We understand what you’re thinking. Manchester United: invincible?
Erik ten Hag’s debut season in English football has not been easy, but the weekend triumph against Nottingham Forest demonstrated the unmistakable progress they have been making.
United responded to a catastrophic double injury blow by bolstering their top-four ambitions and demonstrating that they can still win comfortably without their best players.
Any team will miss its best players, but a good one will still find a way to win even without them. They accomplished this despite the absence of leading scorer Marcus Rashford and their two finest defenders.
Given the circumstances leading up to the trip to Nottingham, United fans would have been satisfied with any win, and it says a lot about the professional performance that by full-time, there was a gluttony for even more goals to reflect their dominance.
The key was not the absence of three excellent players, but of three elite midfielders who have made United an unstoppable force this season.
Again, the natural reaction is to roll your eyes and dismiss the hyperbole of a team that is third in the Premier League and competing in the Europa League as ‘unstoppable,’ although they have been in one form.
United have been at its best when they have been able to pitch a team comprised of players who fit Ten Hag’s vision for the team, which they did on Sunday.
The Dutchman seeks players that value the ball and are comfortable with it at their feet. They must not only be able to select a pass but also understand when it is appropriate to do so. Composure is appreciated equally with ingenuity.
Christian Eriksen embodies this, and his return to the starting lineup was an unintentional masterstroke following Marcel Sabitzer’s late withdrawal.
United has been careful to ease him back into action following his ankle injury, but it is apparent that he is now fully capable of starting games.
Eriksen’s ability to communicate with his midfield partners is what makes him so effective. Bruno Fernandes, known for his daring, is now enjoying his new role as a more systematic master craftsman in the United States.
He’s been the unsung hero of United’s recent games, and he was at his spectacular best on Sunday, hooking up so cleverly with Eriksen while providing the more direct threat at goal.
Casemiro’s presence behind them is equally crucial. He not only serves as an excellent anchor for their offensive talent, but he also possesses the inventiveness and composure that his manager seeks.
When fully fit, United will have a midfield that is ideally suited to Ten Hag’s thinking and offers an exciting preview of their future under him.
The statistics back it up as well.
United has won 15 of the 17 games this season in which Casemiro, Eriksen, and Fernandes have all started together. They drew the other two and have yet to lose a match in which that trio began.
With an 88% win percentage and an unblemished record, it’s safe to say they’re unbeatable, however, the challenge has been getting them all in the lineup in the first place.
That will be a problem once more when they travel to Sevilla on Thursday night, as Fernandes is poised to miss the game due to suspension.
United will hope that Sabitzer can fill the void once more, as he has done excellently since his arrival, but it shows the long-term need for another like-minded midfielder in the first-team squad.
They have not yet been halted.