Digital Football Journalist @ronnabe
United’s season plunges to new low on the final day with 2-0 defeat to Cardiff
Last Updated: 12/05/19 9:21pm
Manchester United’s defeat to Cardiff laid bare their serious shortcomings – but also exactly how they must go about rebuilding this summer.
The manner of United’s loss had a certain level of resignation to it. Last weekend they became the first top-six team to drop points to a relegated side when drawing at Huddersfield. But defeat at home to Cardiff was a new low.
United’s eighth defeat in 12 had all the hallmarks of its predecessors; competent in parts, lethargic in others, and lacking in both confidence and quality.
“The summer’s going to be a big one for the club, the players and me,” said a downbeat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, already feeling the pressure ahead of one of United’s biggest summers, after full-time.
Their troubles littered the pitch as the lowly Bluebirds swooped to deliver United’s final embarrassment. In defence, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Scott McTominay (who dropped back from midfield in the second half) appeared totally lost, in midfield Paul Pogba stood and watched as Cardiff scored their second goal and in attack, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard looked completely devoid of confidence.
“The end of the season wasn’t down to today,” added Solskjaer. “There have been lots of things which have contributed to us finishing sixth.”
A lack of leaders, insufficient quality, low morale and poor commitment might be top of his list in creating the perfect storm for the United legend, who must take his own responsibility but will have a big job on his hands to succeed wrestling back control of a dressing room which has brought down David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
Solskjaer already knows plenty about where United must improve, but their latest dismal defeat can give him a marker of where to begin at least – in the performance of Mason Greenwood on his full debut.
The 17-year-old forward does not need to be taught that same United spirit which brought Solskjaer back to Old Trafford. It is already ingrained in him.
⭐ Mason Greenwood becomes the youngest player to start a PL game for Man Utd
17 yrs, 223 days – Mason Greenwood
17 yrs, 253 days – Federico Macheda
18 yrs, 21 days – Phil Neville
18 yrs, 99 days – Timothy Fosu-Mensah
18 yrs, 127 days – Marcus Rashford pic.twitter.com/SXej6Lkypw
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) May 12, 2019
Whether he lives up to his impressive credentials at youth level is almost irrelevant. “There’s nothing I like about this United team at all. It’s just awful,” United legend Gary Neville told Sky Sports during the Huddersfield game last week, while questioning the current squad’s lack of identity. That is one accusation you could not level at this youngster.
In front of English football’s biggest home crowd on his full debut, Greenwood could have hidden when his more experienced team-mates went missing. But he constantly wanted the ball and had more shots (7) than anyone else on the pitch – on another day, he might have scored a hat-trick.
His performance should have embarrassed his colleagues, far better recompensed than himself, as much as Cardiff’s victory. He embodied everything Solskjaer and United will need if they have any hope of regaining Champions League football in a year’s time.
“This summer will be about players that can last here for many years,” said Solskjaer ahead of Sunday’s game. “It’s not just about ready-made players. We’ve never been a ready-made club.”
The performances of Rashford, Lingard and Andreas Pereira represented that sentiment. None of them enjoyed perfect afternoons against Cardiff, but they could at least hold their heads high at full time, confident next season can be better. Their identities are no surprise; Manchester United means something to each of those players beyond a pay cheque.
Rashford has been walking through the Carrington reception for the last 14 years since he joined as a seven-year-old. Pereira made the commitment to up sticks, move to England and join United before he had even left school.
These players understand what United means. They don’t need to be told about playing for the shirt, it is innate. If each member of United’s squad had shown the same desire that quartet did against Cardiff, it would have been a different season.
It is very well bringing back one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s protegees to lead the club, but if the dressing room does not share that belief, he might as well not bother.
No matter how they do it, United’s rebuilding job will take more than one transfer window, more than two. At this point, widening that level of commitment is more important than marquee signings. Otherwise, even the purest of souls may be tainted.