United’s most important player
On a night where many of United’s star players were allowed a rare rest the same couldn’t be said for talisman Bruno Fernandes who once again earned a squad involvement.
His place on the bench might have been a ceremonial one but the fact he was there waiting in reserve on a night where Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo weren’t speaks volumes of his importance to this side.
Ronaldo is by far the star player of the current squad but Fernandes remains the one who Solskjaer can rely upon the most to get him out a sticky situation if it is needed.
The fact they had to call upon the Portuguese from the bench showcases how much United struggled in midweek, but sadly this time their magician was unable to pull the rabbit out of the hat.
Diogo Dalot takes his chance
Although 11 changes had been made for the match there were only two positions in which a player could really influence the first-team picture – right-back and central midfield.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka remains the first-choice option at right-back but was off the pace in second-half against West Ham at the weekend and will no have to be careful standards don’t slip amid rejuvenated competition in the shape of Diogo Dalot.
The Portuguese full-back is adamant he can secure a regular starting role if he is given a fair crack of the whip and his hopes of doing so were certainly strengthened by his display on Wednesday night.
It is no secret he is a more dangerous attacking option on the right of defence but he is also proving himself in a defensive aspect with sharp covering runs and more discipline overall.
Wan-Bissaka will have to watch out.
Van de Beek in a pivot
A week ago Donny van de Beek saw his midweek cameo cut short after a red card in Bern but this week he returned with a fire burning in his belly to put things right.
In a midfield duo with Nemanja Matic the Dutchman finally got a chance to showcase his own eligibility for one of the deeper midfield positions as an alternative to the regular ‘McFred’ combo.
Van de Beek shone with the ball at his feet, was impressive in moving play further up the pitch when warranted and almost added a superb assist when Greenwood latched onto a delightful through ball but failed to convert.
United fans have always felt Van de Beek deserves a fair chance to showcase his talents and even in defeat he, like Dalot, certainly took it
United have a new game-changer
Mason Greenwood used to be the one relishing rare starts in matches like this but he is now the senior man being brought off the bench to change them. His introduction an hour into the match was a much-needed intervention from United and gave them an immediate spark of life.
Only seconds into his cameo he linked up with Donny van de Beek to almost draw United level before laying off Jesse Lingard for his own effort at goal. It was a trend which would continue throughout the match as Solskjaer’s side searched for their young winger at every opportunity.
Greenwood is entering his final week as a teenager and is already a nailed on starter for United every week. Now he is recognised as the game-changer from the bench. It has been a remarkable rise.
United reminded how much defence has changed
When evaluating Solskjaer’s legacy at United it will be crucial to take into consideration just how much he has overhauled the first-team squad in less than three years in charge.
In his first match as caretaker manager he deployed Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof in central defence with Eric Bailly the option in reserve, it was the same trio who occupied the United squad list on Wednesday night.
It wouldn’t take long before West Ham would exploit United’s back line with Manuel Lanzini’s opener though, crucially, this is the second-string back line and no longer the strongest selection.
Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane have completely changed the standards set by United in defence and in their absence it is clear to see the obvious downgrade in quality.
United were open to signing two centre-backs in the summer window but ended it with one. On this evidence another new recruit might remain an underlying issue, though crucially it will be for a back-up option rather than a starter.Internet Explorer Channel Network