Man Utd humiliated in win over Coventry as Ten Hag subs result in Wembley capitulation

Will Ford
Man Utd
Manchester United celebrate the penalty shootout win over Coventry.

Was that the most embarrassing Manchester United win ever? Surely no one is celebrating that; least of all Erik ten Hag, who should have resisted the urge to do something.

Manchester United could not have looked more comfortable. Before Coventry’s opening goal, the Championship side had had five shots to United’s 16 and hadn’t registered one on target. The difference in quality was as stark as the gulf in resources: a surprise perhaps given this was a game with significant giant-killing potential, heightened further by the revelation ahead of kick-off that Erik ten Hag had replaced Willy Kambwala at centre-back with his exact opposite.

Having watched Casemiro amble after numerous opposition midfielders for much of the season, United fans had good reason to wonder whether the lack of cover – in so much as the previous 26 back four combinations this season have provided it – might lead to their downfall on Sunday, with the 32-going-on-50 midfielder as the last line of defence. For 70 minutes, it worked really rather well.

He still reads the game beautifully and nicked in ahead of Coventry players a few times to win possession, timing tackles well in other instances. And although his legs have gone, he can still spot a run and deliver a pass. Marcus Rashford should have scored from one of his raking 50-yard balls over the top, but took a heavy touch and panicked in the face of the goalkeeper, sidefooting wide. And the continued threat of those passes turning the Coventry defenders opened up space for Bruno Fernandes, Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho between the lines, where they were found regularly by Casemiro. They were all having a lovely time.

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Diogo Dalot’s overlap and cross for Scott McTominay to tap in was delightfully simple, as was Harry Maguire’s header in from a corner, before Bruno Fernandes displayed a touch of class in the box – as he did for much of the game – to give them a well-deserved 3-0 lead. Time for a group of talented, largely very experienced international players to see the game out with some ‘ole’ football, we all thought.

It’s well worth keeping a keen eye on Garnacho’s social media for ill-advised ‘likes’ after the winger chuntered his way from the pitch five minutes before Coventry’s opener. United losing this game 3-0 while Antony was on the pitch reflects terribly on him and not at all well on Ten Hag, whose decision to introduce Christian Eriksen will also be questioned, with the Denmark international’s ability to put his foot on the ball far outstripped in these circumstances by his inability to run.

Ten Hag didn’t have many options – his squad has been decimated by injury – but sometimes it’s better to dismiss the urge to do something and do nothing at all: advice inappropriately followed by Ten Hag’s Manchester United players for what turned out to be the last 50 minutes of this game.

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Casemiro reverted to type for Ellis Simms’ goal, marking space rather than the goalscorer or any other Coventry player in the box. Haji Wright showed him a clean pair of heels in a couple of very one-sided foot races, and though Casemiro can claim his decision to jump out of defence for Victor Torp’s goal in injury time of extra-time was the right decision as it was eventually, incredibly cruelly, ruled out for offside, more rigorous toe-nail cutting on Wright’s part would have seen Manchester United fall to one of the most humiliating defeats in their history.

Casemiro did his best to ensure that humiliation in the shootout, clipping his penalty Bernardo Silva-style straight to the goalkeeper, before his teammates tediously hit theirs hard into the corners.

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There were elements of fortune in Coventry’s second and third. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was their unwitting ally in both instances, as Callum O’Hare’s shot took a massive deflection off him to loop over Andre Onana, before a cross struck his arm in the box deep into injury time.

But it was United who rode their luck from then on. Torp had the goal ruled out and forced a brilliant save from Onana. Simms hit the bar. Wright also missed a great chance. Coventry were the team pushing to win, and the fact that the Manchester United players barely celebrated having sneaked through on penalties is telling. They left Wembley with their tails between legs while the team they defeated remained on the pitch and accepted all the acclaim.

We can’t imagine the fans will be celebrating much either, after the shootout adrenaline wears off, because although Manchester United technically won – and a third Wembley final in two seasons isn’t something to be sniffed at – in truth there were no winners here.

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