Man Utd far better off with workhorse Weghorst than Ronaldo as Ten Hag genius pays off again
Wout Weghorst has come in for predictable criticism as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo but the striker is a perfect fit for Erik ten Hag’s Man Utd.
As Diogo Dalot sauntered down the right-hand side once more and held a cross up to the back post for Fred to head into the centre, Old Trafford waited with bated breath. Man Utd were leading 1-0 against Leicester and their centre-forward was handed a glorious opportunity to secure the victory in spectacular fashion with an overhead kick.
Wout Weghorst’s effort was sub-optimal; he essentially sat down before swinging a lazy leg in vain hope. But at least there’s no chance he’ll be posting a misleading still image of the action shot to massage his ego and feed his weird fanbase.
Man Utd scored twice more regardless. Marcus Rashford added a second well-taken goal to his opener as the striker sought to finally put to bed those Kelechi Iheanacho comparisons from seven years ago. Jadon Sancho capped a glorious move to make it 3-0, three points and a chance to look forward with excited anticipation to three games in three competitions which will help define this club’s season.
As a warm-up for Barcelona at home in the Europa League, Newcastle at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final and West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round over the next 10 days, this was a decent jog and stretch.
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The hosts could even afford to reduce the final 10 minutes to an exercise in trying to force Weghorst to score. Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Kobbie Mainoo and Anthony Elanga took it in turns to present an unmissable chance but Leicester invariably managed to manoeuvre the barn doors or relocate the cow’s arse.
Weghorst collapsing to the ground after Danny Ward saved one of his late shots, only to then be seen hounding Youri Tielemans in the opposition half with a three-goal advantage in second-half stoppage-time, summed up an afternoon of immense industry. The 30-year-old was everywhere and everything: six shots, five headers won, four tackles, three fouls, one chance created and one dribble represented a solid showing for the defensive No.10 turned pressing monster striker.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s successor at Man Utd could not represent the Portuguese’s polar opposite more effectively. The temptation when sourcing a replacement for a player, particularly mid-season, is often to encourage continuity with a like-for-like substitute. But Erik ten Hag deliberately strayed as far away as possible from that failing blueprint. Weghorst is perfect for this team in the precise way Ronaldo was not.
The endeavour. The versatility. The altruism. The actual likeability. The way Weghorst surrenders himself to and for the greater good is the exact contrast to Ronaldo’s sociopathic need to be the perennial focus.
And the seamlessness with which Ten Hag has switched between the two is proof of a master tactician and operator at work. The Dutchman’s in-game changes are elevating Man Utd to another level, with the deployment of Sancho as a second-half No.10, in turn shifting the brilliant Rashford out to the left against Leicester the latest to raise eyebrows but pay dividends.
As Peak Gary Neville said shortly before Sancho’s goal, Ten Hag can do little wrong “at this moment in time”. Even his unshakeable faith in Weghorst has been questioned in many quarters based on the loanee’s limited impact in attack but the alleged GOAT this supposed donkey has temporarily taken the place of was offering similarly little in front of goal with nothing close to the insatiable work ethic across every other blade of grass. And the presence of the phenomenal Rashford renders criticism of a non-scoring striker moot when they help make the system tick to this degree in any case. Weghorst the workhorse is a short-term sacrifice Man Utd can afford to make and should continue to.