th having won their last three games and conceding just one goal in that time, I’d have laughed at you. And yet, here we sit, a fortnight after the transfer window slammed shut with a team that not many would argue is probably the most improved in the whole Premier League.
United shining at the back
Today, Dan Burn made his debut for the club at centre-half after much speculation that he could even come in at left-back. He was awarded man of the match and put in what was probably one of the performances of the season in defence for United. What a showing from the big man.
Of the back four that played against and limited Everton to so little on Tuesday, only Fabian Schär was on the pitch at the end of the 90 today. Kieran Trippier started after a few injury concerns but was given a fresh one during the game, being forced off with a suspected broken bone in his foot following a stamp. Javier Manquillo started in place of the ineligible Matt Targett and was also forced off with injury just before half-time, with Paul Dummett replacing him.
Even Jamaal Lascelles, who has been excellent in the last couple of games, wasn’t in the squad for today’s game. That meant the back line had to change and in previous weeks and months, you’d be a little concerned about the backups having to take centre stage and yet, we saw another incredibly astute defensive performance from United.
While the loss of Trippier will undoubtedly provide a lot of issues for us, I thought Emil Krafth came on today and deputised very well given the circumstances. He did take five or ten minutes to play himself into the game, during which time VAR ruled out (correctly, by the way) a Villa equaliser that came from his side. After that initial settling period, I honestly thought he was very solid. Dummett did well at left-back too and Big Dan Burn just headed everything clear. He was truly outstanding today. Just what we needed.
Not too shabby at the other end either…
Even at the other end of the pitch, we’ve done well this last few games. Today, we didn’t create a whole lot of chances but I honestly thought we were good value for our three points. We managed 10 shots in the game (Villa had 11), with two of them on target. Chris Wood had a solid chance in the first half to lift the lid off his time at the club, but it just didn’t fall for him. Wood needs a goal in the next couple of games. I do think that once he gets one, it will settle him and allow him to kick on.
The last few games have seen us play mostly on the counter, with the mercurial speedster Allan Saint-Maximin often at the centre of those attacks. It’s something we’ve looked very dangerous doing, and we did so again today. That, alongside our already strong aerial presence from set pieces as well as the added threat of a Trippier free-kick, means we’ve got a number of avenues from which we can hurt teams.
Table doesn’t look too bad eh?
At the time of writing, United sit 17th in the table, four points above Norwich in 18th with a game in hand. Something interesting I noticed when looking at the table earlier was Brentford. They sit 14th in the league, three points above us on 24 but crucially, we have two games in hand on them.
Brentford haven’t won a Premier League game since January 2nd and have now gone seven games without tasting victory. They’re in free fall right now and with games coming up against us, Norwich and Burnley, could easily find themselves getting dragged into this scrap. Crucially, they’ve played more games than anyone below them, so getting three points down there in a couple of weeks could be massive for us. After all, the more sides involved in this dogfight, the better our odds for survival.
For us, we have West Ham away next week and then we’re back in London a week later to face Brentford, as mentioned above. Then comes the visit of Brighton to St James’ Park before we head back to London to take on Chelsea at the Bridge. It’s a tough run, but coming off the back of three consecutive wins, I’m not as downbeat about it as I might have been a few weeks back.
How many points from our next four? Let me know on Twitter and be sure to drop me a follow.