Manchester United won another game last Saturday at Old Trafford, by a scoreline which, after witnessing it for the sixth time, is all too familiar.
Starting out right
José Mourinho’s side started the game on the front foot—like they have on a few occasions this season. The Red Devils scored inside three minutes of the first half (remember the fourth-minute opener against Everton? I do, too.) thanks to a vine-worthy turn from Marcus Rashford, which spun Joel Ward out of his way. By putting Juan Mata through in front of the goal, which conveniently had no goalkeeper to guard it, the score was soon United 1-0 Crystal Palace. And United never looked back.
Since so many patterns in this game ended in a scoreline, they have, understandably, become very much part of the routine. But none more so than this: Ashley Young whipping the ball with the inside of his right foot out to the far post—eyes closed and head down—only to find the marauding Marouane guide it ever so carefully into the net.
Back to the future with Ashley Young
It was a throwback to their heyday. Fellaini getting goals from midfield and threatening to hit double figures—with a spring in his step that outstrips everyone else’s.
In his Aston Villa days, a more youthful Ashley Young was so good that Martin O’Neill even opined that he was ‘on par’ with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. Maybe he’ll reconsider that statement; maybe not. Still, when all is said and done, Ashley Young (32) is plying his trade in a position that is alien to him—in the fastest league in the world. Not only has he managed to keep his place ahead of actual full-backs in the squad, but he’s running away with it at a canter. Plus, he’s turning in match-winning performances on a consistent basis.
So far, Young has made five appearances (four starts) and captained United in the Champions League. He already has two assists to his name. Given the aerial threat they now possess in front of the goal, United urgently needed good crossers. Bolstered by the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, (even) Eric Bailly, and Chris Smalling (in set pieces), Ashley Young is proving why it’s sometimes wise to keep it simple and stick to the basics.
Since joining Manchester United, 36% of Marouane Fellaini’s goals in the Premier League have been assisted by Ashley Young crosses. Talk about usefulness.
The Red Devils at work
Manchester United don’t play with inverted full-backs. Nor do they overcomplicate it in front of goal. They don’t attempt to make sure every member of the team has touched the ball without interruptions—including the goalkeeper—before passing it into the net. That is not to say it is pointless to go down that road, but that is just not how The Red Devils operate.
More often than not, José Mourinho has United stick to the fundamentals: keep the width, stretch defenses, put balls into the box and attempt to shoot goals—and they do. United have already scored 21 goals this season. To put it in perspective, they only managed 54 last season and a measly 49 the season before. But what United have in front of the goal now (that they did not have in the last few years) is breathtaking pace on the break— in fact, bags of it. Now, the much-favored front three (Lukaku, Rashford and Martial) have 32 goals and assists between them and it’s only October.
Under Mourinho, Ashley Young rolls back the years.
Manchester United look a happier side, and they should, given the results they have had in England and Europe. They’re looking like a Manchester United team out of the past—off the cuff and exciting, rather than pedestrian and methodical. Ashley Young’s performance under José Mourinho is playing a vital role in transporting us all back to a time when football was plain and simple, and (more importantly) jolly good fun to watch.