Lisandro Martinez highlights key Man Utd change amid summer transfer decision
The Manchester United defenders responded in contrasting manners to early mistakes against Aleksandar Mitrovic on Sunday.
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Even the most ardent Manchester United supporter would have to admit the Red Devils’ progression to the FA Cup semi-finals was as much down to an opposition implosion than a spirited comeback.
United were second best for long periods of Sunday’s encounter at Old Trafford, and when Aleksandar Mitrovic poked the ball into the back of the net after 50 minutes, it was a rich reward for Fulham’s impressive start to the second period. The Serbian spent the first 70 minutes of the game repeatedly barging into those in red, but it was Mitrovic’s decision to barge into a man dressed in black - Chris Kavanagh - that perhaps determined the outcome of this tie.
The striker blurred the lines between pantomime villain and outright bully when he laid his hands on the official and was rightly sent off, while Mitrovic should expect a lengthy ban for his belligerent actions, which came just seconds after manager Marco Silva and team-mate Willian were shown red cards.
From there, United pressed home their two-man advantage. Bruno Fernandes netted from the spot, Marcel Sabitzer gave Erik ten Hag’s side the lead two minutes later, before Fernandes added a third at the end of an injury-time in which United dominated. The home supporters could scarcely believe how comfortable the latter stages were given how out of sorts United had been for most of the game.
In many ways this was a game defined by Mitrovic’s actions, and he caused the United backline repeated issues throughout the evening. The former Newcastle United man even disturbed the typically assured Lisandro Martinez, and the attacker skipped by the World Cup winner in the early stages, while there were faint Fulham penalty claims in the first half when the pair collided in the United box.
Harry Maguire, coming in for the injured Raphael Varane, also struggled with Mitrovic’s physical approach. The England international looked uncomfortable on Sunday, while he was needlessly booked for hauling the Fulham man to the ground halfway inside the United half.
But the response from both centre-backs exemplified the contrasting roles Martinez and Maguire now hold in the Red Devils dressing room. The former seemed to thrive in the face of Mitrovic’s hostile methods, and managed to shake off his early errors. The Argentinian emerged with the ball from a thunderous tackle on Mitrovic in the latter stages of the first period, while he ended the opening 45 minutes by nicking the ball ahead of his opponent and driving forward in possession on a few occasions.
Yet Maguire’s divergent reaction again showcased why his time at Old Trafford is evidently drawing to a close. Lacking self-belief, Maguire appeared agitated and was terrified of making a costly error. The 30-year-old dawdled in possession, which irritated the home supporters, while he gave away another unnecessarily foul by the corner. Those nerves are often characterised by his response to mishaps, with Maguire instinctively complaining to the officials and team-mates once again on Sunday.
It was a performance that epitomised how low in confidence Maguire has become, and it’s in everyone’s best interests if the defender moves on this summer and tries to recapture the form that once made him an £80m-rated player.
He’s not the only former Ole Gunnar Solskjaer regular who endured a difficult Sunday at Old Trafford. Scott McTominay was handed a rare start with Casemiro suspended and Fred in need of a well-earned rest. But his abject display saw him hooked before the hour mark, as Ten Hag instead opted to play Fernandes out of position than continue to allow Fulham’s midfielders to dominate McTominay any longer.
Meanwhile, Victor Lindelof has fallen even further behind Maguire in the pecking order at centre-back. He’s started just two of the club’s 12 league matches since returning from the World Cup, and just two of the last 14 in all competitions.
Maguire, Lindelof and McTominay have all shown an inability to recover from setbacks, maintain consistent performances, and endear themselves to supporters this season. It’s in direct contrast to the mindset of Martinez, Varane and Casemiro - three players who will continue Ten Hag’s vision next season, while Maguire, Lindelof and McTominay are all free to move on this summer.