Manchester United had to fight back from a goal down to mount a late comeback and beat Middlesbrough 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Manchester United were looking to continue their fantastic recent run of results, and on the agenda was getting a fifth consecutive win in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho’s protege Aitor Karanka brought Middlesbrough to Old Trafford to bring down the curtains to 2016.
The match started in a nervy fashion for the Red Devils as just a few minutes into the game, Manchester United found themselves in a 3 v 1 situation that could have gone horribly wrong for them had Adam Traore not made a mess of it.
Thereafter though, Jose Mourinho’s men were thoroughly dominant as they saw the majority of action on the ball and came close on a couple of occasions, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored late into the first half only to be controversially denied by Lee Mason for a high boot foul.
The second half was much of the same as United dominated possession yet again before Grant Leadbitter gave Middlesbrough the lead against the run of play in the 67th minute to send shockwaves around Old Trafford.
United, however, were determined to not let their winning run end as they sent men up in numbers to get at least a goal back. And their efforts were rewarded with two goals as Anthony Martial first equalised in the 85th minute before Paul Pogba scored the winner a minute later to complete a stirring Manchester United comeback.
The Hard Tackle discusses a few talking points to emerge from what was an exciting Manchester United win.
Anthony Martial Steps Up And Joins The Party
It has been a difficult season for Anthony Martial, to say the least. From being the go-to man for Louis van Gaal throughout last season, he has had to grow accustomed to playing a bit part role for Jose Mourinho in the first half of this campaign.
That has, in a way, been a result of his sub-par performances for Manchester United as he has been a far cry away from the player who plundered in 17 goals for his side last season. This has led to the France international being linked with moves to Sevilla and West Ham United, although Mourinho rebuffed the rumours later on.
Anthony Martial’s game by numbers vs. Middlesbrough:
2 chances created
Electric performance. pic.twitter.com/xBp07X1QFU
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 31, 2016
With Mourinho iterating that Martial is very much in his plans, the Frenchman looked a man reborn on Saturday. He turned in an electric performance for his side as he relentlessly ran at Calum Chambers all night long, completed 7 take-ons and 10 crosses and took four shots on goal.
Through the course of the game, he also rattled the crossbar with his long range effort. Fuve minutes from time his efforts were duly rewarded as he hit home the equaliser for Manchester United with a neat finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s headed knock down.
Carrick’s Calming Influence Missing For Manchester United
Michael Carrick missed the match against Middlesbrough due to illness, and his absence was felt dearly by Manchester United throughout the game. In his stead, Marouane Fellaini started in midfield, and the stark difference was clear as the Belgium international failed to impact the game with his performance on the night.
Man Utd’s form when Michael Carrick has played this season:
Goals scored: 35
Pulling the strings pic.twitter.com/R9jn7FgZDb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 26, 2016
As Middlesbrough put men in numbers behind the ball, it became increasingly difficult for Manchester United to break their resistance with clever penetrative balls from the midfield, something that Carrick provides with relative ease while sitting in front of the back four.
Even though United managed to win the match eventually, the game lacked the assuredness that Carrick brings, and as the Red Devils visit West Ham for their first match of 2017, Mourinho will surely be relieved to have his midfield orchestrator back into the fold.
A Classic Manchester United Comeback In The Image of Sir Alex Ferguson
Even though Manchester United dominated the proceedings and commanded the bulk of the possession, they found themselves chasing the game against the run of play with a little over twenty minutes to go, as Grant Leadbitter’s super finish gave Middlesbrough the lead.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2016
Mourinho went into an all-out attack mode as he brought on Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford to add to the likes of Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in search of an equaliser. That made all the difference as Martial first scored to equalise with five minutes left before a minute later Pogba nodded in from Mata’s pinpoint cross to complete a stirring comeback.
As Pogba’s ball slotted into the top corner, memories of classic Fergie Time wins under Manchester United’s legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson came flooding back, and with the Great Scot watching the action from the stands on his 75th birthday, he’d surely have been proud of the way the Red Devils mounted the come-from-behind win.
Refereeing Errors Resurface
Manchester United fans have been disgruntled on several occasions this season, as they would have you know that grave refereeing errors have cost the Red Devils some vital points in many matches. And it seemed like it would be more of the same against Middlesbrough as well, before Martial and Pogba brought home the three points.
Lee Mason had an underwhelming game as the match official on the day, as he first cruelly denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic a chance to go level with Lionel Messi as the top goalscorer in Europe for 2016, before rebuffing United’s calls for clear penalties on two occasions.
All three instances were extremely controversial and many have opined that Mason was at fault for all three. Suffice to say that it was a poor outing for the referee, and if not for the efforts of Martial and Pogba, United fans would be voicing their displeasure once again, just like Mourinho did post game.
A Resilient Middlesbrough Give A Good Account of Themselves
Aitor Karanka seems to have learnt a thing or two from his famous mentor Jose Mourinho, as he smartly set his side up to frustrate Manchester United.
Refereeing errors notwithstanding, Middlesbrough did give a good account of themselves as Victor Valdes, along with his central defenders, stepped up to the plate to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co. on several occasions.
It looked like they were well on their way to grab a shock win at Old Trafford, as skipper Grant Leadbitter scored from Middlesbrough’s first shot on target to give his side the lead. However, as United piled on the pressure, the Boro resistance gave way and they succumbed to a 2-1 loss.
While lack of goals on their return to the top flight of English football is a genuine concern for Middlesbrough, their strong showing at the back is something to build on, as Karanka continues to impress.