Manchester United are lucky that they are still in the FA Cup after emerging victorious in their third round tie against Aston Villa, despite being clearly second best on the night.
Ralf Rangnick’s team chalked up the win and will progress to face Middlesbrough in the fourth round early next month, but it was another disjointed performance that raises yet more questions.
Not since a brief uplift in Rangnick’s very first game in charge against Crystal Palace last month have United had anything remotely comparable to a ‘new manager bounce’ under the German.
Body language among certain players remained poor as Villa probed for an equaliser to cancel out Scott McTominay’s early goal on Monday evening. It was only thanks to David de Gea, the crossbar, a lengthy VAR check and an offside flag that United managed to keep hold of their lead.
While Villa defended well as unit for the most part – aside from allowing McTominay to too easily head the hosts into an early lead, pressed well in midfield and up front and created chance after chance, United lacked any sort of cohesion in their performance.
Each part of the team looked to be a separate entity, with no unity between defence and midfield or midfield and attack. The chances that they did have were usually the result of rare Villa lapses – Douglas Luiz cheaply lost the ball a few times – than any genuine creativity or joined up play.
As results and performances worsened during the autumn, it was increasingly assumed that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the problem. More than a month into the Rangnick era, it couldn’t be more obvious that the issues run far deeper and are more complicated than that alone.
Worryingly, the interim boss doesn’t have the luxury of time to get to the bottom of things and understand why an objectively talented squad is performing well below the sum of its constituent parts.
United face Villa again in just five days. This time it is in the Premier League and Steven Gerrard’s side will be buoyed by the game they have just played, knowing that avoiding a cheap early goal and the reversal of fine margins could translate a similar performance into a win.