Dramatic comeback win offers hope for United's new beginnings

By Real11 - Dec 27 2023 160 Views

Højlund, Garnacho saves United's blushes against Aston Villa

Manchester United’s new era commenced with an admonition that there are serious issues at Old Trafford but concluded with hope and optimism that the future might not be bright after all.  

In their very first game since INEOS and Jim Ratcluffe agreed a deal to acquire 25% stake at the club, the Red Devils went 2-0 down against a decent Aston Villa side before staging an incredible comeback to win 3-2 courtesy two youngsters: Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Højlund. 

While Garnacho scored a brace and equalised for the hosts, Højlund netted the all important winner to secure all three points. With that, the Danish international also broke his PL goal drought since his summer move from Atlanta.  It was a timely uplift for the Dutch manager with Ratcliffe’s sporting guru, Sir Dave Brailsford, watching from the stands for the first time.  The director of the sport at Ineos (Brailsford) will join forces with the team entrusted with changing United fortunes, and Ten Hag at least showed his managerial reign at Old Trafford is not over yet. 

During the post match conference, the first question which was asked to the former Ajax boss was what he thought Brailsford would have made of his evening at the Theatre of Dreams. "I don't know," he said. "You will have to ask them. I don't think it has had an impact on the players. For me, I was kept informed in the whole process, so I knew what was going on.

"We're looking forward. I think it is positive for the club that they are stepping in. They have a lot of experience in sport at the highest level, F1, a cycling team, and football clubs.

"They can only help us and support us to get our targets. We are looking forward. They want to work with us and we want to work with them."

Trailing 2-0 at the halfway mark, Brailsford was probably considering the need for something more significant that his “marginal gains” philosophy to revamp the club his boss has spent nearly $1.3 billion to buy into Brailsford’s accomplishments at British cycling, where he made a name for himself, was all about maximising small wins, but after half an hour here, it felt like he would have to call a major surgery once Ratcliffe’s deal confirmed. Twice inside five minutes, the hosts conceded from a set piece from the left. 

John McGinn broke the dreadlock with a free kick that evaded everyone and found the back of the net. The Aston Villa skipper was then involved again minutes later when his corner was headed towards the box by Clèment Lenglet, and Leander Dendoncker flicked in to put Villa in a commanding position. The second goal triggered the home supporters and boos could be heard from around the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. A trickle of fans, who have witnessed their side concede the opening goal in seven of their 10 home league matches in 2023, headed for the exits.

Out of the many things on Brailsford's priority list, mental fortitude check of these United’s players will perhaps be his first. Time after time, they give away easy goals in abundance in short spells. 

On Wednesday against Villa, it was two in a space of five minutes; prior to that it was two within six minutes against West Ham and two in five minutes against Bournemoth earlier this month. This season the men in red have already conceded quite a few goals in 10 minutes or less on 10 occasions. If Ten Hag is to revive this campaign, it’s a problem he’ll have to resolve. 

“I said at half-time, 'Keep believing and we will win,'" said Ten Hag. "Already in the first half we played solid. It was a bit sloppy to give two goals away from set plays."

For the majority of the game it looked like United would lose a Boxing Day match for the first time since 1978, but ultimately, they started throwing punches of their own. With Villa boss persisting with a high back line, Garnacho, Marcus Rasford began to look alive, finding tight spaces in opposition’s final third. 

Garnacho scored United’s first two goals and with the Old Trafford atmosphere reaching a feeble point, Højlund registered his first PL goal in over 1,026 to complete a stunning comeback.  "He will score more," said Ten Hag.

"When strikers don't score it is always a problem but he has a strong character, he has a big personality and that is what a striker needs, and when you keep investing the goals will come."

Højlund after scoring the winner screamed into the Stretford End like a man who was massively relieved, and even though he didn’t want to admit it, his boss seemed similarly felt the world lift from his shoulders after the final whistle. With Ratcliffe, Ineos and Brailford preparing to herald in what they hope a new age of prosperity at a club that have struggled for over a decade, Ten Hag in due course started off on the right foot.  

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