Anything but a win against Aston Villa would have left Manchester United’s Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.
But, with 20 minutes left on the clock and the teams tied at 1-1, it felt like both clubs had accepted a share of the spoils.
Erik ten Hag’s decision to take off Marcus Rashford and bring on Scott McTominay felt like proof of that silent agreement.
With United getting regularly cut through by Villa, McTominay was an extra body in midfield.
But, of course, it was McTominay that scored the winner four minutes from time but it wasn’t just Ten Hag’s decision to bring on the Scot that paid off.
McTominay came on to play just behind Rasmus Hojlund, taking Bruno Fernandes’ slot in attacking midfield.
Fernandes switched to the right flank, which saw Garnacho move over to the left.
While United lost some of their attacking threat by taking off Rashford, they started to control the game better and stopped the flow of chances for Villa.
And Ten Hag says that ability to slow the game down and to drag players out of position resulted in the winning goal for McTominay.
‘At 1-1 you always have to see how the game progresses and I think it was really high intensity and you could see how many players were fatigued by the end. It was so open and it could go two ways but we found the mentality and character to win the game. The subs also had an impact,’ said Ten Hag.
‘Scott [McTominay] is great. He can score many goals. He’s always coming into positions to score goals. We had problems, it was too much like a tennis match, we had problems in the counter-attack. We knew Scott would get into the box and can score goals.
‘The players were going for goals because they are offensive but it was better in certain situations to keep the ball, drag players out and that was the idea to bring an extra midfielder into there.’
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