Despite the terrible result in the FA Cup for Manchester United, there were some reasons to be cheerful.
Although the manner of the defeat was inferior and United should never be losing to a team in a lower division, the overall performance was one of the best yet under Ralf Rangnick.
The problem for United was that they failed to convert their chances which, as we saw, cost them the game. It even included Cristiano Ronaldo missing a penalty – that’s how you know luck is against you.
Either way, Rangnick doesn’t have much time to change things, and when the team news was announced against Middlesbrough, there was a consensus in the fanbase that, on paper, it was the strongest fielded United team.
But as we saw, there were flaws in the system, and one of the areas which needed addressing was the attack.
Cristiano Ronaldo will catch the obvious headlines, but something was missing other than his lack of goals. You could argue that there wasn’t a balanced dynamic in the forward line.
Jadon Sancho was arguably the best attacker on the night and gave a reason why he should be in the starting XI for the foreseeable future.
The 21-year-old has struggled since his £73m move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2021, having spells in and out of the team while failing to make the same impact he made in the Bundesliga.
Before the match, Sancho only had two goals to his name, but against Middlesbrough, he showed fans what he was truly about.
He was sensational on the left-hand side of United’s attack, creating countless opportunities while posing a massive threat from the wing. The number of chances he made for the rest of the team proved precisely why he should be starting in United’s next match against Burnley.
However, he seemed like the only one who was creating the chances. Bruno Fernandes’ passing was off-range, and more importantly, Marcus Rashford wasn’t influential in the performance.
24-year-old Rashford has stepped up in recent weeks for United and has scored some vital goals and earned crucial points for Rangnick’s team, but against Middlesbrough, he was hardly noticeable.
It felt like we were seeing the Rashford from a few weeks ago, a player who was drained of confidence and failing to make the right decisions in the final 1/3. Consequently, it had an impact on the team.
The decision to start Rashford was strange, considering that another winger, Anthony Elanga, has been flying under Rangnick.
Elanga, developed through United’s academy, has been brilliant since being given game time by Rangnick and has won over the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful, now having one of the best chants heard in the stadium.
Just like you, we can’t get enough of Manchester United! That’s why we’ve decided to supplement our expansive United coverage on the Manchester Evening News with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to United fans – United On My Mind.
Writers and presenters who share your passion for the red side of Manchester will be producing written, visual and audio content to reflect the mood in the stands as well as the press box.
Having missed a penalty in the shoot-out on Friday, Elanga shouldn’t beat himself up about this because it wasn’t his fault. His performances by him in recent weeks have shown why he has to start matches because he’s a threat to the oppositional defence.
Rangnick has to make an apparent tactical tweak in playing Sancho and Elanga together. He’s the perfect player to bring on when either Elanga or Sancho run out of steam, which evidently happens (Sancho needed to come off against Middlesbrough, and Elanga has been subbed off in two of his last three Premier League matches). This is also emphasized because Rashford’s last two goals for United have come from the bench.
It’ll be interesting to see if Rangnick does this, but it feels like it needs to be done.
Would you start Elanga and Sancho? Follow our United On My Mind writer omar garrick on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.