Manchester United’s match against Nottingham Forest over the weekend had all the makings of a classic “trap game.”
With bigger, trophy-deciding matches looming next week (the second leg against Sevilla in the Europa League and Brighton in the FA Cup semifinals), one could see how United might overlook a game against a team in the relegation zone. Plus, United have already beaten Forest three times this season. What were the odds of doing the quadruple?
To complicate matters, United players have been dropping like flies. During Thursday’s disappointing 2-2 draw with Sevilla in the first leg of their Europa League cup tie, United lost both Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez to injuries (the latter for the rest of the season).
Those two joined a growing injury list as United’s fixture pileup and lack of depth are starting to take their toll. In fact, you could make a decent starting XI with all of United’s unfit players:
- GK: Tom Heaton (ankle)
- RB: Tyrell Malacia (knee)
- CB: Varane (undisclosed)
- CB: Martinez (foot – out for season)
- LB: Luke Shaw (undisclosed – expected back soon)
- CM: Scott McTominay (knock in training – expected back soon)
- CM: Donny Van de Beek (knee – out for the season)
- RW: Alejandro Garnacho (ankle)
- AM: Marcel Sabitzer (injured during warmup for Nottingham Forest – TBD)
- LW: Marcus Rashford (groin)
- F: No one, but let’s face it, Anthony Martial is always one or two matches away from another lengthy stay on the injured list.
Despite that, United secured a dominant 2-0 victory over Forest, moving into sole possession of third place in the league following losses by Newcastle and Tottenham earlier in the weekend.
The score line actually flattered Forest. United likely would have won by 4 or 5 had Forest goalkeeper Keylor Navas not seemed intent on showing the team he almost joined what they had missed out on. The on-loan keeper dazzled and made several dynamic saves, single-handedly keeping his team in the hunt for most of the match.
He wasn’t perfect, though. The opening goal came about because Navas palmed Martial’s shot directly into the path of Antony, giving him a tap-in. Navas did it a few more times during the match, although it didn’t lead to any additional goals. For all the criticism and questions surrounding the keeper Real Madrid nearly swapped Navas for, David de Gea almost always finds a way to punch or palm shots out of bounds or away from danger. That’s probably why de Gea has a league-leading 14 clean sheets despite uncertainty amongst the back line for most of the season.
That makeshift back line mostly held up against Forest, as Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka played well while Diogo Dalot had some moments of madness but made up for them by scoring the second goal. Harry Maguire was pretty dire for the first 20 or so minutes of the match, getting booked in the third minute and nearly conceding a penalty 17 minutes later, but eventually settled in.
It’s possible United’s hopes and dreams for the rest of the season could rise or fall with a player so maligned that a member of the Ghanian Parliament actually used “Maguire” as a convoluted metaphor to attack his country’s economic minister and point out his perceived shortcomings.
“Harry Maguire. He is a defender. He was tackling and throwing his body everywhere like he was the best defender in the world. Manchester United went and bought him. He became the biggest threat at the centre of Manchester United’s defense, tackling his own players and giving assists to opponents. Even when the opponents failed to score, Maguire would score for them,” MP Isaac Adango said in comments reported in December. “Our economic Maguire is taking control of the fundamentals of our economy and destroying all of them.”
So yeah, it’s certainly a chilling thought that our very own Frank Drebin could hold the key as to whether or not United can finish the season with multiple trophies and a Top Four finish. I guess things could be worse. It could still be last season…