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Occam’s Razor

There are lots of theories behind Manchester United’s poor start to the season.

The lack of a good goal scorer. Summer signing Rasmus Højlund has yet to see the pitch while Anthony Martial continues to be Anthony Martial.

Predicable tactics.

Casemiro’s lack of form and/or ability to cover large amounts of ground without help from Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes, who have been instructed to play higher up the pitch.

Those all have merit. But there’s another, simpler and more obvious answer — at least when it comes to scoring goals. It’s possible that the reason they’ve struggled to convert their chances is because they’re still too reliant on Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, and neither man had played well this season until Saturday’s 3-2 comeback victory over Nottingham Forest.


Who Says The Magic is Gone From Old Trafford?

Erik ten Hag said he wanted to turn Old Trafford into a fortress. Maybe the one he had in mind was the Magic Castle?

How else to explain Manchester United somehow coming away with all three points in their season opener against Wolves? For most of the match, Wolves waltzed through the midfield as if David Copperfield had made Casemiro, Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes disappear. Mario Lemina and Matheus Cunha looked the second coming of Ronaldo and Rooney, slashing through our defense like a saw going through a woman in a box, helping their team generate multiple chances that, on any other day, would have netted them three-to-five goals at the very least. CBS Sportsline had Wolves’ expected goals at 2.23 compared to 1.46 for United, and even that seemed to flatter the hosts.

United managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat to score the lone goal, as Aaron Wan-Bissaka, of all people, provided a great cross into the box for Raphael Varane to head home. For the much-maligned Wan-Bissaka, it was either a sign of his improvement as a playmaker or some sort of magical intervention that he managed to float such a perfect cross into the box in the first place.

And, of course, there was the penalty no-call on Andre Onana during second-half stoppage time that made us all wonder if the officiating crew had been brainwashed or deceived by a wizard or warlock of some sort. (Or maybe it was Sir Alex Ferguson, who did the old “Fergie Time” gesture during the match which, surely, exerted some sort of influence on the refs, right?). Onana, who otherwise had a great match and made several match-winning stops down the stretch, barreled into Sasa Kalajdzic with such force and strength that the Wolves’ forward could have filed charges for assault and battery. It was such a clear and obvious error — the kind that led to the introduction of VAR in the first place — that it made you question if you had been tricked by some sort of illusion.

In any event, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned. But it’s just one game. And the hallmark of a good team is they find a way to win even when they don’t play well.

And hey, this time last year we were getting beat down by Brighton at home, so I’ll take the magical three points in a heartbeat. Hopefully, we’ll play better this weekend against the Harry Kane-less Spurs. Penn & Teller can play in the midfield, right?

Do you believe in magic? (Do you, do you, do you?)

Backup Plan

Casemiro deservedly got lots of plaudits for his impactful performance for Manchester United last season.

So much so that it’s easy to forget that, at the time he joined the club from Real Madrid, there was plenty of skepticism as to whether he really fit into Erik ten Hag’s tactical scheme. Could a defensive shield like Casemiro thrive in ten Hag’s system of high-pressing, quick-passing and ball retention?

Instead, Casemiro seemed more like a band-aid — a quick fix for a team that got ripped apart by Brentford in ten Hag’s second match in charge. It only seemed a matter of time before ten Hag dumped him from the lineup in favor the guy we all knew he had wanted all along— Frenkie de Jong.

But then Casemiro had to screw that up by showing off different facets of his game and proving his worth to the club. In games where he didn’t play last season, United missed the control, security and playmaking abilities he brought and looked like an inferior version of the team that finished third and won the League Cup.

So, perhaps it’s a testament to just how good and valuable Casemiro has been that ten Hag has decided that he needs a better backup for him.


So Long Slabhead?

Life comes at you fast.

Four years ago this summer, Manchester United paid £80 million to secure the services of Harry Maguire, a record transfer fee for a defender that still stands.

Sure, it was a lot of money, but at the time, it seemed like he was worth every cent. The club desperately needed a good center half and back line leader and Maguire had long been considered one of the best in the league. Pep Guardiola had tried to get him to replace Vincent Kompany while Jose Mourinho was so upset that United didn’t sign him in 2018 that he was still complaining about it a year later.

During Maguire’s first season at United, he made that fee look like a bargain, playing every minute of every match in the league and bringing a level of authority, skill and stability not seen since the heyday of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. When he was given the captain’s armband after only a few months at the club, it seemed like a no-brainer.

This weekend, when Maguire announced that he had been stripped of the captaincy, it seemed like another no-brainer for United. Maguire has been a liability for several seasons now and had lost his place under Erik ten Hag. He’s been so bad that even politicians outside the UK are taking shots at him. A departure seems inevitable— the only question is whether it will be a permanent or loan move.

So what happened?


Welcome Betinho!

Manchester United restarted its Premier League campaign with a stirring 3-0 victory over hapless Nottingham Forest. There were plenty of talking points before and after the match, most notably:

  • Marcus Rashford’s continued run of great form and the re-emergence of his once-dangerous partnership with Anthony Martial. Rashford scored the first goal and assisted Martial on the second, giving hope that they can make up for United’s lack of an established, proven center forward.
  • Raphael Varane bravely and selflessly volunteering to play after illness sidelined the club’s only two available senior center halves, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire. Despite being excused from the match due to his country’s run to the World Cup Final, Varane felt his team needed him and stepped up.
  • Luke Shaw volunteering to play center back to help ease said defensive selection crisis. Like Varane, Shaw played well and gave his manager something to think about moving forward.
  • Casemiro’s ongoing brilliance. The Tank dominated in his usual role after filling in at center half against Burnley in the League Cup the previous week. He also showed off his playmaking skills, turning two defensive stands into quick counter-attacks that resulted in goals. He even got a slick assist on Fred’s goal late in the match that sealed the three points.
  • Jesse Lingard’s first match at Old Trafford since leaving in the summer for Nottingham Forest. Say what you will about JLingz and the way he left, but Lingardinho scored some big goals for his boyhood club and always gave his all on the pitch. After leaving early in the second half with an injury, Lingard finally got the warm send-off he had been denied the previous spring, as Old Trafford gave him a nice ovation thanking him for everything he had done.

But the one that got the most attention was the sudden addition of a forward named “Betinho” to the club’s active roster. Was it a purported clerical error, as the club later claimed? Or did someone jump the gun before a transfer became official?

And who was this mystery man, anyway? Was it the Portuguese forward currently playing for S.C. Espinho who made one appearance with Brentford in 2014? Was it a heretofore unknown nickname for Atletico Madrid’s misfit playmaker Joao Felix? Was it a new, tongue-in-cheek identity for in-form Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who could face a long ban for allegations relating to betting on Premier League matches?

Or was it this man?