Neville criticised Ralf Rangnick’s men for their lacklustre performance in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Monday – a point they arguably didn’t deserve as Edinson Cavani came to the rescue late on.
It led the ex-defender to brand them “a bunch of whingebags”, adding: “Watch them on that pitch. I’ll not go into names, but they’re whinging at each other, arms up in the air complaining about everything. Honestly, they were absolutely shocking in that first half.”
Body language has not exactly been positive at Old Trafford this season. The club has already gone through one manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who lost the support of his players long before that of the fans, and finger pointing has become the norm when mistake after mistake costs the Red Devils precious points.
Thursday’s clash with Burnley was always going to be a test of Neville’s whingebag theory. A chilly midweek evening in the rain against a Sean Dyche team that had avoided defeat in four of their last five visits to Old Trafford.
But thankfully for Rangnick, United looked much more like a side boasting the swagger onlooking birthday boy Sir Alex Ferguson was accustomed to a decade ago.
Yes, the 3-1 result wasn’t perfect. An Eric Bailly mistake late in the first half gifted veteran Aaron Lennon a consolation goal, although the hosts were already three up at that point. A couple of moans came from the defence, David de Gea looked despondent yet again, but it was by no means an inquest.
Indeed, this United team doesn’t really do inquests. Whereas in Ferguson’s heyday conceding even a corner would lead to Peter Schmeichel chastising his defenders, or a stray pass would have Roy Keane eyeballing his team-mates, these days United are a nice, quiet bunch when it comes to disagreements.
And that’s all good and well when errors – such as Bailly’s – result in nothing more than an extra clip for a gaffes showreel. But when it comes in major games at the business end of the season, that’s a problem where the weakness in this team becomes exposed.
Of course, on an evening where three goals come as simply as they did in the first half there’s no real cause to complain. Cavani celebrated Scott McTominay’s early strike with more exuberance than just about anyone, Jadon Sancho calmly stroked home a second (off Ben Mee’s boot) and Cristiano Ronaldo was all cheek when he practically back-heeled in the third. This was the swagger United have been missing.
And then came Lennon’s strike, a few boos from the crowd, and a reminder that United are fallible.
The second half offered little in terms of end-to-end entertainment, but United were by no means totally comfortable as Lennon proved a nuisance, evading Nemanja Matic’s radar to run at an exposed defence.
Both Cavani and Luke Shaw had chances to extend the hosts’ lead but fluffed their lines, while a final error from Aaron Wan-Bissaka gifted Burnley a corner. There were grumbles in the stands but, again, no inquest from his goalkeeper or team-mates.
This sort of niceness is fine against a depleted Burnley. But classier, more clinical sides could bring the whingebags back out of United.
Man Utd body language rating
- David De Gea – 5/10 – Had a quiet night and was typically reluctant to aim any sort of ire at his defenders when balls into the box found their way to Chris Wood. Barely seemed to realise Lennon had scored
- Luke Shaw – 8/10 – Enjoyed a healthy repartee with the referee and was always seeking to push forward. Hit the side netting during an individual first-half surge
- Harry Maguire – 6/10 – Wasn’t tested too much on an evening where McTominay helped fight off Wood’s presence, but didn’t seem confident closing down Lennon for Burnley’s goal. Would have been challenged more had Burnley been at full strength
- Eric Bailly – 7/10 – Looked composed without being particularly threatened until his mistake led to Burnley’s consolation. Came off injured
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka – 6/10 – Positionally flighty against Johann Berg Gudmundsson but grew into the game. A blank canvass in terms of his body language displaying any sort of emotion. Ice cool but not absent
- Nemanja Matic – 6/10 – Appeared off the boil at times and struggled to impose his physicality on the game. Thankfully didn’t resort to moaning
- Scott McTominay – 8/10 – Celebrated his early goal with gusto, seeming to revel in the importance of the moment only after realising he had actually executed his strike to perfection. Didn’t stop running all evening
- Mason Greenwood – 7/10 – The more energetic of United’s two wingers but by no means took control of the game. Forward thinking and diligent
- Jadon Sancho – 7/10 – Had a quiet evening until being set through by kingmaker Shaw and slotting into the net. A meek celebration probably accepting that Mee will be credited with a fifth Premier League own goal
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 8/10 – Peacocked around with his usual swagger and scored with the outside of his right boot. Reacted to missing two first-half chances as though they would be his sole opportunities of the night. Aggressive annoyance with himself for not meeting the standards he sets fuelled him on until he scored
- Edinson Cavani – 9/10 – Celebrated McTominay’s goal in front of the Stretford End more vigorously than the goalscorer himself. A harrying nuisance for the Clarets defence all evening, was willing to drop back, hassle and hold the ball up. Had words with Dyche after getting caught by a stray Mee arm. Man of the match