Sup­port cast seize chance to make mark on Sol­sk­jaer

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Fa Cup - By James Ducker at Old Traf­ford

This was the least im­pres­sive of Manch­ester United’s vic­to­ries un­der Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer but, with five con­sec­u­tive wins to his name, the in­terim man­ager could not have asked for a bet­ter start.

Read­ing equipped them­selves well enough, but were tooth­less in front of goal. By con­trast, a much-changed United were clin­i­cal, a penalty from Juan Mata fol­low­ing more Video As­sis­tant Ref­eree con­fu­sion and Romelu Lukaku’s third goal in as many games eas­ing them into the FA Cup fourth round.

Yet Sol­sk­jaer knows he will get a much clearer idea of where his side stand af­ter next Sun­day’s visit to Wem­b­ley to face an in-form Tot­ten­ham. In that sense, it is good Sol­sk­jaer will have a full week to pre­pare. United flew to Dubai af­ter the game yes­ter­day for a warm-weather train­ing camp, and Sol­sk­jaer al­ready has a de­cent idea of where his fo­cus will lie as he at­tempts to find a way to sti­fle Tot­ten­ham’s fluid, free-scor­ing at­tack while en­sur­ing he does not negate his own.

“We’ve not con­ceded in open play yet in any of the five games, but still we’ll have to stop con­ced­ing chances,” he said. “We need to use this week well to work to­wards that game, but also to­wards Paris Sthave Ger­main and Liver­pool in Fe­bru­ary. “You just don’t make it for the Tot­ten­ham game, we pre­pare for this one, but we also pre­pare for when we play the big­ger and bet­ter teams.”

There are not too many who started against Read­ing who can re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect to be­gin the game against Tot­ten­ham but, of the nine changes Sol­sk­jaer made from Wed­nes­day’s 2-0 win at New­cas­tle, Lukaku boosted his prospects with an­other preda­tory fin­ish to claim his 13th goal in his past 14 FA Cup ap­pear­ances.

It was more of a mixed af­ter­noon for Alexis Sanchez, though. He set up Lukaku’s goal with a lovely through ball, but his first start since Nov 7 was cut short by a tight ham­string af­ter lit­tle more than an hour and, while Sol­sk­jaer said he was hope­ful the Chile for­ward would be fit for Spurs, the player is still strug­gling to catch a break.

“Hope­fully he’ll be OK for next weekend, he was feel­ing his ham­string, but he should have told me one minute be­fore be­cause I made two subs,” said Sol­sk­jaer, who had to shift Sanchez out of his seat in the dugout fol­low­ing his sub­sti­tu­tion. “He’s been out a month, he’s had half an hour against New­cas­tle. Now he’s had 60 min­utes, so it’s about build­ing up again.”

Sanchez (be­low) might have scored be­fore tee­ing up Lukaku for United’s sec­ond, cut­ting in­side from an invit­ing po­si­tion only to over­run the ball and get tack­led. Sol­sk­jaer felt that was ev­i­dence of ring-rust. United sup­port­ers could tell him it has been the way of things for the past 12 months.

“I think maybe when he gets an­other few games un­der his belt, he would have fin­ished it,” Sol­sk­jaer said. “He had one touch too many, could fin­ished when he was driv­ing through the box. He’ll be fine.”

Sol­sk­jaer has taken a de­cent look at the reg­u­lars and likes what he has seen, and so this was an op­por­tu­nity to cast an eye over the sup­port cast.

Some­what sur­pris­ingly, the best of the lot was prob­a­bly Mat­teo Darmian, ooz­ing con­fi­dence as a makeshift cen­tre-half, but there were other solid show­ings. Andreas Pereira was neat and tidy an­chor­ing the mid­field and forced a good save late on, Scott McTom­i­nay looked more com­posed than the chaotic fig­ure he had been in the fi­nal months of Jose Mour­inho’s reign and there was a first-team de­but for at­tack­ing mid­fielder Tahith Chong, whose name was sung lustily.

Still, United re­main very much a work in progress and so, clearly, does VAR. There were two is­sues. First, that ref­eree Stu­art At­twell hardly made it clear VAR was be­ing con­sulted when Omar Richards up­ended Mata; fans left to con­sult a mes­sage on the score­boards for con­fir­ma­tion of what was hap­pen­ing. And, sec­ond, that it took the VAR what felt like an age to make his de­ci­sion. There was at least no fuss from Mata from the spot. Read­ing might have made it more in­ter­est­ing had Cal­lum Har­riott scored when put clean through by sub­sti­tute Sone Aluko in the 53rd minute but he shot straight at Ser­gio Romero, who had also de­nied Danny Loader in the first pe­riod. Aluko, whose half-time in­tro­duc­tion im­proved Read­ing, later had Romero scram­bling to push aside a shot.

But Read­ing man­ager Jose Gomes summed up his team’s main prob­lem when he be­moaned their “lack of killer in­stinct”. Tot­ten­ham are likely to be more ruth­less, but these are en­cour­ag­ing be­gin­nings for Sol­sk­jaer.

Lead­ing man: Juan Mata ig­nores the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the VAR intervention to put United ahead from the penalty spot yes­ter­day

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.