In a tight evening of football, Manchester United and Fulham drew 1-1 at Old Trafford.
The result means little for either side but the performance ahead of the Europa League was worrying for the Red Devils.
Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Edinson Cavani
That’s all it took for Edinson Cavani to announce himself to the Manchester United fans.
In truth it took even less than that as just a few minutes before he ran into the box and got taken down in what could have been a penalty. But sure enough 15 minutes into the game the Uruguayan was hanging out on the shoulder of the defence when Bruno Fernandes flicked a David de Gea pass through, putting Cavani clear.
Edinson Cavani has now scored as many Premier League goals for Man Utd as Diego Forlán (10) in 37 fewer appearances.
An INCREDIBLE finish. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Qvc8nSH2FP
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 18, 2021
He could have done many different things from here, but seeing Alphonse Areola off his line and being a world-class striker he picked the most straightforward option and gently lofted the ball up and over the despairing French stopper and into the back of the net. A breathtaking goal that really brought the house down.
Old Trafford roared, like, really roared. The fans in the stadium finally got to watch their stud striker and he more than delivered. This is the quality that led to United renewing him, and had the Red Devils been able to furnish him with more chances then perhaps they could have actually won the game. As it is he will have to make do with a standing ovation as he left the field, for now.
Loser: Shaw and Wan-Bissaka
Fulham’s equaliser was a lovely cross from Bobby De Cordova-Reid and a neat back-post header by Joe Bryan, however much as Fulham deserve praise for the way they stuck to their guns and fought their way back into the game, defensively the goal was a shambles.
Luke Shaw’s pathetic efforts in a 50/50 led to De Cordova-Reid being played into miles of space wide right (when you push up like that, you have to win the ball!) and then as the cross came flying into the middle, Aaron Wan-Bissaka had been dragged into the middle of the goal and completely forgot to, y’know, mark his man. Who then scored. Not the best showing for Man Utd’s full-backs.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 18, 2021
Winner: Scott Parker
Fulham are relegated, they will not be in the Premier League next season, but they showed at Old Trafford why Scott Parker’s project is something that is worth persisting is. The Englishman has obviously suffered for the Cottagers poor start to the season, but in general there is a lot to like about Fulham.
They are tactically versatile, they play positively when they have he ball but know how to get behind the ball and put up a strong defensive front. In Tosin Adarabioyo they have a rock solid centre-back (10 clearances tonight) to anchor things around and an impossibly dynamic player in midfield with André-Frank Zambo-Anguissa (7 interceptions, 5/5 take-ons).
They’re just a really impressive team, and now they’ve had a chastening experience in the English top flight but still shown their fight to last as long as they did, you wouldn’t be surprised to see them come straight back up with a little bit more savvy and quality and really establish themselves as a Premier League force once again.
Loser: Fred & McTominay
Manchester United do not have a good midfield. You can tell this because despite mostly having safe, simple passes to make to their more advanced playmakers like Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, Fred and Scott McTominay both posted sub-90% pass completion rates.
For a team that dominated the ball like United did, that is unacceptable. Ok fine, there is no set pattern of play at United, but they should still be doing better than this. McTominay completing 43/49 for 87.7% was bad, but Fred topping United’s passers with 70/80 for 87.5% was even worse. These guys should have a strangehold on the game, but their inability to do that means that no matter how hard they apply themselves defensively, they are not good enough (especially as a pair) to start for a club like the one Manchester United want to be.
A draw for Manchester United was a big win for Villarreal. United losing to Leicester was understandable given the raft of changes that Solskjaer had to make and even the Liverpool game was the club’s fourth in an eight day spell. So defeat was not a surprise, really.
Tonight, however? They’ve had plenty of rest and were able to put what is probably their first-choice XI (sans the injured Harry Maguire, anyway) out on the field. And they scored early. And they dominated the game. And they didn’t win.
Manchester United are limping to the finish line of the Europa League final, and waiting for them there is a Villarreal side managed by Mr. Europa League himself Unai Emery and a side whose last game ended in a 4-0 win over Sevilla. They are very good and if United think they can rock up to the Europa League final and just turn it on then they are in for a very rude awakening in Gdansk.
Step your game up, boys!
Loser: Old Trafford
Fans! Back! The fans were back!!! Okay only 10,000 out of 76,962 – but 10,000 is still a lot bigger than 0! Having fans back in the ground was great and made things like even the announcement of the line-up to be a thrilling, interactive experience. The roars that greeted Cavani’s goal were superb, the booing when an opponent made a foul, it was all good.
The fans showed up and cheered United, But United did not reward them with a win. It was just as damp and uninspiring as it has been all season at home with no fans present, only now they managed to let down their loyal supporters. What a shame.