Luke Shaw battles for the ball

Team spirit and focus helps drive United forward

There was an exchange between two United team-mates on Instagram post-match last night that went some way to illustrating the spirit and collective mentality of the squad at the moment.

In his trademark under-stated way, Aaron Wan-Bissaka posted a pic from the win over Aston Villa with the caption “Win. Clean sheet. Good away day.” and his captain Harry Maguire commented “Keep them eyes open next time”.

Our right-back’s summation of the match exemplifies the way the team are entirely focused on each game and determined not to get carried away, while the skipper’s reply referenced the moment in the second half when AWB was inches away from breaking his United duck with his agonisingly close-range header that whizzed past Pepe Reina’s post.

The fact that Wan-Bissaka was in that position and so close to getting his first United goal is an example of the confidence surging through the team, and the way every player is contributing in all areas of the pitch.

The full-backs are getting forward when they can to support the attack, knowing that the excellence of the two centre-backs in collaboration with Nemanja Matic will have their backs, while the forwards are dropping back to do the dirty work in midfield that regularly turns defence back into attack – see Anthony Martial’s tenacious hustling that dispossessed Villa and set the Reds on the way to that vital second goal just before the break.

90 in 20: Aston Villa 0 United 3Video

The sight of Luke Shaw continually bombing down the left flank in support of the forwards was another contributory factor to the win, continually keeping the pressure up on a beleaguered Villa.

The left-back excelled once more – he has been a permanent fixture in United’s 17-game unbeaten run, and last night topped the pass completion tables with an outstanding 95 per cent completion rate.

His centre-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof ran him close with a 93 per cent and 94 per cent success rate respectively, proving that playing out and building from the back is a major factor in this team’s current form.

And while all the headlines have been grabbed by our on-fire forwards, Paul Pogba’s first goal of the season made him the 20th United player to score in 2019/20, in all competitions, another example of the contributions across the squad.

In his post-match interview, Paul was keen to keep that focus on the next game, underlining the fact that nothing had been won this season and there was still work to be done.

“We know we have to carry on,” he said. “We say before training that we have to carry on. That’s what Manchester United is and we want to keep the level up always. We didn’t win the Premier League and that’s the goal. We didn’t win anything [so far] this year and there’s a lot still to do.”

And so attention turns to the visit of Southampton on Monday night. I’m part of the team that produces the matchday programme United Review, and tight printing schedules meant we had to send the Southampton issue to the printers before the Villa match yesterday.

It’s a very rare occurrence that we can’t reference the most recent match in the programme, and so there was nervousness that the positivity that courses throughout the programme brought on by the current run of form could be doused if there was an unexpected blip and a negative result at Villa Park.

We needn’t have worried. Another hurdle successfully navigated, and focus turns to the next one.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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